Little Bobby in Juvenile Hall

Posted: November 14, 2012 in jail
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I never got used to seeing people caged like animals. Yes, I had heard the stories and I understood that many of them were in serious trouble but the fact that they were children only bothered me more. Some of them were only 13 years old and no matter how tough they tried to act, they were just kids.

Kathy walked-up to the desk. There were 3 staff standing behind it. One of them I had never seen before. He was about my height, overweight and had a buzz cut. My first thought was he was ex-military. His name badge said “Steve” and he was the only one that looked up and smiled at us. The other two ignored us and stared at the monitors.

There were a few kids that were out of their cells sitting around on the couches they had out in the main area. They were talking or reading. No TV was allowed in.

“Hello guys! How are you?” Steve asked. He looked at each of us and came around from the desk and shook each of our hands. “I was told you were coming in tonight. What help can I give you?”

I was a bit surprised by his helpfulness and demeanor. The other people we had spoken to were always a bit clipped and abrupt as if we were in their way. I was often told to keep my mouth shut and not say anything. That was difficult for me because I had no problem telling someone when they were being rude. Apparently the deal was because we were volunteers and therefore not considered employees; we didn’t have much say about anything. None of us had degrees like many of the employees did so we were often brushed aside. This bothered me at first but I soon became accustomed to it as did Kathy, Martha and Matthew. What was important was the work we were doing. Side-stepping someone’s ego was just part of the game.

“Hi Steve. I’m Matthew and this is Kathy, Susan and Martha. All we need is our kids. We know pretty much everything else. Are you going to be on-point with us tonight?”

Matthew was the person in-charge of our group. He was the one that got the program into Juvenile Hall. He was the one that got us to help him and he was the one where the buck stopped. Because of my friendship and respect for him, I kept my mouth shut at times when it was almost impossible to do. Working in this field had taught me some degree of patience and tolerance but I still had a long ways to go.

Steve nodded his head and walked with us to the room we used. It was a conference room that had tables and chairs in it. ‘Yes, I’ll be keeping an eye open. If you need anything, you’ll know where to find me,” he said. He helped us with our briefcases and opened the locker where we kept our supplies. Fortunately we didn’t have to carry them in and out every time we came. All we brought with us were our notes. Anything and everything the kids wrote belonged to the State and we not allowed to leave the premises. Inmates were considered property. We could not take anything out any more than we could walk out with one of the inmates.

Soon the room was filled with several teen-age boys all between the ages of 13-17. They were different shapes, sizes and race. Some were quiet and some were not. A few of them liked to flirt with Kathy, Martha and myself and others were terrified if we even looked at them. All in all there were 20 of them and only 4 of us. We all seemed to manage and they were well-behaved, if not loud, for the most part.

They were happy to be out of their cells so it didn’t matter what the class was about. They were out and talking to others and we were well aware of that. We gave them some slack and knew that in-between them blowing off some steam, some of what we were teaching them was getting through.

As we were going along, I glanced behind me. Sitting on the couch that was tucked away in a corner was a young boy. He wasn’t part of our class. He looked to be only 9 years old; much too young to be in this ward. He had his arms wrapped around him and his legs crossed. He looked as if he was trying to melt into the couch. His eyes were large. His hair was short and brown. He was so white he almost looked blue. His eyes darted everywhere and when he saw that I had seen him, he shrank further down into the couch and began shaking.

I walked up to him and smiled. He reminded me of an injured animal who didn’t know where to go or what to do.

I sat down next to him. He shrank away but didn’t leave. He looked down at his lap and his shaking increased.

“Hi. I’m Susan. What’s your name?” I asked. I tried to keep my voice as quiet and pleasant as possible. I was worried that if I scared him further he would run.

He mumbled something.

“What? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you,” I said.

“Bobby. My name is Bobby and is it OK if I sit here because I don’t know where else to sit and I promise I won’t say anything or do anything. I just want to sit here.”

He was trembling and about to cry.

“Sure you can sit here. You can stay as long as you want. How old are you?” I asked.

He bit his lower lip and quickly scratched his nose and then wrapped his arms back around him as tight as he could.

“I’m 13,” he said.

I knew he had to be at least that old. He looked like an orphaned child in the middle of a war zone.

“What are you doing here?”

I saw tears suddenly appear in his eyes. I knew crying is one of the worse things an inmate can do. If anyone saw it, the teasing would never stop. He quickly closed his eyes, looked away and tried to covertly wipe them away. I looked around the room and  gave him a few minutes.

“I got in trouble at school.”

“For what?” I asked.

“For smoking,” he said and looked at me briefly and then down at the floor. “My parents said they didn’t want me anymore because I am bad and I have to come in here and learn my lesson.”

