In the car on the way home from Juvie my phone rang.
“Hi.” It is a quiet, and subdued Hi. I know immediately who it is.
“HI, HI HOW ARE YOU? I’M SO HAPPY YOU CALLED!!!”
Oh my god, I sound like a hostess on a cruise. Although it is real, and I am genuinely happy she called.
It is one of the graduates of Relationships 101 thatis on the “outs”. I have run this program 12 times, that is roughly – 180-200 kids. At the end I always ask, beg, request that they call me when they get out. They never do. It took me some time to understand that they will NOT call me, I need to call them. They don’t believe I really want them to call me, they don’t believe I'll answer. They need me to come to them, so I do.
The Advot Project recently started a new program for the graduates of Relationships 101. It is called OUT and UP . Once a month we meet with girls that are out, we do art, we help with college applications, possibly go see a show. This program is kicking me in the rear end. The girls are spread out all over the city, communication is so hard. They do not use the internet, they don’t always have access to computers. Their phones are an asset for drugs, to give to their pimps. I have so many phone numbers for each girl: Kathy, Kathy new, Kathy newest, Kathy friend, Kathy best…
It is hard, and my agency isn’t really set up for this, my amazing team schleps and picks up the girls from all corners of the city, because public transportation isn’t easy and or accessible everywhere.
Clearly, we are figuring it out. BUT now I have a hand full of girls that call me. They call me at the funniest times, and it is conversations I am learning, and working on having. They know I am in juvie on Thursday, many times on my way home I’ll hear from them. I know some of them would like to go back, not because they want to be in jail, but because they want to be away from their life.
They know they are not allowed to call me under the influence –although I can smell the booze and pot in the texts they send me.
I want to be a different voice for them. We all need to sing a different song, because telling them what to do, asking why they didn’t do this or that, is NOT how change will happen.
One girl called me after she was kicked out of her placement in a foster care home. Her friends came over and they got drunk. What use would it have been to ask her why did you bring your friends? Why did you drink? That was done and over.
I bit my tongue when we spoke, and said, “Well, you didn’t make the best choices. Be mindful of that next time, you need to be mindful of rules. Now let’s figure out where you can go next.”
I am not saying there should be no consequences, but what I have learned is that these girls, they expect me, to expect them, to fail. They expect me, to expect the worse from them. They expect me, to be disappointed and give up. And as hard as it might be, I will not. WE CANNOT.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi sweetheart, how are you?” I answer.
“I’m OK,” she quietly answers. I know she ran away from home, I also know she is pregnant.
“I’m home now.” She tells me.
“That’s great,” I say. “I think?” I add, “Is it OK?”
“I’m ok,” she says again.
This one isn’t a big talker. I blab for a little about the new group I have, I want her to tell me she is pregnant, I want her to tell me her pain, I want to tell her to take prenatal vitamins.
I want to be a different voice. We all need to sing a different song, because telling them what to do, asking why they didn’t do this, or that, is NOT how change will happen. Judging them through the lens of OUR world, isn’t fair.
“I’m so happy you called me,” I say.
“Ms. When are we meeting next?” she asks. I tell her the date.
“Can I come?”
“Of course” I say, “I want you to come.”
“I haven’t come the last few times, and the last time….”
“It doesn’t matter, I can’t wait to see you,” I say.
The last time she was with us she wasn’t in the best of form.
“Is this your number now?” I ask (phone #10 for this kid).
“Yes, but I can’t text on it, only call.”
“That’s ok” I say. “I will call you, don’t worry,” I say.
“Hi, sweetheart. I’ll see you in 2 weeks.”
I can hear her smile.