The ages of residents in detention ranges from ten years old to fifteen, and residents often turn sixteen and seventeen while waiting for a disposition on their cases. Very often former residents who are seventeen and even eighteen return to detention on old cases, which offers a wide range of experiences and stories to be shared. In addition, former residents often return to visit to let staff know they are doing well. Each resident comes into juvenile detention with a story, a unique personality, needs, experiences and hopes, offering a wide span of stories to be shared in The Child Inside.
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The Child Inside
By Susan Lukin
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2015 Susan Lukin
All rights reserved.
So many of our residents have asthma. When I ask my boys if they have had any attacks since they came into detention, the majority say they have not, that they are not taking any medication and feel OK. Is it that they have been removed from the clouded, dusty air, away from hanging in the street, not having to look over their shoulders, not having to run from adversaries, to slip by bullets meant or not meant for them? Is it that they are away from family stress and pressures, away from knowing that they should be listening to mom, auntie or gram, but being too strongly pulled into doing what they know they are not supposed to be doing, finding some kind of fulfillment and approval from their friends?
Are they young and uncaring, knowing that they are not really being fulfilled, knowing that they are not really feeling themselves, not feeling their own pulses and heartbeats? Anxiety is caused by these frustrations and conflicts, of acting and knowing that they shouldn't really be acting that way, but doing it anyway. ... can it be that being removed from these stresses is allowing them to breathe a little freer? Their breath is no longer blocked as they are plunged against their will, into a new and different way of life.
When they come into detention, they come into a life and a system that is away from the car fumes of the urban way; away from dodging bullets; away from their being irresistibly drawn into a way of life they really know is not beneficial, but do it anyway; away from the love, but at times impatience with their mothers, knowing they should listen, but not listening; away from the taunting friends who often shame them into doing wrong things; away from the fast money; away from having to be the man of the house because their father is not and has not been there for a long time; very often away from an intact, caring family of wonderful people, who lost the fight against the lure of the streets; away from having to look and dress like everyone else, even though they don't have the money; away from being bunched together, doing as everyone else is doing, and not caring.
That is not to say that detention is a whole lot better. It has its own issues and stresses, but it is different from what they know, and that in itself is often a new start.CHAPTER 2
A New Start
A new start in detention. That sounds contradictory, but it is not necessarily so. In fact, detention is often a second chance in the young lives of our residents. Many, many boys have told me that if they had not come into detention, they would have been dead, the way many of their friends in the neighborhood wind up. Very often, they just verbalize these thoughts, but the longer they remain in detention, the more meaning those words have for them. This thought is reinforced by staff. I often bring to the residents another thought that many of the residents reject in the beginning of their stay: that even though they are in detention for something they may not have done, I ask if they have done things for which they have never gotten caught. If their answer to me is no, only they know the truth, but if their answer is a reluctant yes, I suggest that perhaps they are in detention to pay for the other things they did out there, even though this is not their official charge on the court papers. It's nice when they can begin to abstract and accept this reasoning.
I have always felt that the longer a resident remains with us in detention, the better off he is. As much as he wants to hit the streets again, as much as he misses his family, if he remains in detention, he will get a chance to grow while struggling with his frustrations, with the help of staff. Generally, his way of struggling with his frustration is to fight, to 'flip,' to 'wild out,' to be 'tight,' to resist his staff, to let fly whatever comes out of his mouth, to try to intimidate, to overturn furniture and to struggle against being restrained, cuffed and shackled. But the longer he stays, the more infrequent that behavior is manifested. He eventually finds it to be non-productive and he also finds himself on restriction. At last, the layers, as on an onion, begin to peel; the layers of the street, of the dusty, foul fumes, the survival, the running, dodging bullets, the needless waste, the life of not listening, not caring, callousness, guns, scars, not going to school, fast money, making babies, hanging out, getting high ... begin to shrivel. Very slowly, they begin to curl back, unfolding, revealing the next layer of the street, the running, dodging, hanging ... because this is learned for many years, in spite of the desires and hopes of his parents and relatives, of the school, of the more positive influences in his young life that attempt to counter his immersion in being bad. The aim is for us to drill down, discarding layer after layer, peeling back the call of the streets, to help him discover his own core, his own pulse and heartbeat.
Our residents are bombarded with all kinds of new spears of light in detention. They go to the Intake dormitory when they are admitted. Staff members speak to them from every Unit in the facility, including the Ombudsperson, the Chaplain, the school, the Medical and Mental Health staff, the Recreation staff and Case Management staff. For those new residents who are still quaking with rumors of detention that they heard when they were still 'in the world,' much of the information is probably lost, to be reabsorbed at a later time. For the repeaters, perhaps they will hear something they missed before or did not want to hear before, and realize that it was a truism that they should have heeded.
