“I Was a Teenage Felon, etc.” by CJ Hallman

Oct 20th, 2009 | By | Category: Prose

On Wednesdays, Agnes was in charge of the kitchen. She had voodoo hands and could whip up this potato salad that Marcus joked was like sucking the fungus off God’s toes. She made damn fine food, but only on Wednesday, because every other day of the week Agnes worked under Jason, her supervisor, who was an alright, but nowhere near holy, cook. I was in love with Agnes and I would write letters in my diary professing this love. I never sent the letters, but they got me all inspired and I started writing poetry, too– about her fat lips and her liver-spotted cheeks and her thighs that rubbed together when she walked. She wasn’t anything like the girls I’d known, and fucked, in college. Agnes was a woman. A solid woman. I would shut my diary at night even when the poetry was still flowing out of me, because I needed to get some sleep or whatever, and all these erotic words would enter my head and I was already laying down on the hard mattress with no pen to write them down, so I would get a boner and be forced to whack off to visions of ample black flesh while Marcus snored like a lawnmower engine in the bunk below me. This was desire, felt, actualized, for the very first time. I felt like a virgin again– something I had not been since I was fourteen years old. Man, I loved her. But that’s not what this is about.


My parents cut me off, said I needed to learn responsibility, independence, the value of a dollar, etc. but the truth is that my dad bled half my college fund dry to buy his mistress a boob job, and then, my mom drained the rest of it because she needed a better/bigger boob job than my dad’s mistress. Cest la vie, such is life, whatever, etc.


There we were, two fully grown nineteen-year-old college men outside a dorm building, playing basketball waiting for the cafeteria to open up for dinner.

“This place is like a jail,” Bryant threw the basketball up toward the hoop. Missed. He always missed. Just a terrible basketball player. He was from northern China, tall and white-skinned, which was an effect he’d told me, of all the milk he drank as a child. He also told me that in his middle school English class, he’d taken the English name Kobe Bryant, but after he came to America and found out about the whole rape thing, he’d shortened the name to just Bryant so as to have better luck with the ladies. It didn’t work. Bryant was such a typical Asian– never got any ass.

The ball bounced off the backboard and landed, squarely, in my hands. I dribbled it against the concrete. “Don’t they pull this same shit on you in China? Tanks, Tiananmen, all of that.”

Bryant lunged toward me with his French bread arms, trying to steal away the ball. “In middle school and high school, yeah. But college is supposed to be the free time.”

I turned my back to him to protect the ball. He cut in with his meaty arm and stole it anyway. He dribbled toward the goal, performed an inept layup that ended with him on the ground– a jumbled pile of flesh like a Picasso gone wrong, Oriental. The ball rolled around on the rim for a moment, and finally went in– swish. Bryant stood up and dusted off his Nike warm-ups. I looked at him, this giant of a Chinese guy in head-to-toe name brands and I thought, Jesus. I thought, if this guy…THIS guy…thinks this place is like a prison, there must be something wrong.

The ball bounced underneath the basket, closer and closer to the ground before stopping and rolling away toward the grass.

“Bryant, how much are we– how much do your parents pay for you to go to school here?”

Bryant shrugged, “I don’t know. Maybe thirty-thousand U.S. dollars a year.”

“Jesus. Do they have that kind of money? In China?”

“They saved much money, but still, they must to take out loans from friends and people in my hometown.”

“God. Christ. Damn. Jesus.”

All of that money– it was going to be my responsibility now. Thirty thousand bucks a year. I’d pay that off in a hundred years, maybe, probably not. I secretly wished, right then, that someone would cut off my dad’s dick Lorena Bobbit-style so that he wouldn’t get to enjoy the four tits my tuition money had paid for.

“Yeah, it will be worth it though. They say it’s investment. I go back with a degree from America and I should earn much money.”

“And if you don’t?”

Bryant stood on the court, his sneakers planted in the concrete, his calves like tree trunks. He stood with this dumb look on his face. I guess nobody had ever doubted him before. He finally shrugged. “Then, my friend, I’m fucked.” He ran off to chase the ball into the grass. I watched the slow stream of students flowing out of the dorm and into the cafeteria. I wasn’t hungry anymore. But that’s not what this is about.


Bryant and I were always together; roommates, best friends, all of that.

My family was/is white. Not just race, but, like, really white. Like, our house was on a lake, and our walls were the same beige color that they had been when we moved in, and we had a boat and jet skis, and my dad barbecued squash and chicken breast and made monthly car payments. That kind of white. Bryant was/is really Chinese– like super Chinese. His parents called him weekly, Sunday nights, and shouted at him, ching-chong-fuck-you. After these phone calls, Bryant would spend a solid five to ten minutes cursing under his breath in English, then he’d turn on his computer and engage in a marathon session of World of Warcraft that generally lasted anywhere until midnight to early the next afternoon, depending on the volume and severity of that night’s shouting.

