Tara McKelvey,

Tara McKelvey,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Feb. 26 1998 3:30 AM

Tara McKelvey,

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4:42 p.m.
       The doorbell rings. A Dress-Up Bear Sewing Kit arrives from the Smithsonian Institute, a Christmas gift for Lidia Jean. It's two months late. I tell our baby sitter, Agnes, we're not getting mail. She recommends "paw money," Polish for "bribery."
       "What's bribery?" Lidia Jean asks.
       Doctors like to get a little something, Agnes explains gently, putting her hand on Lidia Jean's arm. Dentists. Cops, especially. The mailman expects something, too.
       Lidia Jean nods her head. Eyes as big as saucers. Communist-era habits, passed on to the next generation.

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******

5:11 p.m.
       Since the mechanic said yesterday in court he wasn't 100-percent sure Greg attacked him, I've been wondering what really happened. Here at my desk at home I'm reading Greg's statements and my notes again. Greg says he stood in his underwear for four hours and was beaten on the head in the police station. He confessed to 18 brutal attacks on men in their 30s and 40s, including the mechanic and two men who died.
       Greg later retracted parts. He doesn't remember the mechanic, for instance. Says he was forced into confessing crimes he didn't commit.
       The cop who took Greg's confession is a soft-spoken 29-year-old with a cool, damp handshake. Hardly seems capable of whaling away at anybody.
       "Look, I was surprised when Greg said he was beaten. We had a normal conversation. Just like you and I are having."
       Is Greg a liar? Or the cop? I'm not sure.
       And why'd the mechanic change his testimony in court? That's what I want to ask the mechanic tomorrow.

******

5:45 p.m.
       I'm looking at the second-floor window of Nowy Swiat 29, former headquarters of the extreme-right party Greg joined in 1994. You can see skinhead graffiti--a Celtic cross--spray painted to the left of the window.
       I'm standing on the sidewalk in a ski parka, and my legs are freezing. A woman in a white wool cap stops to look at the window, too.
       At 15, Greg went to paramilitary camp and wore a Russian uniform. Two years later, he was in prison.
       You could call Greg's fascism a weird aberration. But his violence coincides with a brutalization of Polish youth that started after the fall of communism.

******

7:32 p.m.
       Five 9- to 12-year-olds are taking pictures in a room that smells like kid sweat. We're in a journalism workshop I run at Orphanage No. 4 on Rakowiecka Street.
       There's a prison down the street. Very convenient. So many people in prison grew up in orphanages.
       Maybe I can help these kids make something of their lives. It's frustrating work. This is the second time I've told Eve to stop hitting her neighbor.
       Beata threw her arms around me tonight and gave me a hug, though. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting through to them.

Tara McKelvey is writing a book about young people in eastern Europe.