Mindy holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College.She has published short stories for teens and middle grade as well as articles about writing for children. For the last five years, Mindy has facilitated a poetry workshop with youth at Denney Juvenile Justice Center. Directions is part of that memoir in progress. Mindy keeps a blog at www.mindyhardwick.com.
By Mindy Hardwick
By Mindy Hardwick
Thank you for volunteering to be a facilitator for the poetry workshop. There are a few things you must know:
How to Enter the Facility
Before you enter the juvenile detention center, you must slip off all jewelry and leave it with your purse. You will tuck your purse under a thick, heavy blanket in the back of your car. We have lockers inside the facility, but it’s really easier just to hide your valuables in your car. No one will break in. Not here. The criminals are all inside.
You will walk up to the double glass doors of the facility. It’s a concrete building. On your left, there are glass windows. You can see pots of flowers sitting on desks. On your right, there are no windows. There are only concrete walls. This is where the criminals live. Along the sidewalk, you might notice the weeds growing in the empty flower beds. You might wonder why the criminals aren’t assigned to weeding. However, we think they are best kept inside. These are dangerous youth.
How to Clear Security
As you enter the facility, you will want to thank the young man who holds open the door for you. However, we hope you don’t engage too much with the criminals. His jeans sag and his t-shirt is over-sized. He’s tucked his baseball cap sideways over his thick, dark curly hair. Somewhere, he’s got his gang name tattooed. He heads toward the probation office while you will wait in the security line.
The security is no different than the airport, but here, you may leave your shoes on. You place your book bag and purse on the long scanner. You remove your belt and hand your car keys to the guard. You will walk quickly through the full body scanner. If you lean to the left or to the right, there will be a small beep. Please walk straight through the scanner. We don’t want to have to use the wand on you. Afterwards, pick up your book bag and slip your belt back through your belt loops. Ignore the cluster of parents, lawyers and families who wait outside the court room and scrutinize you as you redress.
Once you are redressed, you will turn right and find yourself in a small waiting room. Pamphlets about gangs, drugs, and violence litter the small tables. Unfortunately, no one seems to read the pamphlets. In a glass cabinet, you’ll also see the framed art. There will be colorful pictures of barnyard animals and sunny, cloudless days which illustrate stories for pre-school children to read. The criminals created this art. You will want to stop, but you must hurry now. You are only assigned two hours for the poetry workshop. We must keep on schedule.
After you walk through the small waiting room, you will step up to a large glass wall. There is a camera on the wall which will watch everything. At the glass wall, a small metal drawer will open. You will place your driver’s license into the drawer. The drawer is pulled inward by a guard on the other side of the wall. In return, you will receive a badge. You will clip the “Professional” badge to the lower left hand corner of your shirt. You will make sure the cameras can see that you are a “Professional.”
Then, you will wait until the double doors open. Inside these doors is a long hallway leading to the units. Sometimes your wait will be long when the guards are watching other places. Sometimes the guards forget to hit the button which will open the doors.
How to Talk to Parents
As you wait, you will feel eyes on your back. You will turn to see a woman who is not much older than you. She watches you from her plastic green chair. You will know her wait has been long. She has the look on her face. The one that says she’s been here before. It’s always the same. We hope you will ignore her.
However, you never did follow direction well. You will slip your hand into your bag and pull out a small poetry book with the title, “Poems from Youth in Detention.” You will hand her the book. You will know that this is only one more piece of information in a long line of brochures, pamphlets, and booklets which have been pressed into her hands from well-meaning counselors, probation officers, and lawyers. But, instead of glazing over or becoming defensive, she looks up at you and says, “You know my son?”
You know that you don’t know who her son is, or even if he’s been in the weekly poetry groups. Inside, they are all the same in their orange jumpsuits. But, you nod, and say, “I do.”
Her son is the boy who writes about siblings he has disappointed. He’s the boy who writes apology poems to his Mom. He’s the boy who returns again and again because he just can’t get off the drug.
You know him.
But, before you can tell her anything more, the double door clicks open.
You are ushered inside to the poetry workshop.