For about a year, I have been working with a range of offenders from juveniles not yet aged-out of the system, to “hard core” felons with very long bids under their belts (“bid” = time served).
I’ve grown to love the five disparate and distinct groups I work with in very different ways. They all make me laugh and have all made me cry. It continues to be the best experience I have ever had.
About two weeks ago a lack of funding has resulted in the imminent closing of our juvenile residence. According to my very rough calculation, I have had about 400 young men of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds pass through my group in less than a year. Of those, about half came and went frequently, often gone for a couple of months to less than a week, and then re-offended to find themselves right back where they started. Most of the offenses are pretty minor in comparison to adult crimes–stealing cars, being out past their imposed curfews–but, they still get hauled in, often shuffled around to other programs or thrown right back into their communities.
When I heard the program was closing my thoughts went immediately to some of the AMAZING and incredibly loyal staff who will suddenly be without jobs at the end of this month. Some of them will be folded into other existing programs but the others have a scary uncertainty looming ahead. I’ve watched them, with tough love and compassion, make those boys relax into their very temporary home. They lay down the law when they have to, and will sit and play cards with them during the hours of free time between dinner and lights out. It’s during those times that I see the staff bring out the boy in those hardened young men.
These kids have dreams like everyone else. They want to be rappers and record producers, athletes and small business owners. They want to work with horses and become pilots. They want the ability to apologize to their parents or grandparents or whoever they feel they’ve let down. Others, in their own words say “I don’t give a fuck.” But, they do.
The youngest ones, the 15 and 16-yr olds with dimples and smiles a mile wide are the most hopeful. They haven’t yet been beaten down by those never ending loops of bad choices and circumstances and I’d like them to believe that they don’t have to be. Others are so calloused and at this point rather indifferent towards there own lives, that you know they’ll never get out of the system that they feel has been unjust.
I don’t know why I’ve been surprised, since many peers of mine from an early age have certainly been abusers of one sort or another, but some of these kids, mostly white from upper middle class backgrounds, are, without question, alcoholics. (Again, why the hell should this surprise me since my best friend, a quintessential WASP from Maine is a crystal meth addict.) It’s my perspective that has changed–I’m a 48-yr old woman who is supposed to be TEACHING them something. What in the world do I know about being a 16 year old alcoholic that they haven’t figured out for themselves?
The bottom line is that in 3 weeks I will most-likely never see any of these boys again. I will miss the ones who are often combative and the ones who take the confidence-boosting exercises I give them and put them in their pockets to look at later. I will miss the one who volunteered to read Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” and came up with his own rather astounding analysis. The thing I’ll miss the most however, is watching the woefully underpaid staff and the way they wear their hearts on their sleeves so that the boys can feel that love, love that most likely will feel elusive to them along their uncertain paths.
“Good night You Princes of Maine,
You Kings Of New England”–John Irving, The Cider House Rules