goodbye, hello

The show was brilliant last week. Today I give them an evaluation to fill out.

I teach them what a thank you note is, and I make them write thank you notes to the foundations  that fund the program.  They write that  they understand, they say they have changed. They tell me that they know how to talk now, and that they will be better.

I look at my girls .Yes, they have changed, but will they sustain it?

Will they have the strength to hold that change and protect it against the incredibly strong forces they need to combat when they get out? I give them my number, I take theirs. I ask them to be in touch with me. I feel my heart, it is open with pride. It is filled with love, and it is shaking in fear.

But my strong faith, crazy optimism, and belief in the girls power to change, help me overcome the fear, yet I can barely hold back the voice in my head that doesn't want to say goodbye, and almost says, "Come live with me, I will take care of you.”

I don't, and instead I say, “Do not lose what you learned. You can be anything you want. Make good choices.”

We hug, we kiss, and I might just fall over from the emotion inside.

And then the new group walks in –

They are cautious. They have their mask on. A few don’t even come in they just say, “No, we don’t want to be in the show.”

They saw the show last week. They loved it, but they are afraid.

They ask questions.

And then, I see her–not sure how I missed her name when I was looking over the list and choosing the new group.

I think, no, I know, I probably didn’t want to see her name. I take pride that my kids tend not to come back. In a world of 75% recidivism the Advot Project has 10 percent. Yes, I should be proud.

I am so attached to these kids that when they do come back, it is heart breaking, no, heart shattering. Here she is, this one is special. She was in my first group three years ago.

On my first day in the girls’ facility I celebrated her 13th birthday with her. I cried all the way home. A year later she was back, 14 and pregnant. I think I cried for a week.

She came with her baby to my program on “the outs,” I remember looking at her last year thinking 15-year-old girls should NOT have babies. She was sad, heavy, and her mom was watching her like a hawk.

And here she is now-I am crushed.

I think to myself, maybe I shouldn’t let her do the program again, she has done it twice. Then she looks at me. As I know them, they too, know me, and I guess my thoughts are transparent.

“I don’t care what you think, Ms.,” she says, “I’m here, I’m doing the program, yes I am.”

“OK”  I say.

I look at this girl, so young—I am broken. I then look at her again and I notice that she looks calmer than the last time I saw her. And although I am devastated that she is back, I understand, I see it, I get it.

She needed a break, she wanted to get away, she wanted to be safe. Ironically, she can get all that here, it just comes with the price tag of her freedom and her child.

We finish, she comes to me, we hug and she starts to cry.

Fuck …I’m sorry, but that is what I felt. My eyes start to tear.

“It’s the baby’s birthday tomorrow,” she says, “I’m going to miss it.”

I can’t speak, but I do.

“I know,” I say, “I know.”

“She is going to be a year old and I am going to miss it.”

All I can think is, fuck fuck fuck… I pull myself together,

“Look at me, look at me,” I say.

“She will have a life time of birthdays, you make sure this is the first and the last one you miss.”

“I promise,” she says.

I hug her and kiss her, and know that this could be just one more stop in a lifetime of in-and-out  incarceration for this kid, who at age 15, has been in jail three different times.

The probation officer talks about how they raise these kids.

“I know” I say.

I so want to hold on to the possibility of change, I refuse to let go. I believe that we can break the cycle, and I know that we must fall, then get up, walk forward only to fall again.

A reality of change is hard, but not impossible. I watch my girl walk off to dinner arm-in-arm with someone from the group –I try to envision her changed, I am not always sure what that should look like. Because, really? That vision of change does not belong to me, it belongs to her.

I pick my sunken heart up. My remarkable assistant says, “Let’s go.”  I take a deep deep breath.

“See ya next week,” the supervisor says.

Yes, of course. Next week.

We fall, we get up, we move forward. It’s the only thing we can do. It is the only way change will ever really happen.