Quan sits across from Doc, working on the final essay that will earn him his high school diploma. Doc tells Quan to flesh out his argument more, but Quan just grunts. He’s not in a great mood. It’s been three weeks since he confessed something to Justyce that he hasn’t told anyone else. He’s been tempted lately, especially yesterday when Tay explained that earning membership to a group “through mental or physical hardship” creates a sense of misplaced loyalty. He’s been having nightmares about his arrest, too. The arrest itself wasn’t traumatic, but the look on Mama’s face will haunt him forever.
Mentioning that a person’s sense of loyalty increases if a person joins a gang “through mental or physical hardship” is a reference to the beating Quan received as an initiation to Black Jihad. While there’s no indication he’s shared this event with Tay, it’s clear that Quan is getting a better sense of the fact that his loyalty is indeed misplaced. At this point, that sense of loyalty is starting to feel like the source of trauma. His loyalty is why he’s in prison in the first place, even though he doesn’t belong there. And it’s getting harder and harder to sit with it when Quan knows he should be free.
Quan had known the police would come for him from the moment he realized he didn’t have his gun on him. He went home, finished reading Daddy’s letters, and wrote Daddy a letter in return. Then, he waited and considered his dilemma. He knew he’d been arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. But he knew that once the ballistics came back, the police would release him and look for the matching gun. This would lead to trouble for Martel, and Quan couldn’t fathom condemning a person who’s done so much for him. So he surprised himself and confessed.
As Quan saw it, he didn’t have any choice but to take the fall for Martel. If Martel had been arrested, it would’ve been devastating for Quan and all the other boys in Black Jihad. Martel’s arrest would’ve destroyed that sense of community and taken away their one source of support.
Quan didn’t mean to confess to Justyce; it just happened. He felt lighter at first, but three weeks on, he feels anxious and stupid. He hopes that nobody else got ahold of the letter and read it. His mind spins at the thought of cops running ballistics and searching Martel’s house. When Quan looks down at his paper, he’s written the questions he’s thinking about instead of his essay. Doc tells Quan to not worry about this essay, and Quan takes a deep breath. He starts to tell Doc that he needs to share something, but the door to the classroom flies open. The superintendent tells Quan he has a visitor. Quan needs to leave his things and come immediately.
Thanks to the support Quan is getting in prison, he now feels more comfortable telling the truth and talking to his mentors. This is why he presumably is on the cusp of telling Doc what he’s thinking—and sharing with someone else the truth of what happened. Even if Quan’s attempt is thwarted here, the book seems too commend him for feelinng comfortable enough to broach the topic. It suggests that he trusts Doc enough to not just believe him, but possibly to help him figure out how to move forward.
Quan follows the superintendent in a panic, since they’re going into an unfamiliar hallway. He’s shocked to see John Mark, his lawyer, in a room. Quan’s is Mark’s first case where he’s “legally flying solo,” and Mark gets on Quan’s nerves. He doesn’t ask questions, which seems odd. Mark greets Quan as Vernell, tries to be friendly and call him “man,” and finally drops the act when Quan responds with disgust. Mark smiles and says he got a call from the prosecutor’s office. They’re offering a plea bargain.
John Mark reads a lot like Jared did in Dear Martin—he’s trying to be cool, but his behavioor just comes off as offensive. And it’s even worse given how much power Mark has over Quan’s life—as Quan’s lawyer, he has a lot of weight to throw around as he shapes the contours of Quan’s case. So it’s significant that he’s offering this plea deal without asking Quan any questions. Marks seems to want to be done with this case—even if getting it done means getting it wrong.