It’s been a long week. I was in Florida then New York.

I produced a Teen Social Justice Event in Orlando and then performed “Flowers Aren’t Enough” in Long Island and Great Neck. I got off the plane in LA and drove straight up to Juvie.

When I was in New York, I received a phone call from a woman who saw the PR for the show and couldn’t come.

“I watched the video on y-tube, Naomi,” she said. “I need to see your show, and I can’t come tonight”

“I have to see the recovery,” (the y-tube clip ends abruptly).
“I want to see the road to freedom.”

I started to cry, given I was a little exhausted, and a lot homesick for my kids. I cried, and was touched by how desperate and how hopeful she was at the same time. These past few weeks the day I go to Juvie has been sporadic and inconsistent. There have been some changes happening in the facility as well as my schedule. This makes the girls a little edgy, and all over the place. It’s hard NOT to know when exactly I am coming. My showing up is a huge part of my building trust-trust that with this new group I am still building.

“You came!” that comes with a big long hard hug,

“Of course I did.”

“Lots of people say things and then don’t show up,” she says.

I look her straight in the eyes:
“Not me, not us. The days might be changing, but that doesn’t mean we will not come.”

I recently had the great fortune to hire an amazing young woman to come join me and work with me. She is warm and kind, beautiful in and out-the girls adore her.

“We wait for you guys all week!”
“I know. We are here,” I say. “We will always come back, don’t worry.” She pulls me in and hugs me a little harder.

In the class we talk and act out situations where we could have made better decisions even if we have to deal with a hard consequence. I start with an Annie Lenox’s song “It’s a Thin Line Between Love and Hate.”

I explain that we always have a choice, we might not like the price we need to pay, but the choice is there.

“I have to ask you something Ms.,” one asks, “maybe you can finally help me. Shouldn’t love be unconditional?”

These girls so badly want, crave, need - unconditional love. Who am I kidding? Don’t we all want unconditional love?

“My boyfriend says he does crime, he does drugs, and I gotta love him for who he is. Don’t I need to just accept that that is who he is?”

And one girl cuts her off - “You need to love yourself first, you need to come first.”

Ahh, the road to freedom, I think in my heart. I think of the woman who called me, whose husband has made her life a living hell. I think of the senior in high school who poured her heart out to me, tears rolling down her cheeks, telling me how she can’t leave her boyfriend who is controlling and clearly making her miserable, because he loves her so.

My girls in juvie need love for their road to freedom to be successful. Yes, they need to be loved, but they also need to learn to love themselves. But most of all? We all need to be careful of the thin line of what we do in the name of love. Love can pave the path to freedom with brilliant colors and it can also make the journey hell.

I smile, “Yes, when you love someone you need to except them for who they are, but that doesn’t mean you need to except everything they do.”

“Well,” she  says, “He says, if I don’t be his crime partner than I don’t love him.”

The streets, the gangs, are so dramatic “ride or die.” You are in, or out, and out can mean –out of your life.

So many of my girls in juvie take the blame for crimes of other people. People they want to love, people they think will not love them if they do not commit the crime. So many of them are pushed into crime, drugs, and prostitution by people who say they love them. People who use these love-craving girls in the saddest of ways.

I am teary, and I think of something a young woman in Orlando wrote on her evaluation form after a day of social action,

“How lucky am I, and how bad other people have it around the world. I need to appreciate my life.”

And then I think, how lucky, how lucky am I for the abundance of love I have received in my life-the unconditional all-accepting love that I have received in my life, by my family, my friends and the people I work with.

But most of all, how lucky am I that I wasn’t manipulated by love or to love.

So tonight, or tomorrow, love. Plain and simple.

Love yourself, and love the next one without asking for something, without expecting something. Simply love, because you can.

Honestly? That is truly the path to freedom. Sweet, honest deep love. Not unconditional, but real, and for the right reasons.

“He said if I love him, I’ll commit the crime with him.”

“Well,” I say. “You should tell him that BECAUSE YOU LOVE HIM you will not commit the crime with him, and he will have to accept that.”

She looks at me “That’s fucked up.”

“No,” I say, “That’s love.”