Trey is waiting for Quan inside the rocket ship. Quan came to the playground hoping to escape, so he stops short when he sees Trey. Trey quips that he’s been coming every day, hoping to run into Quan. This makes Quan feel good, and he climbs into the rocket ship when Trey tells him to. Quan desperately needs a friend who cares, because Mama clearly doesn’t. From the moment she walked him out of the police station, she’s been cold and distant. She won’t speak to him except in one-word answers, and Dasia mimics her. Gabe, heartbreakingly, seems afraid of Quan now. Quan is alone because of a deck of cards.
Having this meeting take place in the rocket ship reminds readers that both Trey and Quan are children who still escape to playgrounds. This is especially true for Quan—Trey seems to be in the rocket ship in part because he knows Quan will be there, not because he likes it that much. In this moment, Quan is lonely, which consequently makes him vulnerable. Mama seems to have revoked all support, care, and love, and she’s teaching her other children that Quan isn’t worth their time or energy. In this way, the book shows that her coldness pushes Quan right to Trey.
Back in the rocket ship, Trey asks if Quan is going to cry and assures him it’s okay if he does. He admits that he cried after his first arrest, too. Trey was first arrested at 11. He was so little that the cuffs barely fit. His mother wouldn’t speak to him either, and his father is also locked up. Quan asks what Trey did, and Trey says he skipped school and got an MIP. He explains this means a minor in possession of alcohol, and he had to go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. They eventually dropped the charges, but the arrest was terrifying.
Trey’s description about how small he was during his first arrest is intended to tug at readers’ emotions—the thought of handcuffs on an 11-year-old child is perhaps a difficult one to stomach. The fact that the police cuffed Trey at all, though, suggests that they didn’t see him as a child. Instead, the book implies that they saw him as a dangerous young Black man who needed to be restrained—all for the (nonviolent) crimes of skipping school and drinking.
Trey says it’s crazy—he had a white lawyer once whose son was having his bar mitzvah soon. It’s a ceremony where Jewish boys become men, and all Trey could think was that the kid is a man by Jewish standards but still gets treated like a kid. For Black boys, though, they’re treated like adults if they get in trouble. That time, Trey had been arrested for possession and the cop had told him that if he wants to act like an adult, the law will treat him like one. When Trey asked his lawyer if he’d say something like that to his son, the lawyer was “shook.” Trey says that Quan is “in it” now and throws an arm around Quan’s shoulders. He says that there “Ain’t a whole lotta pathways for niggas like us,” which rings true for Quan.
Trey describes how white people see Black kids, boys in particular. Implicit biases mean that white people see young Black kids as adults long before those kids are actually adults—to the detriment of those kids. And while Trey can see that this is harmful and misguided, his lawyer’s “shook” reaction is telling. The lawyer clearly hadn’t thought about the difference in how Trey and his own son are treated—and when faced with the possibility that his 13-year-old would be treated like an adult, he’s disturbed. When Trey says that he and Quan don’t have many “pathways,” he suggests that there are few options for impoverished Black boys with criminal records. Overcoming those obstacles becomes increasingly difficult—and one of the only options is to turn to illicit activities.
Quan gets lucky with his second arrest. He’d just gotten caught with a tiny pistol from Trey, which is a misdemeanor. But the juvenile court DA gives Quan community service and tells him to shape up before it’s too late. The third time, Quan serves 90 days for breaking and entering. The fourth arrest solidifies things. He’s at the mall and sees white men laughing loudly. If they’d been Black, someone would’ve asked them to leave already. One man has two cellphones on the table, and Quan expertly bumps a stroller and steals one phone. For this, Quan serves 12 months.
In his last letter to Justyce, Quan wrote that he knew Trey was trouble from the beginning. Here, readers see that Trey is, in part, responsible for at least one of Quan’s arrests, since he’d provided Quan with the offending pistol. But since Trey seemed like the only person who cared about Quan, Quan quickly became susceptible to Trey’s influence—even though he knew that Trey would lead him into more trouble.
Quan comes out of this experience different and “Enlightened. To darkness. His own.” There are other Black kids in the facility who are serving long sentences for drug possession or just being associated with a gang. But White Boy Shawn only gets 60 days and an assault charge for stabbing his sleeping father with a butcher knife. It’s impossible not to notice that Black and brown boys come and stay, while white boys come and leave again.
What Quan sees firsthand in prison is that Black and brown boys serve harsh sentences for relatively minor crimes. But white boys—like the one Quan refers to as White Boy Shawn—serves very little time for murdering his father in cold blood. Because Quan is Black, he knows he’s going to have a far more unpleasant experience when it comes to dealings with the law than his white counterparts.
When Quan gets out, Trey has also had an interesting year. His grandma died, he was expelled for drinking at school, and his mom moved to Florida and refused to take Trey with her. Trey shares this with Quan as they sit by the rocket ship, passing a vape pen back and forth. Trey says he needs to meet some boys and shows Quan his new sparkly watch. He looks at Quan calculatingly and then tells Quan to come with him.
Revealing that his mom wouldn’t take him when she moved suggests that Trey has a home life that’s perhaps even worse than Quan’s, since there’s no mention of a father to care for him. In this sense, Quan finds more proof that he’s not alone in this regard. But this shows how Trey has been forced to grow up far faster than most children, as he’s on his own now at about age 16.