“But I WANT to be in jail.”

Posted: December 27, 2012 in jail
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“Say what?” I wasn’t quite sure I understood what Damien had just said.

I was sitting across from him. We had 20 students that night and we were running around like crazy. The kids kept us busy all night. When I had first started working with them in Juvenile Hall, I had jumped in with my 3 friends who had been doing it for a year. I was still learning the ropes and getting to know the kids.

At first I was very stressed about the way they behaved. They were ages 13-17 from all different walks of life. They were very demanding of our attention and would get quite vocal if they needed some help or had a question.

At first I thought it was rude and wanted to say something. I was advised by one friend to not worry. It was just the way they were.

This confused me but I knew I didn’t know, so kept quiet.

It wasn’t until the 3rd night that I realized what he meant.

They had their own way of relating to us, of drawing us in and letting us know they needed help without losing face with the other kids. If they said something, anything at all, what was important was the effort on their part to get my attention.

What they didn’t want to show was they couldn’t read or didn’t understand or wanted to talk about something private.

So instead of raising their hands and waiting patiently, they would laugh or make noises or drop things. Anything that would cause us to turn and look at them was what they were after.

So you learned to wait patiently and not ask direct questions. Sort of read between the lines.

For Damien to make such a blunt statement threw me off. I assumed he was kidding. Looking down at him I could see he was not.

He was 15 years old and being held for trial for murder. He had been in the facility for 6 months. He was tall, dark-skinned and thin. He acted confident and was a bit of a bully. I knew he had status here because of the charges brought against him and the way the other kids would never look directly at him, but with me and the other women, he was a bit shy and quiet. Around the men, he stood taller and had an amazing sneer.

He never showed us his sneer. We would have laughed if he had.

All I knew about the charges was that it was gang related.

“Never mind,” he said and went back to reading his book. I had asked him what was on his mind as he had been distracted all evening.

“No, Damien, you said something and I want to know what you meant,” I said as I pulled a chair over and sat down next to him. I looked at the table and not at him. I leaned back and waited. He was either going to tell me or he wasn’t.

He looked up at me and then back down at his book. He casually flipped through the pages.

I waited. My friends were busy but everything was under control. I had time.

He leaned over, still looking at the table and whispered “I don’t want to go back. I want to stay here.”

“Why?”

“Because I get food 3 times a day, a bed to sleep in and books to read,” he said. I nodded.

“So I am assuming you don’t have that at home then.”

He chuckled. “Ah, yeah, you could say that. I wanted to come here. What I did was…”

I quickly put my hand on his mouth to silence him. He looked surprised.

“Anything you tell me, I have to report. Do you understand? It is not privileged.”

He nodded his head and I took my hand away.

“I don’t want to be found innocent. That’s what I’m trying to say. Because if I am, I have to go back to the streets and that ain’t good. I like it here. Can you say something for me? Talk to someone maybe?” he asked. His lower lip was beginning to quiver. He was scared of being released.

“No, there’s nothing I can say or do. I’m not even going to ask about your family. I assume it’s not a good scene.”

“You could say that. Please help me. Please.”

Here was a child that was begging me to help him be incarcerated for the rest of his life because that was the only way he could have food and a place to sleep.

I leaned over and looked directly at him. “Just be honest with your attorney. Let him do the talking for you. You are very young and there is a lot of help here for you. There’s no reason you can’t work this out in the long run. It would be different if you were an adult, but there’s still hope.”

He shook his head. “You ever been hungry and cold?”

I knew what he meant. No, I had never been as hungry or as cold as he had been. I had maybe missed a meal here and there but I’d never been without a roof over my head, clothes in my closet and a place to sleep.

“No,” I said.

“Then you don’t know, do you?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

He chuckled. “Well, at least you’re honest,” he said and started reading again.

I got up and walked away.

He got his wish. He plea bargained it out and was sent away.

He had been hungry and cold for too long.

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