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Monday, May 20, 2013

Commencement II- The School of Hard Knocks Sample Chapter By Lawrence Cherry


The Commencement Journey Continues

I am currently putting the finishing touches on the second installment of the Commencement series. I was hoping to finish the book by June 1, 2013 and so far, I seem to be well on my way toward my goal. It was not without a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that it got done.

However, I have mixed feelings about publishing it. Most authors have apprehensions about their finished works. In my case, I am praying about whether or not the final result is pleasing to God, and whether or not people will get the true message or even want to hear what I’m trying to say. I am also concerned that the sequel may not even be as good as the first book, despite efforts to make it better. Some days I feel this is my ministry, and some days I feel like I’m totally out of His will.  But I know I just need to trust that He will lead me in the right direction.

The working title for the book is “The School of Hard Knocks: The Re-Education of Jim Reid.” As you can probably guess from the title, it follows the character Jim Reid and chronicles what happens in his life after his arrest for narcotics possession. If you read Commencement, you know Jim let anger and bitterness about his circumstances cause him to lose his faith, and in the end, himself. In this book he continues on his self-destructive journey and we are left to wonder if someone who seems so hardened against the Word can ever be saved?

This next installment is a bit grittier than my last book and contains more mature content. Please note: Mature content does not mean obscenity! As a Christian and representative of Christ, I have no intention of including things that glorify sin. Yes there are characters that commit sin, but I do not engage in descriptions that glorify such. My intention is not to shock, but to represent an accurate portrait of the life style Jim falls into, the people he encounters, and the consequences that follow.

If you liked Commencement, I am hoping that you will like this book as well. I don’t want to give much more of the story line away. In any case, here is the first chapter. Let me know if you want to read the rest. Peace.

Chapter One 

               Today was the day that Jim would begin to rebuild his life. As he sat in the Medical Review Officer’s place awaiting the results of his drug test, he kept going over the plan in his head. “Once I get the green light on this test I can get my job back, pay off my bills, and this time I’m going to keep my shirt tucked in. I’m only gonna party once or twice a month, and even then on the weekends – that’s it.”  Jim’s right knee began to bounce up and down as he waited for the officer to find his file.

               The medical review officer assigned to his case was a middle-aged white man named Dr. Brewer. He was a tall and heavy-set old man with what little hair he had left on the sides of his head. He wore thick black-framed glasses, which weren’t helping much as he was squinting at his computer screen and typing slowly as if he could barely see what was in front of him.

               “This old man needs to hurry up,” thought Jim. Jim didn’t have any more patience for the ‘waiting games’ that had taken over his life. Ever since he was arrested for drug possession it was as if he had been in a state of suspended animation. He couldn’t do anything except wait. First, Jim had to wait for his case to be put on the court calendar, then, wait through the numerous pre-motion hearings and adjournments. He had to wait all through the court appointed six-month drug rehab program and wait for the arbitration hearing from the MTA. Jim had to wait to be tested and there was more waiting for the results. While he waited, his bank account balance got lower and lower which caused his frustration and anxiety to grow commensurately higher. Jim was tired of waiting. He just wanted his life back.

               As the doctor typed on his keyboard, Jim just kept going over his plan in his head: get the green light, get my job back, pay off my bills, keep my shirt tucked in. He’d done a lot of stupid things before like buying too much stash at once, and buying from obvious fronts. That’s how he got arrested in the first place. Since then he’d learned a lot, especially when he went to rehab and found his new best friend, Smoke.

               “Here we are” said Brewer interrupting Jim’s train of thought. He’d finally pulled up Jim’s file.

               “Finally,” said Jim to himself. He took a deep breath. This was it.

               “I’m just going to get right to the point. The sample you gave us tested positive for cocaine metabolites,” said Dr. Brewer as he swiveled the screen of the computer around so that Jim could have a look. “I’ll print out a copy for you to take with you if you need it.”

               Jim’s cocoa complexion went ashen. His well-made plan and the world he had been building for himself crumbled.  Dumbfounded, he put his hand to his mouth, stroking his facial hair as he studied the screen. All the words, numbers, and graphs seemed to swirl together all over the page and none of it seemed to make any sense.

               “This can’t be right. I hadn’t done any coke for at least two weeks before I took this test” Jim contemplated to himself “I was taking all that herbal stuff to detoxify and everything. Even that drug store test Smoke gave me came out negative,” he reflected silently. Jim had to express his concerns to Dr. Brewer.

               “I’m not understanding this” began Jim trying to keep the agitation and frustration out of his rising voice. “I’ve spent six months in rehab, and when I got out they basically said I was clean. How can this test say that I’m testing positive for cocaine?”

