Act 2—Crime and Punishment:
I’ve never been very punctual. I was born two weeks earlier than expected, and my parents joke that it was the first and last time I’ve ever been early for anything. I’m just very laid-back. During the first few weeks of my sophomore year in high school, two years after Mr. Coleman’s middle school class, I would often stroll casually to my first hour class, knowing that the bell would ring in one minute and that if I ran I could still make it on time. But I hated to rush, so I would walk casually, very relaxed, as other students sprinted past me. They would dart into class just before the bell rang, and I would walk in thirty seconds later. Well, this particular teacher didn’t appreciate my casual tardiness, and so she wrote me one tardy violation after another until I had acquired six tardy slips. No big deal, right? To me they were nothing more than little pink slips of paper. How bad could that be? Well, apparently, there are rules, and those that break the rules must pay the price. Upon receiving my sixth tardy slip, I was informed that I must report to In-School Suspension for the next three school days. This was the high school’s version of jail!
For those three days, I was told to report to the Suspension room the minute I arrived at the high school. Learning that I would spend three eight-hour days sitting at a cubical desk (lunch would be brought in), I knew I needed something other than my coursework to keep myself from going insane from boredom. I went to the high school librarian, Mrs. Whitson, and told her my situation. I asked if she could recommend a book that would help keep me occupied during those days. She recommended a new bestseller called The Firm by a new breakout author named John Grisham. It had a picture of a guy in a suit with a suitcase and puppet strings as he dangled against a green marble background. It looked cool, so I checked it out and threw it in my backpack.
Reporting to the Suspension room really did feel like a type of prison sentence (with a Breakfast Club vibe). My high school was pretty big (over 2,000 students), and here I met a dozen students sentenced for crimes like pushing a teacher, bringing a knife to school, fighting, etc. I was proud when I received their immediate approval after I announced my crime of acquiring six tardy slips in only the first ten days of the semester… I was clearly a rebel with no respect for authority! And because I was on the wrestling team, I was also considered tough enough for this cellblock!
John Grisham kept me from dying of boredom during In-School Suspension. The Firm was the most exciting book I had read in my youth, and I plowed through it in those three days. I’m an extremely slow reader, always hanging on nearly every word I read. For me reading a book in three days was like an average person reading it in one sitting. I had no idea that words on paper could be so exciting, that a novel could be as exhilarating as a James Bond movie. This opened up a whole new world for me. I left In-School Suspense a changed person, and quickly began gobbling up as many thrillers as I could read: Grisham, Crichton, Fleming, Clancy, etc. Eventually I would graduate to more sophisticated thrillers like those by Graham Greene and John le Carré. And looking back at it, I wonder if I would have ever truly discovered the pleasure of reading if it weren’t for finding Grisham’s book and receiving the three-day sentence that drove me to read it.