Each resident, new or old, goes through the routine of an admission physical, a mental health evaluation, an assessment to determine his school grades, and an Intake Interview by Case Management staff. Routines are explained to him. Expectations of behavior are stressed, but often are not absorbed and processed, which results in him acting out anyway. But he will run up against a constant wall of structure that he is not accustomed to. He will, as all children do, try to test this wall, often banging his head on the invisible wall of expectations and adult resistance. He won't win. His best choice is to listen to counseling and absorb it, utilize it and build with it and so the longer he remains with us in detention, the better off he is. The longer he stays, the more layers of the onion can have a chance to shrivel and peel back, revealing to himself his own inner core, his inner self.
Most of the residents in our detention facility are African-American and Hispanic. We have Asians on occasion, some Caucasians, Africans and Indian residents as well, and other nationalities round out the general population of the facility. How do the nationalities living so closely together relate to each other? I find that this seems to go in cycles. Much of the time, the residents get along, not even thinking of race or nationality. Other times, when issues, for some reason, seem to be more sensitive, we have more problems. During those times, the tensions swell in the dorms. The differences of shade, color, belief, background and other intangible variables that no one can really name, suddenly become very important. The desert sands shift in the wind, shimmer in the fading light, and carry on the business of being a desert, with no objection or interference. But if a grain of sand gets in someone's eye, the natural flow is interrupted. The eye ceases to function in its routine, well-lubricated way and the focus becomes the grain, which comes to feel like a stone in one's eye. When the irritant becomes a racial difference after that topic is insignificant for a long period of time, it becomes another topic of counseling for our residents, stressing the humanity of all, the melting pot of all of us. We are all the same.
How does a white person fit into all of this? For myself, it is not a question of fitting in; in fact, it has never been a question or topic of conversation as far as I have heard among the residents. But, I guess there is plenty to which I am not privy. One time, one of my residents had returned from Supreme Court after his remand date, and he was upset and very frustrated at how things had gone for him at his hearing. He was angry with everyone and was one to verbally express his feelings. He said, "That white judge! He's a loaf of Silvercup Bread!" This was a new expression for me. I told him if the judge is a loaf of Silvercup Bread, that makes me one too. He looked up surprised. He disagreed and said, "To me, you're Black and to the Spanish kids, you're Spanish."
That was one of the nicest compliments I have ever received.CHAPTER 3
I have the greatest respect for the parents of our residents. I meet most of them on visiting days when I am at the visiting desk, after they have placed all of their possessions in a small locker, only holding onto their two pieces of identification, going back and forth through the metal detector. At times, they come into the visiting area angry, hostile or crying, and at times, breathing hard and shallow, the sounds of asthma rasping through them, and I ask them if they are alright, if a glass of water would help. They often come straight from work, rushing to visit their child, still in their job uniforms, carrying a change of clean, fresh clothing on the subway so that their child can make a good court appearance before the judge.
They are parents who may be conditioned to expect a judgmental attitude from some, a disdain for their plight of having a son or daughter in detention. But they are parents who are struggling as much as anyone else to build a life, to love their children, and to try to provide a home life for them. They are, on the whole, nice people, who deserve attention, information and support as does anyone else. Even those who have not been able, for one reason or another, to provide the essentials, the nurturing and positive home life for the youth, deserve attention and respect. They may have fallen behind some of the others, but they deserve to be pulled along so that they can learn how to do what they might be fantasizing about. ... to live the American dream. They may not know how to grasp their fantasies and weave them into a tangible way of life, but maybe they can find a way to get there.
As angry and hostile as a parent is at times, and as ornery and disrespectful as he or she can be, one has to be that much more respectful, attentive and calm. After a while, the parent tends to become calm also, and hopefully becomes aware that the anger and mistrust are not necessary. Only then can sharing of information and communication begin. There are times, of course, that this approach doesn't work, which leads to taking a firmer, stronger approach with a visitor.
I have great respect for them, because they have been through more than most and they continue to go through this stressful experience, often to exhaustion. Although most have tried to guide their children, and care deeply for them, the drawing power of the streets and friends is too strong at an age when the youths do not yet have the knowledge and strength to resist. In other neighborhoods, the things that children learn on the streets may or may not be the same as our residents have experienced; but in most neighborhoods and households, most parents feel the same overwhelming shame and guilt when one of their offspring enters a criminal detention system.
I have met some wonderful, expressive, caring people who are the parents of our residents.CHAPTER 4
Very often, we wonder what happens to a youth when he leaves our facility, after he completes his time upstate and faces the streets again. The temptations remain the same, or are even worse for him. The same pull of the old life is staring at him, wanting to wrap its hands around him again. Many come back to our facility to say hello to staff; they have grown, and often have children of their own. They are proud to show us that they have made it and have resisted the old temptations and habits. Many return to us on new charges and they again go through the Orientation process and counseling that they did not want to hear before. I believe that the record of a resident returning to us as of this counting is sixteen times. In fact, he was one of mine and I greeted him each time with a 'welcome home.' Sometimes, we are all the structure they have.