It was during one of these Warcraft marathons that I made my big announcement.

“I’m going to the bank tomorrow.”

Bryant grunted, clicked, clicked, clicked the mouse.

“Bryant. Did you hear me? I’m going to the bank tomorrow.”

He pounded on one of the keys on his keyboard and cursed under his breath.

“Bryant, you stupid motherfucker.”

His eyes didn’t stray from the screen, “What?”

“I am going to the bank tomorrow to take out a loan to rob the bank so that we can go to prison.”

A few days before, in my Ethics class, I’d learned that there was some program our state had instituted that enabled prisoners to receive diplomas while behind bars. I figured this would save me, and Bryant’s family back in China, a shit load of money. Plus, you know, I needed an accomplice, a sidekick, whatever, etc.

Bryant turned around in his chair. “What?”

“I calculated the costs. It’s expensive to commit a felony. So we’ll need to take out a small loan.”

I wanted to commit a federal offense so I’d get into a good prison. That’s the thing people forget about prisons, that they are a lot like colleges– good, bad, average, snooty, historically all-black, liberal, religious, whatever, etc. College, prison, prep school, law school, it’s all the same really, so I wanted to do something big enough to get into someplace decent. I wasn’t Ivy League material, that’s for damn sure, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to settle for State– not again.


“Jesus, Bryant. A felony. A crime. We want to do something big, you know, but murder is just morally…I don’t know. I couldn’t just kill someone, you know?”

“Okay,” he faced the screen and continued playing, shooting, walking around in avatar form.


“Yeah, fine.”

“So, you’ll rob a bank with me?”

The back of his head nodded. “Sure. Fine.” He slaughtered someone on the screen, paused the game, turned to me, “But will we have to repay the loan?”

I didn’t know. It didn’t matter. That’s not what this is about.


I put on the same white button-down, slacks, and tie that I had worn to my high school graduation. They fit more tightly than I had remembered. Fuck the freshman fifteen. Bryant dressed up, too– he’d ordered some fancy outfit, Versace or some shit, from the Internet with his credit card one night when he was bored. It didn’t fit him right, but it definitely looked expensive. Bryant waited in the lobby and I followed the man who had called my name, followed him back to his office, took a seat in a scratchy upholstered chair.

“How can I help you, son?” The man, the loan officer, had sort of a high voice, like his balls had once-upon-a-time been caught in a vice.

“I’d like to take out a loan.”

The man glanced down at a stack of papers on his desk, then stared at his computer screen. I leaned around the corner– a game of Solitaire was open on the screen. He was definitely in a bind– not going to win this game no matter how long he stared. Try again, man.

“Yoohoo? I said, I’d like to take out a loan.”

He tore his gaze away from the screen, shuffled the papers, “What for?”

“Because I need money.”

He cleared his throat, “Yes. So it seems. What is the purpose of this loan?”

I stared back at him.

“In other words, how do you intend to spend this money?”

“I need it to rob a bank.”

“A bank.” He slurped something, I guess his own spit because there sure as hell wasn’t any spaghetti lying around. “Rob. A. Bank.”


“Are you pulling my leg, son?”

I shook my head all solemn-like, but I wanted to laugh at this man with Mike Tyson’s voice calling me son.

“Why do you need a loan to rob a bank?”

I pulled a sheet of notebook paper from my pocket, unfolded it, rested it atop his desk. The man’s eyes darted left to right across the page. The asking price of a used van I had found in the newspaper classifieds, a couple of good guns, ski masks, etc. etc.


“You religious?”

“No, I just never really considered how much money it would take to pull something like this off. On TV, they always make it look so easy. Cheap. Affordable.”

“Yeah, well, that’s TV for you. Real life is hard times. Tough economy. All of that.”

The man nodded. The hum of the air conditioner filled the room. From a distant cubicle, I could hear a woman’s laughter, shrill and obnoxious, the kind of woman who would straighten a stranger’s tie, the kind of woman you wanted to shove down a flight of concrete stairs, etc. The banker tapped his Bic pen against my sheet of notebook paper, thud thud thud.

He lowered his voice to a whisper, “So, what bank you gonna rob?”

“This one.”

He nodded again, “Good choice. Yeah, tell you what. I give you a loan for all this–” he planted his finger on the paper, continued to whisper, “–and we call it a small personal loan. I’ll write down that you’re getting married and need the loan to pay for your honeymoon. Get my manager to approve it.”

“Where am I going on my honeymoon?”


“Nice. What’s the catch?”

The man stared at me blankly, “That’s a TV line.”

“Yeah, well.”

“Okay. The catch,” he got this satisfied look on his face, “is that I’d really like it if you robbed me, personally. Don’t shoot me or anything. Just hold the gun to my head, threaten me, whatever you robbers do. I’ve just always wanted to be a hero.”


“Whatever. At the very least, I’ll get some time off for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I already used up all my paid vacation this year looking after my mother.”

“You’ve always wanted to be a hero?”

The man nodded.

“Then why’d you become a loan officer?”

He shrugged, “You can’t go into the movies with a degree in Accounting.”

I promised him I would point the gun at his head, but not blow it off, and he gave me the stamp of approval, a fat wad of cash, his undying devotion, etc. etc.


Bryant tried to convince me to let him drive, but come on, the kid didn’t even have a valid U.S. driver’s license, and I didn’t want things to get messy– I just wanted a simple felony. So I drove, but let him control the radio. The bastard put on Celine Dion, can you believe that? Celine Dion. I didn’t say anything, figured I could listen to the wretched woman wail for a few minutes if it meant that I wouldn’t have to pay for college. Bryant sang along like we were at karaoke. I was embarrassed for him.

I parked, stepped out of the car, pulled on the ski mask, left the keys in the ignition, left Bryant in there, still singing along, wearing his own ski mask. I walked into the bank, did my thing, and next thing you know, everyone’s crouching on the ground, women are crying like titty-bitches, my gun is pointed at that Mike Tyson guy’s head, I’m surrounded by cops, etc. Just like TV, man. The Tyson loan officer had this big, stupid grin on his face, and I was happy that I could make his day, get him some extra vacation time, etc. I stood there for, like, ten minutes with the gun to the guy’s head. I kept saying, “Give me all the money. I’m robbing this bank.” I said it, like, fifty times. No one gave me any money. A few of the crouching customers and employees tossed, slid credit cards, debit cards, gift cards, at me from their spots on the floor. One of the cops picked up a gift card from the Olive Garden, muttered something about taking his wife to dinner, and finally spoke up, loudly, in this real confused voice, “Wait? You’re doing what?”

“I said, I am robbing this bank,” I tried to make my voice sound forceful, but it cracked like my balls were just now dropping– like right now-right now, like that episode of the Brady Bunch where Bobby sings a song about puberty or whatever. I ripped off my ski mask. None of the cops had guns. One of them held a latte or a mocha or an Americano or whatever, in one of those recyclable cups– he took a dainty sip and went, “You’re, like, what? Fourteen?”

I stood up straight, tried to puff out my chest, “Nineteen.”

Another cop shook his head, “Nah. No. You can’t be older than fourteen.” He bit at a hangnail.

Another cop squinted, “Fifteen, tops.”

“Arrest me!” I shouted. “Arrest me, or I’ll– I’ll shoot him!” The loan officer’s smile fell. The cops all shrugged. The first cop shoved the Olive Garden gift card into his empty gun holster. That other cop set his latte down on the counter. They plucked the gun from my hand, snapped handcuffs around my wrists, led me outside.

The van, Bryant, Celine Dion– they were long gone. I cursed the fucker under my breath, wished him luck, hoped his parents enjoyed their debt, hoped he didn’t get pulled over for driving without a license, etc.


After that whole ordeal, I pretty much became a minor celebrity. An example of hard work paying off. The dream. America’s sweetheart. Whatever.

On the TV in the prison lounge, I’d watch the weekly updates on Fox News. They did this segment with a blogger– another college student, a guy with a crew cut and a double chin, probably served in his school’s government or was his dorm’s RA or something– who had taken it upon himself to tell my story, writing shit about my progress, how many credits I had left to earn, the kinds of foods I ate, what activities I partook in that day in the recreation yard. Fox News called the weekly segment “Barvard Univeristy” or “Inside the Can (Graduate)” or “‘Can’egie Mellon” and all sorts of clever shit like that. It changed every week– you know, people get bored, whatever, etc. But that’s not what this is about.


Agnes and I, remember her? My dreams, my poems, my letters, all of that eventually became reality– Agnes and I had a thing. God, her lips, her skin, her curves, etc. My bunkmate Marcus went to the Computer Lab every evening to play World of Warcraft, and so this was when Agnes would come over to my place. I could be behind bars forever, man, if she was locked up, too. At that point, I only had a year left until I finished my degree and they let me out. It bothered me a little that I had only been sentenced for a three-and-a-half year term. We reclined together on the bed, Agnes and I. I took a deep drag from the cigarette she had sneaked in for me in her cleavage. “I think they were just being nice to me. Humoring me. This can’t be for real.” The cigarette tasted like sweat, like skin flakes, like her.

“Whaddya mean?” She rested her hand on my thigh, and I rested my hand on her thigh, and she said it so sweetly that I just wanted to squeeze the life out of her.

“The cops, Agnes. The media. The prison. Everyone. The whole circus. College boy goes to jail to make a point. Har Har. Isn’t that charming?”

“But this is whatchu wanted, right?”

