The Farm Chronicles: The warden and the justice meter

One of the things my dad instilled in me was to stand up for what I think is right. All of us Wilson’s have a certain “Justice Meter” within us, set to go off like a Geiger Counter at first detection of an injustice. In Dad’s day, this sensitivity would often be settled with fisticuffs. My older brothers, 9 and 14 years older than me, an occasional fight. By the time I came along, we had become more civilized in how we conducted our differences, or perhaps more subtle about them. Nevertheless, an unjust rule was no rule and an unjust act must not be left unchallenged. This conflicted with another rule of our household: That if you got in trouble at school, you got the same at home first, then the truth would be sorted out.

Along about my freshman year, there was a new vice principal hired at our high school. His name was Mr. Ward. He was tall and slender, his head seemed disproportionately large for his neck and shoulders. He wore those dark horn-rimmed glasses, kind of a ‘50s look, and he never smiled. He was always lurking in the halls during class changes with his arms crossed like a Nazi prison camp officer. Never friendly. Always on the look-out for a violation of some sort to hit some unsuspecting student with a detention or, worse yet, a trip to the “office” for a paddling. Now the principal, Mr. Peterson, was a good man, cheerful, disciplined, but fair. How he got stuck with the “Warden” as we called him, who knows?

One particular day, a cheerful sunny day, we were changing classes. I was walking toward my class and a friend, Greg, was walking in the opposite direction toward his class. We hadn’t seen each other for a while and I said, “How you doing, Greg?” “Great, Bill, good to see you.” And we high-fived as we passed. Well, Mr. Ward went into action. He grabbed me and took me down to the office. He claimed that I had thrown Greg against a locker and began punching him. And against my ardent protest, he paddled me for it. I knew what was going to happen when I got home, so I told Dad about it right away. I was so angry that I insisted Dad call Mr. Peterson to set up a meeting. Dad held off on paddling me, pending the outcome. Here we are the next day in Mr. Peterson’s office—Dad, me, Peterson, Ward and Greg.

I went into full lawyer mode. Mr. Ward recounted his false version of the story. Greg confirmed my version. Mr. Peterson judged that Ward was wrong and apologized for what happened. I wouldn’t let it sit. Despite Dad wanting me to leave well enough alone, I would not. I said that a man who would lie just for the sake of lying (and I pointed at Ward) lacked the character to deal with kids, and I demanded he be fired. Mr. Ward was not fired that day, but he was gone not long after. The incident lends itself to Proverbs 19:9, “A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaks lies shall perish.” Word is that Mr. Ward was later convicted of selling drugs to kids at another school. Mr. Ward, the warden wannabe, became subject to a real warden. Lesson: Don’t mess with the justice meter. It never lies.

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Bill Wilson

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