               “Mr. Reid…” the doctor paused for a moment as if he were searching for a tactful way to explain things to Jim. “All I do is report the results of the test.” The man sat with his hands folded his face neutral. There was another silent pause between them before the doctor broke it with his own question.

               “Are you taking any medication for a medical condition that could produce a false positive?”
               “Not really.” Jim began to search his brain for excuses and lies. Then it came to him. “But in the rehab they was giving me that methadone stuff. Do you think that’s why this test came out positive?”

               “Methadone is in a different class of opiates. It doesn’t usually show up on the tests that we administer here. According to the report, there were traces of benzaylecgonine found in your sample. Benzaylecgonine is a byproduct of cocaine, not methadone.”

               “D**n it!” thought Jim. He slumped back in the metal chair, rubbing his hands over his face and let out a deep sigh. He had it all planned out: Do rehab, pass the drug test, get his job back and keep his shirt tucked in, but life had thrown him another curve ball he hadn’t been prepared for. Every time he thought he had everything under control, something would happen that would pull the rug out from under him.

               “If you really are that concerned about the validity of the test, you could have your split-sample sent to another lab for testing. All you would have to do is provide written notification to our office within the next 72 hours”

               “I’ll think about it”

There was no way he was going to put himself through this again for the same result.

               “And just so you know,” continued Brewer, “the results are confidential. Other than your present employer, no one else will be allowed to see the results; that is, unless you give written consent.”

               Jim knew how that worked. If and when he decided to apply for another job, part of the application process would include forms that would ask him for his consent to see such records, and if he refused, he wouldn’t get the job. If he gave consent he wouldn’t get the job either. Jim had to think hard and fast. There had to be a way to keep this drug test from ruining his chances to keep his MTA job.

               “I just don’t get it. I mean I passed all the drug screenings they gave at the rehab. Doesn’t that count for something?” he asked disingenuously. Jim knew he had Smoke on the inside providing special help with those tests.

               “That may be, but as an agency of the Department of Transportation, the MTA has to conduct it’s own testing, the results of which supersede those of any other agency. That’s federal law.”

               “I guess I better look for another job now, huh?”

               “Look, Mr. Reid, I just work for the medical review office that serves your employer. I don’t know a lot about their disciplinary policies or procedures with regard to your suspension. All I am obligated to do is provide them with your test results and based on such, it is unfortunate that I will have no choice but to recommend that you not be allowed to resume your position as a motorman. What your employers do with that information is up to their discretion. They could decide to terminate you or they could place you on a modified assignment while you get counseling and support from their Employee Assistance Program.”

               At his last meeting with the union rep, after the arbitration, Jim was told in no uncertain terms that the court ordered rehab would be his second and only chance, provided he passed this current drug test. Unfortunately things stood as they were. His job security with the MTA had completely vanished. He was back to where he had been shortly after his arrest. Maybe he was in an even worse position.

               One by one, questions began to trickle into his conscience: How would he continue to pay the maintenance on the co-op? Where would he get another job? Who would hire him now that he had a record? More questions came and Jim didn’t have answers. The only thing he was certain of was he had to get out of this office before his head exploded.

               “Since there’s nothing left to discuss, I guess I’ll take my leave” said Jim rising to leave. “Thank you for your time.”

               “I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help”, said Brewer handing him an envelope with the printout inside.

               “Yeah, right” thought Jim. This dude was probably glad to get another brother out of a good paying job.

               “Remember you have 72 hours to contact me should you want another test. My card is in the envelope”

               “Thanks. Like I said, I’ll think about it” said Jim. He took the envelope and stuffed it carelessly into his pocket before heading out of the office.


               By the time Jim reached the street it was raining. Since he didn’t have an umbrella, Jim pulled his ball cap out of the inside pocket of his barn jacket and put it on. Then he turned up the lapels of his coat to help stave off the April rains. Now if he could do something to shut off the incessant flow of questions that were pouring into his mind: What happens if you don’t get a job? Are you going to have to sell your shares in the co-op? If so, where are you going to live then?

               Jim picked up his pace as he headed toward the subway, deftly maneuvering through the crowds on the sidewalk. The thoughts and questions were becoming jumbled into a loud buzz in his brain that was giving him a headache. There was a newsstand near the entrance of the subway station. Upon noticing it, Jim decided to get a newspaper to read during his ride. It would help to keep his mind focused until he could get home and get to his stash. Jim felt like he needed some weed to help him get his head together.  Then maybe he would talk to Smoke later. He might know something or someone that could help him out.

