Thursday, July 28, 2011

Juvenile Detention

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.


Mamma has spoken said...

What a sad way to meet a former student. My question to you is: did you see it coming? You know what I mean, there are those students that you do try to change their lives for the better, to see there is something positive in the real world, only to read about them in the newspaper (or in your case in person)? I have had a few. Breaks my heart every time......

Kristina P. said...

I've been to Slate Canyon many time, and 99% of the kids I work with currently have been to DT. They drive me crazy, but I still enjoy them.

Marnie said...

That is a powerful experience. I'm glad you were there for them. You've made a difference. You were home to them.

Stef said...

Wow! What a blessing you are to those kids. And probably quite a comfort, though awkward at first, for those kids....
I am impressed...even more than I was before. You are quite a person!

Sierra said...

Is it interesting that I am almost envious of this? I can only imagine how difficult this must be, but what an experience this is! Talk about putting things into perspective and changing others' lives.

criticalcrass said...

maybe your choice to teach at juvie will help your former student remember the good things in his life and help him make better choices in the future. maybe he got lost. maybe you were supposed to go there to show him how to get back.

The Blonde Duck said...

I bet you make a huge impact on them!


What an experience. I have felt similar feels when I have been at a prison and recognize clients from the past. PS: I know someone who teaches at Slate Canyon!

Oilfield Trash said...

This was a great post.

Although this made me sad to see that many youth go down the wrong path in life.

Shannon said...

You *are* a teacher ~ of matters educational, humanistic, emotional and practical...and an amazing one, at that.

Rachel said...

I was telling The SM about your experiences last night. It does just break your heart. When 'your' kids make choices that you know will bring hardship and heartache...... it hurts like nothing else.

Man, I've got a lot of asking for forgiveness from my parents.......

Just love them and pray for them. That is all any parent can do. Both biological and teachogical.

Danielle said...

Wow...that'd be a little rough! Now just remember all your students that aren't there! yay!!
I know....doesn't help. Well, I think its awesome of you to be doing this job right now. You're an awesome example, and I think they will get something out of this! (as will you)
Stay strong!

Cherie said...

My dad worked in the Juvenile Detention center in San Francisco for 25 years and he really saw the worst of the worst.
It really is sad the choices these kids make - literally ruining their young lives.
I applaud you for going in to teach them. It is not a pleasant thing I am sure but these kids need good people in their lives.

I know you made a difference.

Karen Peterson said...

What an incredible experience for you and for those boys. It sounds like maybe you needed each other this summer.

Joan said...

Thank you for sharing this powerful experience. I can only imagine the feeling and emotions I might have in this situation. As a mom I am always deeply saddened by lived that go wrong. Inmates were babies at one time. Sad...

Carolyn said...

Thanks for the cry.

It is my dream to one day teach at the state hospital or the detention center/prison. Someday, someday.

Mindee@ourfrontdoor said...

Sigh. Some of my favorite kids seem destined for such a place. I'm glad that your former students were able to see a friendly face.

tammy said...

Wow. I, too, am wondering if you'd imagined it happening to that kid back then? I'm sure this will make you look at your 5th graders a little differently from now on. Sad that some of them will make the choices that will end them up in there. Good on you for taking the opportunity to teach them. Is it something you'll be doing more of?

M-Cat said...

THis one cut me to the quick as well. Memories of my oldest and the worse 36 hours of my life flashed before me.

Someday, when you and I have lunch or dinner, we'll share.

Thanks for being THEIR teacher. Even if for just 4 weeks, you never know what impact you may have.

Patti said...

I am an at risk paraprofessional in our local high school. These are the students I work with every day - before and after some of them go to DT.
There is always hope, I never ever forget that. If I can make a difference in just one of those lives, I know that I have worked hard at my job.
I just remember each day, "love them where they're at."

Richard & Natalie said...

I'm glad you took the opportunity to be their teacher this summer. I'm sure you've made more of an impact on them than you realize.

Anonymous said...

This is a powerful post. You hit me *right here* /hand on chest/.

Perspective: you've given it. Thank you for that.

Ann-Marie said...

I'm a librarian at the Provo City Library and we bring books to the boys in the long term units once a month. I remember being nervous the first time I went, not really sure what it would be like. I haven't gone for several months (some other librarians are doing it now) but I really enjoyed visiting the boys and getting to know them a little more each time. Many of them I wondered how they ended up at Slate, they seemed so sweet and innocent. Maybe it was a wrong time, wrong place sort of thing. I would always encourage them when they told me that they were almost out to come visit at the library and to be good, so they wouldn't have to return to the detention center ever again. I think I had an impact on some of those boys, no matter how small.

Justin said...

It's definitely an eye-opening experience being on the other side of the fence.

As a freshman in college, I wrote a (somewhat) lengthy research paper on the juvenile justice system in Utah. I had a connection at the Genesis Youth Center in Draper, and I was able to enter and interview a couple of youths there. A very sobering experience, for sure.

And a valuable way for you to share your time, IMO.

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