Pin It The reverberation and echo of the slamming door behind me was a sickening reminder of where I was; I licked my lips nervously as I stood in that small space between the doors that I christen as ‘the airlock,’ where one door is shut behind you and—once closed—the other is opened.
The second door buzzed, indicating that the locking mechanism had released and we were free to walk into recesses the Slate Canyon Juvenile Detention Center.
My steps were slow as I passed by the small rooms to the sides, the entire front wall made of windows, allowing view to the occupants therein. Some were boys whom I assumed were in processing, detox, or who were awaiting visitation from parents or legal counsel.
A feeling of gloom settled over me as I walked past the glass rotunda-ish master control where the eyes and ears of the detention center watched a plethora of monitors. A veritable montage of buttons and levers were splayed out before the workers as they buzzed people through doors and kept a watchful eye on the detainees of the facility.
I was given a brief tour of the varied facilities at my disposal, and found myself becoming increasingly more and more overwhelmed at the sheer magnitude of the building, and the enclosure I’d only beforewhich seen the exterior of from a distance as I sat in my air conditioned vehicle at the traffic light, listening to a playlist full of music waiting for my chance to proceed through the busy intersection. I’d seen the boys in the compound area, confined behind the high chain-linked fence playing football or walking the exterior lines.
But now it was I viewing the outside from within.
It was vastly different.
I snapped back to the present I was shown the copy room—through two more doors and down a hallway where I was buzzed through at each turn; video cameras gazed down watchfully from the ceiling at regular intervals as an assiduous reminder that big brother was always on the lookout.
I was shown to the classroom where I’d be teaching, and found my heart rate quickening somewhat as I thought of the next four weeks ahead of me.
Why had I agreed to this?
Why was I doing this in the first place?
What in the world was I doing here? I was a fifth grade teacher for heaven’s sake; I was not somebody who should be teaching high school students in lockup.
Each time the boys marched past the wide windows of my classroom I felt sorry for them, wondering what had brought them to this place and moment of time.
I didn’t want to know.
I taught my first three classes without getting knifed, stabbed, wounded, murdered, maimed, decapitated, or anything of the sort.
…until fourth period.
It was the voice that did it.
As the final group of boys trudged into the classroom that first day, I heard a voice I recognized—quite clearly—that said, “Mr. Z?”
Even without looking up I recognized him…he was one of my students.
The years compressed together as my mind careened through the durations to the tousle-haired boy who’d sat in my sixth grade classroom. And, for a brief second, the image of that eleven year-old youth materialized in my head. This young man was one and the same.
He was a bit embarrassed…along with the other four kids who recognized me, but they were also glad to see me as well, all being previous students at schools I’d once taught, though I had never before been their teacher.
I thought of these kids as I taught that day; I thought of the choices they made to bring them to this place in time.
It cut me to the quick.
I am a teacher.
I have been teaching at the juvenile detention center for three weeks now.
Each morning I walk through the double-lock doors and past the guards before entering my classroom, and it is there that I meet my students.
I am their teacher.
These are my kids.
In one more week my stint at the detention center will end, and two weeks later my upcoming 5th graders will arrive in my classroom to commence a new year with me as their teacher; however, I will miss my time in juvenile detention...and I am grateful for the chance to have been able to call myself their teacher.
The image above is not of my student, the shot was garnered from here.