               As he was walking down to the platform, he heard a voice call from amongst the din inside his head.

               “More drugs? Isn’t that what got you here in the first place? Why can’t you stop? Is it because you’re a drug addict?”

               Jim almost stopped in his tracks. “Drug addict?” There was no way that he was a ‘drug addict’.  Drug addicts were the toothless guys wearing oversized thrift store clothes, begging for money outside the local McDonalds. Drug addicts were the dirty, smelly people who sat in a stupefied nod on park and subway benches in between fixes. Drug addicts were the shady characters in the supermarkets who asked if you were going to pay for your groceries with cash and if you said yes, then they’d offer to pay with their benefit card in exchange for your cash. They were homeless, they were lost, and they were beyond hope. Jim didn’t think he resembled anything like that. No, he still had his co-op, lots of his own clothing in the closet, some money in the bank and a lot of potential for the future. There was no way he was an addict.

               It wasn’t long before the D train arrived. After waiting for other passengers to exit, Jim boarded it, and quickly found the coveted seat at the end of the bench near the door. Once he was comfortable, Jim took out his paper. He didn’t bother reading many of the articles. He glanced at pictures for a few pages until he got to the entertainment section. There he noticed an article about a famous rapper who had been caught in possession of marijuana. According to the story he was arrested and released shortly afterward. Jim knew this particular rapper had been caught in such escapades before. None of this interfered with his ability to produce rhymes that often went double-platinum. He was just another recreational user. Just like Smoke and just like himself.

               In rehab, Smoke had helped Jim to see that there was a big difference between a ‘recreational user’ and an ‘addict’: the difference being that the former was able to keep his/her shirt tucked in while the latter was totally strung out. The recreational user knew how to keep things together. They did drugs, but drugs didn’t do them. It was just something one did every once in a while to wind down. Only squares didn’t understand it.  Jim liked the way Smoke broke it down: “Some people knit, some people do crossword puzzles, and some people do a little weed every now and then. Not a big deal.” Addicts on the other hand, couldn’t stop.

               Jim could stop whenever he felt like it. When he was in rehab, he only smoked every other weekend, and snorted maybe like once in a couple of weeks.  He could count on one hand how many times he had snorted. Then when he got out of rehab, he stayed clean two whole weeks before the big test. If he were a real junkie there would have been no way that he could’ve accomplished that. Thinking of this filled Jim with a smug self-satisfaction.

               “Yeah, what about that test? Didn’t you fail?” he heard a voice echo inside him.

               It was yet another hard question that escaped from Jim’s subconscious to confront him. Jim read the same three lines of an article trying to ignore it. He finally closed his paper and looked up. It was his stop. He’d been so caught up in his own head that he’d almost missed it. Jim bolted from his seat through the doors and then up the subway stairs with the rest of the crowd that was exiting the station.

               “I don’t care what that test says. I am a not a junkie.” He knew Brewer probably thought he was a junkie. His old friends would think he was a junkie, but who cared about them anyway. They didn’t matter. Not like he was hanging with them anymore. Smoke thought he was all right. Jim was all right.

               “No, I am not a junkie” was Jim’s mantra all the way home. He just kept repeating it to himself until he got to his stash and got lifted. 


  1. Hi,
    I am glad I found this sample and hope you complete the entire novel soon. I enjoyed the first one immensely and look forward to a series. This beginning w/Jim is a great start but I'd also like clarification on Tim as I was left wondering was he healed or did he die? I'd also like to see what happens w/Callie and the relationship between Miko and Davis and of course the outcome of Allen's destiny - you could actually get quite a few books from the characters. lol

    Re: the more mature content, I say keep it real and as long as it's done tastefully, it will be ok.

    Please hurry with the completion and also may I ask that your books be available for Nook Color readers. While I looked for books two, three and etc. of Commencement, I only saw them offered for Kindle. I actually saw covers for two, three and four though this article that I'm responding to states book two June 2013.

    I understand and respect your need to pray and consult God and I pray he answers affirmatively.

  2. Gorgeous BBW:

    Commencement Books, 2,3, and 4, were discontinued to prevent reader confusion. For a brief time Commencement was only availble on Kindle to reach a larger audience of readers.

    The Compete Commencement is available at Barnes & Noble:

    And on smashwords in epub for free:

    and the School of Hard Knocks is available on Kindle today:

    It's also in paperback:

    SOHK should be coming to Nook around Christmas, It's exclusive to Kindle right now because that's where most of our readers are.

    Hope this helps.