Be careful what you write, students

There was blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame. For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold, then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent and now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.

I thought it was a crook so I busted out with a 12 gauge and Ismael busted out with a 9 mm and we step off the porch and this bloody body dropped down in front of us and scared us half to death.

She collapsed on the top step and put her head down on her knees, trying to slow her breathing. They were trying to get out the doors again, but she held them shut easily - that alone was no strain. Some obscure sense told her that a few were getting out the fire doors, but let them. She would get them later. She would get all of them. Every last one.

OK, class. Time for a pop quiz.

Match the literary passages above with their authors. Here are the clues:

- Written by a drug-crazed literary giant in 1839.

- Written by a 13-year-old Texas kid last week.

- Written by a million-selling author in 1974.

Time's up. If you said Edgar Allan Poe, Christopher Beamon and Stephen King, then you score 100 percent.

Next question: Which one of these three has been thrown in jail for what he wrote?

Must be Stephen King, right? That book about "Carrie," the girl who wiped out her high-school class at the prom, must certainly be a crime by now.

Well, it could be Edgar Allan Poe. His opium habit was bad enough, but heaven forbid that his stories should remain in school libraries. Get ride of them quick. Some impressionable teenager might just read one of his horror stories and get the wrong idea. Or maybe a Xerox repairman.

In fact, it was Christopher Beamon, a seventh-grader in Ponder, Texas, who spent five days in a juvenile detention center for his scary Halloween story about shooting two classmates and a teacher.

Ponder, Texas, might want to ponder the consequences of arresting 13-year-olds for something they wrote.

First of all, I'd have to say there are quite a few battered women around who wonder how police can throw a kid in jail for his Halloween story but they can't get their ex-boyfriend arrested for threatening to kill them and their kids.

Actually, a shocking number of those battered women aren't around to wonder, because their ex-boyfriends went ahead and followed through on those threats.

Prosecutors and judges bow their heads in sadness and mutter excuses. "Well, you know, we can't arrest Bubba just for saying he's going to kill you. But if he breaks in the house and beats the crap out of you, then give us a call.

"He didn't happen to write an essay in which he fantasizes about killing the whole family, did he? No? Sorry.

"Oh, by the way, here's your temporary restraining order."

I don't know the details of Christopher Beamon's life in Ponder, Texas, although the district attorney said the boy has been "a persistent discipline problem for this school, and the administrators there were legitimately concerned."

So they locked him up.

I wonder if anyone talked to him during his five days in the pokey. I certainly hope they didn't give him any books to read, because he might have gotten ahold of a recent short story by Ha Jin called "Manners & Right Behavior."

In it, the protagonist is thrown in jail for making a social faux pas. When his attorney arrives to help him, the lawyer is beaten up and thrown in jail too.

Being in jail gives the man plenty of time to plot his revenge, which is really quite clever. But I don't want to give away the whole plot, because somebody might then want to stick Ha Jin in jail for writing it.

Of course, it's not unheard of to throw "discipline problems" into jail for things they've written.

I'm thinking now of Christina Anyanwu, sentenced to 15 years in jail in Nigeria for writing articles critical of the Sani Abucha government. The government kept telling her not to write those things, but she did anyway. So they held a closed-door trial and sentenced her to life in prison. Fortunately, the sentence has been reduced to 15 years.

Also a problem over in Vietnam is Doan Viet Hoat, who's been in prison since 1990. His crime was writing that Vietnam should be a democracy. He might get out of jail someday, but authorities there say his "re-education" hasn't progressed as well as they had hoped.

Before I get too carried away, though, I should remember that Christopher Beamon isn't an international journalist writing about political corruption in countries run by oppressive regimes.

No, he's a 13-year-old kid in Texas who was given an assignment to write a scary story about being home alone in the dark. It was so scary they had to put him in jail.

Big difference, huh?

So, kids, our lesson for today is that you should be real careful what you think and what you write. Those frightening thoughts that run around in your imagination, get rid of 'em.

Don't tell anybody about them, because there's a chance you'll wind up behind bars. Society, unfortunately, has to take these steps in order to prevent another Columbine massacre.

Or another Stephen King novel.

Barry Smith is managing editor of the Nevada Appeal.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment