Wednesday, July 21, 2010

As Souls March By...

This is a re-post about the my impressions of the lives that I will come to know through my new job. I wrote it two weeks ago and it is part of a series. As I visit these facilities, I want to share the things that I am seeing and learning.

It’s the end of my second week on the job. Yesterday I drove over an hour and set up shop at one of the juvenile detention facilities where we serve boys with Boys & Girls Club programming. In between a series of meetings, I was alone in the clubhouse on campus. The boys were still attending classes, so it was quiet and through the windows I could enjoy the sunlight streaming in as I typed up policies and ideas. The campus is remote and on a large expanse of what appears to have once been rolling farmland. Periodically, I would see the boys marching by in a straight line, led or followed by a counselor, all matching in their facility-issued uniforms. The boys are mostly in the middle of their teen years and every shape and size and skin color glistens in the sunlight as they cast shadows upon concrete block walls.
I don’t yet know these boys. I don’t know their stories or their names or the reasons that they ended up here. I don’t know their hopes or dreams, what keeps them up at night, what monsters hide under their beds, what demons they must escape. I remember being this age and being scared of boys, their grungy faces and sometimes explosive emotions remote and jagged, even as I experience my own explosion of teen emotions. And later in my life I taught boys this age and they remained a riddle. Education and psychology allowed me to understand and predict their actions, but I still felt as if I were observing an alien species.

But it’s only a few minutes later that I am truly distracted. It’s a new group walking by and at the tail of the line is a very small boy who is practically swallowed up by his uniform and in shoes that are clearly too big. I’m sitting with my boss, a caring man who has dedicated his whole professional career to the club.
The air in my throat catches and he tells me that the little boy is nine. He’s so small, though, that he looks more like six or seven. Not so many inches taller than my own little boy. My little boy who is the center of my universe and the joy of my every day. My little boy who can confound and confuse me and wear me out with his energy and daring, but who also owns my heart more completely than I do.
Why is this little boy here? What did he do? Is there a mother out there grieving, wondering how she went wrong? What is a simple bad decision or a series of actions knitted together so tightly by fate that this little boy was caught in a fabric too enormous to find a fold to peak out of?
I can’t stop thinking of his face and even now my heart is clenched into a fist of resolve. I think of my own life, with advantages and pain and the bright beacons of good souls that helped to guide me when I was lost. My mind wanders to those I have loved and how some of them were lost and found… and some were lost forever, leaving only memories of regret.
We are not alone in this journey and when we lose our children to dangerous paths, we lose part of a beautiful future. I can’t say that I spent a lot of time thinking about children who are in the detention system before now and I know that many people may wonder why they should care about kids they don’t know. If it’s not their child who is lost, they pat themselves on the back for the marvelous job that they have done as a parent. And yet, we are all bound together with lives that continue to astound me with complex serendipity.
All it took for me was one little lost soul marching by to really get it. He needs more caring adults in his life. He needs opportunities to learn and to be successful in new and different ways. He needs the support system of the Club once he is released. He must be shown the myriad of paths that he can choose and feel confident about those who are before, beside and behind him.

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