Thursday, April 29, 2010

Smells like teen spirit.....

While my work life with juvenile offenders centers totally around food, it's never been what anyone could call a picnic.

Yesterday was the oddest, most frustrating, emotionally draining, jaw dropping day I've had yet.

I was sapped of every ounce of energy.

And exhilarated all at the same time.

We've been going through a rough patch for a couple of weeks, this group of loveables is hard. Not that they aren't all hard, but this one is exceptionally difficult.

Physically, they are huge, and emotionally, hugely immature....we toss around the phrase it's a bad mix to describe them.

One of the Day Treatment staff told me early in the day that she was in a foul mood, she couldn't pinpoint the exact reason although we knew some of it was tied to the kids. Just one of those days we chalked it up to be.

The dish the afternoon cooking class was making was not so much complicated as time consuming. And it took all our resources to keep the loveables in one place, on task, with their potty mouths in check and their fists to themselves.

There are a couple of new female students that started this week, one a tall blonde who has the boy's attention and the other, a chubby brunette who owns some of the most beautiful green eyes I've ever seen.

She also has all the boys attention, but not in a good way. They've been picking on her and made her life at school not so great.

She came in with her dukes up though and it's hard to say who exactly is winning their wars.

Until yesterday, when she met me in the bathroom and pulled two notes out of her back pocket.

"Here" she said, thrusting some folded papers toward me, "this is what they put on my desk".

The notes look like they were done by a five year old, except that they contained swear words and a picture of a penis in the mouth of a crude drawing of a girl's face.

The boys were gaining on her.

I was livid. And sad to my core.

I gave the notes to one of the staff members who works with the kids in the academic portion of the day and we agreed to talk afterwards about what we planned to do to address and arrest this issue.

So the guys were already on my crap list when I met up with them in our kitchen.

It was a rough couple of hours.

And I said, out loud, what I was feeling "this class is outta control".

When we were almost finished I took a walk around back to the equipment rack and noticed that there was something sticky on the floor. Whatever it was, was also on a number of the pans on the shelf. I touched it and it was like glue. Clear, honey colored glue.

Corn syrup?

Pancake syrup?


Someone had doused the place with honey.

The shit hit the fan and this usually calm mama started yelling and accusing.

We searched garbage's, which is where they usually ditch the evidence and within mere seconds one of the loveables had gone to the exact garbage container and lifted a discarded piece of greasy parchment paper and plucked out a half empty plastic jar of honey.

I immediately accused this boy of the dirty deed.

He got angry and his voice raised. And he stomped around like an enraged black bear.

And he denied the charges.

The staff said that they would all receive write-ups unless the guilty party stepped forward.

Snowball's chance in hell, was my thought.

The biggest one of the bunch came to me, bent to my level and said, "I'm taking responsibility, I did it".

"You didn't do it" I insisted "you were washing dishes this entire class, you never left the kitchen".

"I did it" he insisted "I can't get a write-up".

I refused to allow him to take the blame for the mess.

Out in the cafeteria all hell was breaking loose as I heard staff and teens arguing.

I heard cussing and threatening.

The sounds of out of control.

When the mess was finally sorted out....

the confession I'd heard ended up being a truthful one.

The confessor wore my disappointment in him like a lead apron.

And while I knew it was a necessary penance, it was hard to watch.

In the meantime, I had an apology to give.

The formerly accused didn't want to have anything to do with me and balked at my order to "follow me" until one of the other youth said to him "maybe she wants to apologize you asshole".

He let me apologize and agreed to forgive me.

The kids gathered around a long table and they sat with the facilitators of what is their next activity, simply called "group".

Group can be anything from playing football to playing board games like Apples to Apples. Sometimes they watch movies, or do projects or just talk.

Today, the masses were spent.

The kids and the staff...wet dishrags.

One of the kids asked to speak and he rose from his chair and addressed his peers.

First he reminded them that he too liked to "play" and "act a fool", but that this class had been taking things too far. Some fun and games were okay, but this all day every day was "getting old". He talked about being on probation and being locked up and how much he just wanted to be out of the program and that he thought the rest of them should have the same goal.

They were silent and allowed him to continue.

He chided them for getting me so upset. And said that he would not tolerate them disrespecting me or my kitchen. He told them that he'd been a long time student in our Day Treatment program and that he'd never heard me say anything like he heard this day.

I'd taken a seat in the back behind the kids and listened too.

My eyes filled with tears.

And my heart, with gratitude and pride for this young man.

When he was finished I thanked him and he took a seat.

Another of the youths, one who has been steadily spiraling out of control began to talk. He started describing his life and how hard it is. How much he hates it. His sick mother, his lazy sister. Whose boyfriends he has to fight with. His hatred for his hard nosed Probation Officer and his desire and need to get out of his neighborhood. Where he knows he has no real future.

A real one perhaps, but not the one of his dreams nor of his potential.

The other youth sat still, every eye on him, and let him get it all out.

I wanted to gather him up on my lap and pat his back.

And tell him that growing into a good man is going to be the hardest and best thing he is ever going to do.

That everything would be okay

 I wish it were that easy.

Thanks for listening.


  1. OH man! I love your blog!! This one made my heart heavy and hopeful all at the same time. Today I am asking God for an extra measure of His grace for you and an extra measure of hope for those kids. Praying God's blessing on the work you do.
    love and hugs to you!

  2. Gosh, a very moving episode indeed. Perhaps this incredibly difficult and important work you do CAN be a bit more like the movies - perhaps there are happy endings sometimes. I do hope so. Well done to everyone, staff and loveables, for turning an impossibly hard day into an opportunity for discussion and change. Well done to you for helping to guide these children-in-adult-bodies towards something more than their environment might have in mind for them, and for helping them to see the potential in themselves.

  3. Smooches girls and thanks so much for the kind comments. The kids can always use a good word sent to the Lord in their name(s).


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