For others, who fall in the eight, nine, ten, etc. admissions, I will ask if they want to break the record of sixteen, that we always have an available bed for him and he is always welcome back. He vigorously shakes his head no and says he is never coming back again. I answer that if he comes back, he should come back as staff, since he already knows the system from the inside out. One of my residents told me outright that his father was in jail, his grandfather had been in jail and he expected to carry on the family tradition.
At times, our 'graduates' get into more trouble upon their release. We hear through the 'network' when some of our former residents are killed, or have made the papers for more notorious charges, and it is sad for us to say that we tried to work with this one or that one and failed. When I hear of a former resident getting into more serious trouble, I wonder what more we could have done to prevent that from happening. At times, it is just meant to be, in that he comes back to learn the lesson he did not learn on his previous four, five or six etc. admissions. When I am asked how can I work with those youths who have done so many bad things, my answer is that I and others are here to try to keep them from doing those things again.
I feels very good to get a letter from a former resident who is attending college, and thanks me from the bottom of his heart for helping him, for being there for him while he was in detention.
He usually does not state what it is that I have done and most of the time, I don't know what it is that I have done, except to be there for him. One day, I was walking outside of the facility to the nearby post office and a car pulled up beside me. I man with a beard, in his twenties, whom I did not recognize, called out my name and seeing that I didn't recognize him, told me his name: a resident I had worked with in the facility. He thanked me for what I had done for him. I hadn't done anything special, but I graciously accepted the compliment and wished him continued favor.
Another time, a parent, now a community liaison, told me that in 2008, I was her son's Caseworker. She said that she and her son wanted to thank me for what I and a few other staff members had done for him. She told me his name, which I remembered, but I didn't remember what I had actually done. I was overwhelmed and speechless and almost became teary eyed. She said he was doing well and thanked me again. To touch another's life is such a humbling experience. Along with other staff, I am glad we were able to help him.
Recently, I was sitting at the visiting desk in the facility, processing visitors who came to visit their sons and daughters. A man came up to the desk and said that he was there to bring his younger brother clothing for his court appearance the following day. He said, 'I remember you. You were my Caseworker here when I was eleven. I was the smallest and youngest one on the dorm.' I looked at him trying to remember; there are so many residents who pass through our facility, but he looked vaguely familiar. I told him that I hoped he was doing well and asked if he had learned anything when he was with us; had we helped him? He shook his head slowly in remembrance and said, 'Definitely. I learned that I don't need anyone telling me what to do 24-7 and that I can do it on my own.' He said that he was now working in construction and doing well. He added, 'I also remember that you were kind to me.' What more can anyone ask for?
Each resident is riding on his own plane and at his own level. I am with each one wherever he is, trying to give him some strong ropes to grab onto, and we, the staff and I, begin the process of hauling him up. He scrapes himself on the protruding ledges along the way, getting bruised on outcrops or stumps of foliage that he has not experienced before, but always on an upward bend. I might not remember the specifics of what his charge was or what court he attended; I do remember holding onto the ropes, trying to help him heal wounds encountered along the way and letting him know that I and other staff won't get go of the ropes.
Excerpted from The Child Inside by Susan Lukin. Copyright © 2015 Susan Lukin. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. Asthma, 1,
2. A New Start, 3,
3. Parents, 6,
4. Afterwards, 8,
5. A Cauldron, 11,
6. The Nursery, 13,
7. The Staff of Life, 14,
8. Moss, 16,
9. Spoiled Baby, 18,
10. A Thousand Stars, 21,
11. Counseling, 24,
12. Credit Where Credit is Due, 27,
13. Why Do Children Fight?, 30,
14. A Serious Business, 33,
15. Children of Children, 35,
16. Growing Up, 37,
17. A Puzzlement, 40,
18. As Long As It's Outside, 42,
19. Conversations, 44,
20. Feedback, 46,
21. A Test, 48,
22. We All Cry, 50,
23. Weekends, 53,
24. Talent, 55,
25. Jumpers, Pleats and Headphones, 57,
26. A Shuttle, 59,
27. The Girls, 60,
28. Belonging, 63,
29. Escape, 66,
30. Celebrities In Our Midst, 69,
31. Programs, 71,
32. Culture Shock, 74,
33. The Swat Team, 76,
34. A Great Figure of Modern Times, 82,
35. Heavyweights, 85,
36. The Greatest, 87,
37. More Heavyweights, 89,
38. The Tone, 91,
39. The Rap Session, 93,
40. The Squeeze, 96,
41. Nicknames, 99,
42. Revenge, 101,
43. Bi-Products, 105,
44. Prom Night, 108,
45. Family Day, 110,
46. It's All About Respect, 112,
47. Hair and Sneakers, 114,
48. The Cache, 116,
49. Scars, Tattoos and Other Markings, 118,
50. Security, 120,
51. A Cinnamon Bun, 123,
52. Holidays, 125,
53. Friendships, 128,