F ifty drivers on the road, 48 of them going faster than me, and yet a glimpse of blue and red flashing lights signals my brain that it’s my tail the cops are after.

I have no scary police stories to relate. I was never arrested, never witnessed an arrest, and in the 32 years I’ve been behind the wheel, I’ve been pulled over exactly twice. But to me, sirens represent authority looking over my shoulder. Big Brother. And I’m intensely allergic to that. So the police and I have had a non-relationship in which we stay out of each other’s way.

Parked in front of Retorno’s administrative offices one day was a large white van with telltale blue stripes. The lights weren’t flashing, but it was impossible to miss the very police-ness of it.

A teenage boy approached the offices. Hands and feet cuffed, he was flanked by three police officers. This kid must have really been bad news. Fear and curiosity prompted me to approach Nati, a counselor who was showing three teenage residents how to trim hedges.

“Excuse me,” I asked him. “What’s this all about?”

Nati scanned the hedges. “If they trim these buds,” he pointed, “the whole bush will grow better.” I’m thinking there’s a national emergency, and he’s talking about pruning bushes.

“I mean over there.” I pointed to the boy in cuffs.

“Oh, that.” He shrugged. “Just getting a new kid.”

My heart beat a tiny bit faster. I mean, I know this is a rehab and all, but the kids I’ve met here are the kindest, most sincere kids I’ve ever worked with. Victims, not villains. Characters, yes, but criminals?

The three uniforms seemed to think so.

“Is he dangerous?”

Nati made a shooing motion with his hand. “Lots of kids come straight from jail. The police always bring them in double cuffs like this. Then, when they get registered, the cuffs come off.”

This was not making me feel better.

“Um, I don’t understand.”

Nati nodded to the kid on his right. “You explain it, Tal.”

“I came here in cuffs, too,” Tal said.

I looked at Tal. He’d been in my English class only twice so far, so I didn’t know him well, but he was a model student, quite serious about passing his exams. He was also extremely respectful and whenever he saw me in the halls, he’d greet me with a huge smile and ask how my day was going. I have a vivid imagination, but I couldn’t envision this kid as a hardened criminal.

“You know drugs are illegal, right?” Tal said.

I blushed. They must think I’m really green! “Yes,” I said, “I’ve heard that.”

“They’re also expensive. And once you start, it’s like, you can’t stop. So you start selling them, so that you have money to buy more—”

“And you get arrested for selling drugs,” I finished. I was beginning to understand how this worked.

“Yeah. And when they bust you, they make you give names, everyone you know, so they can go after the big dealers. And sometimes they let you do rehab instead of jail.”

Another mental index card to file.

“If the police are so keen to keep him chained,” I asked, “why is it suddenly safe to remove the heavy-duty security?”

“Look.” Tal pointed to the main gate. “Gate’s open, anyone can leave.”

Good point. Why had I never noticed that before?

“So why don’t you?”

Tal shrugged. “No fun. No challenge in it.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 542)