I considered this for a moment, “Yes. No. I mean, I wanted to make a point. But mostly I didn’t want to have to pay for college. Why milk the cow when you get the udder for free? Or however it goes.”

She glanced down at her fingernails, “Lord, you know they don’t letchu have real fingernails workin’ in the food industry.”

“I don’t think I’m really locked up, is what I’m saying. I feel like I’m getting special treatment. Like the prison industry is using me to prove itself. Like they just took me in here for publicity or to get more funding or improve their rankings or whatever. Like I could just walk out of here anytime and no one is going to stop me. They just don’t take me seriously. As a prisoner, I mean.”

“You gettin’ your diploma?”

I nodded. Room, board, education– it had all been free. Agnes removed her hand from my thigh, jammed it inside her pants pocket, pulled out a hairnet, stood up. “I gotta go back to work, baby.”


She twirled the hairnet around her finger like it was a basketball. “Yeah, baby?”

“Let’s get out of here.”

“You wanna go get dinner or what? Go to the computer lab? Pool? TV room? Tanning beds?”

“No, I mean out out. Let’s go somewhere. To live.”

“Boy, you crazy. How we gonna pay for that shit?”

I stared up at the ceiling. “I know a loan officer.”

“Where we gonna live?”


She shook her head and laughed, “Lord, no. No no no. Hot. Volcanoes. Racism. They ain’t really even parta the United States, you know. Different people. Different language.” She laughed harder and said, again, “Lord Almighty.” Her laughter was deep and hearty, like a big barbecued slab of meat. “Lord Almighty,” she went on, “Lord Almighty.”

I stared down at the book of poetry and love letters I had written about, but not for, her. I decided to start using the pages as toilet paper.

“Lord Almighy.”

She stood up, and her shoes squeaked softly against the floor. She disappeared to prepare dinner, and I lost my appetite– maybe I never had it. But, come on, even if she did squash my dreams, regularly, she could cook, and I couldn’t just stop loving her. Life’s not like that. And that isn’t what this is about.


Life’s like this– Marcus returned from the computer lab a couple hours later, and the guard came to lock up behind him, left the keys dangling in the lock, told us he was going to make a late-night run to Arby’s, asked if we wanted anything. We said no, but told him to drive safely. I fell asleep to the steady sound of Marcus’s snoring, wondered if I’d ever find a place as free as prison, what I was going to do when they let me out– maybe commit murder, maybe get my Master’s.


You know, there’s basketball and there’s Mexican food cooked by white people in a college cafeteria and there’s that emptiness that starts in the bottom of your stomach, not heartburn, and you start to feel the world’s sadness on your shoulders, and sometimes, when I laid awake in my prison bunk, listening to Marcus snore, I would think back to when my dad used to fund my endeavors and my mom was flat-chested. I haven’t spoken to them in a few years. I’m sure they saw it all on Fox News– my independence, my responsibility, all that jazz, but they never called, e-mailed, text-messaged, Twittered, etc.

Anyway, now, I’m out. The blog’s gone, archived. Now I am free, a free man, twenty-two, etc.

I stopped driving a car not because I’m some environmental freak or because I can’t afford the gas (the State gave me a car, an apartment, a big fat lump sum when I left prison– to get my life started, stand on my own two feet, teach a man to fish, all of that) but because I felt so isolated in that Toyota pod.

Now, I take the bus and there are people on the bus who smell like urine because they urinate on themselves and there are people without limbs and all sorts of crazy shit like that, and sometimes when I’m downtown waiting to transfer buses, there’s this midget who sits perched on a first-floor windowsill smoking Parliament after Parliament, and at first I was tempted to make some joke to him about cigarettes stunting his growth, but then the more I held off, the more afraid I got to talk to him at all and then he became, like, this mythical creature, this god, and I would get all anxious in his presence, and on that windowsill he was taller than me, could see right over my head, straight into the outsides of other buildings. So yeah, there’s that midget, and then there’s this black guy who stands outside the Merill Lynch building, and then there’s Agnes, who dumped me for Marcus, because she can’t deal with men on the outside, and then there’s Fox News, who doesn’t do those clever segments anymore because there’s nothing clever left to say, not about me anyway, and then there’s Bryant, who went back to China and became some sort of business tycoon, and then there’s the Mike Tyson loan officer, whose manager forgave my loan because of all the publicity my stunt gave to their bank. And man, fuck it, man, then there’s me, me me me– me, who graduated debt-free. There. That. That’s what I wanted. That’s what this is about.


Tragically, CJ Hallman’s fiction is deeply rooted in fact. Triumphantly, writing has (thus far) kept her out of the loony bin. Next comes the story about the time she lost her eyebrow on a shopping mall merry-go-round. Also, her creative work has recently appeared in Identity Theory and SP Quill, among others.

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