This didn’t make any sense to me but I didn’t want to push the point. This child didn’t look like any of the other kids in there. Some were being held on attempted murder charges and some for manslaughter. Most of them looked as if they were raised on the streets but Bobby looked like he had come from a more affluent area. It was hard to tell because they all wore the same uniform, but there was a lack of harshness and cruelty about him. His face was soft and his hands were flawless. This child had never lived on the streets and yet here he was.

“OK Bobby. That’s fine and it’s not important why you are here. How long are you here for?” I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. “I dunno, couple of days maybe. I just want to go home,” he said and suddenly the tears were running down his cheeks. I wanted to get him out of there before anyone noticed. I stood up and held out my hand for him to take it. He did and I pulled him out of the room as quickly and quietly as possible. I motioned to Matthew that I would be right back.

Once outside of the room, I found a couple of chairs and sat down. He was trying so hard not to cry but couldn’t stop it. This was the first person I could ever remember who wasn’t afraid. He was in terror.

Steve saw us sitting as far away from everyone as we could. He walked up and looked at us for a minute. A slight smile crossed his face. He walked away, grabbed another chair and sat down next to Bobby.

“What’s wrong buddy?” he asked. Bobby shook his head and buried his chin further down into his chest. I looked at Steve and shrugged my shoulders. I put my hand on Bobby’s back and gently rubbed it. I knew I was not allowed to touch the kids but I didn’t care. This one was terrified. Steve saw me do it and said nothing. He moved his chair closer and leaned over to look at Bobby closer.

“You’re going to be OK. You’ll get through this,” he said.

Suddenly Bobby let out a loud cry. “I want my Mom! I want my Mom!” he screamed and suddenly he was in my arms and burying his head into my shoulder. I held on and pulled him onto my lap. I put my hand on the back of his head and held him as tightly as I could. I glared at Steve, not because I was angry at him. I glared because I was overcome with emotion that any child would be in this condition. I looked at him as if to challenge me on “the rules” of no physical contact with an inmate. Steve nodded his head, put his hands up and sat back.

I let him cry. I rocked him and tried to soothe him. His words came out jumbled and incomplete. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t trying to understand him. I was trying to prevent a nervous breakdown. What had happened prior to this did not concern me. What concerned me was the shattering of a soul and a child’s lost youth. I wanted it all to stop. I wanted to be home in my small living room with my dogs and watching a stupid TV show. I didn’t want to know these things. I resented all of it.

Bobby finally stopped crying but would not let go of me. We sat there for a long time. Kathy peeked out of the room and saw us. She gave me a “thumbs up” and went back to the class.

Bobby pulled away and wiped his face. My sweater was wet where he had cried. I didn’t think I would ever be able to wash it again. I did not want to wash away the tears of a child and forget. As much as I resented all of it, I knew I would stay. I knew I would not turn my back and I knew that I would hope that I could say or do something that would put this broken kid back together again. I didn’t know what to say or do so I sat there and rubbed his back again.

Steve came back and put his hand out to Bobby. “Let’s get you to the restroom and you can wash your face, OK?”

Bobby nodded. He stood up and began to walk away. He stopped and looked back at me. I smiled. He smiled, walked back to me and hugged me. Now I wanted to cry. He turned and walked with Steve to the bathroom. I sighed and stood up. There was still a bit of time left for the evening.

I walked back into the class room. My friends looked up and smiled. They understood and I knew no words would be spoken. There was nothing to say. This was part of the job.

  1. Absolutely beautiful, Susan. I have seen these children and at one point in time, may have acted similar according to stories I’ve been told of what I was like when my grandparents took me in. The wounding of a child on any level is something that rankles me more than anything on this earth. Bless you for the work you do and for writing about this.

    • Susan Lewis says:

      Thank you Paulissa.

      We were there for about a year. I only went once a week and the others did more.

      I understand why they are there but I could never accept it as right. Most of it was all gang related, so there’s a huge problem right there.

      When our time was up – they switch programs every two years – I was relieved and sad at the same time. It was a very difficult thing to do on so many levels.

      Plus them being so young, they were much harder to deal with than adults. They would always push the limit to see what they could get away with, which was fun to watch. But they didn’t have jobs to get back to or families to raise. Many of them wanted to be in there. Sometimes is was a gang initiation, other times it was a way to get food and shelter. Kids wanting to be in there is something I need to write about also. The ones who break the law to get in and off the streets.


  2. stephie794 says:

    wow what a sad story! glad you were there for him! hopefully he reunited with his parents before too long I cant imagine any kids wanting to be in there