When one of the girls I work with is told that she is getting an early release a funny thing happens. They get quiet, they become introverted and they are very vague.
They usually will come over at the end of the class and whisper to me, I’m getting out and then even quieter tell me when.
OMG! that’s amazing! I am always so happy, although it is really not so good for my program. I usually start with about 15 kids, they need to be on good behavior to participate in my program. Somewhere around ten weeks I lose about half the group because they get out early (ironically, because of GOOD BEHAVIOR!).
One girl did not want to go home because she wanted to stay in jail so she could participate in our final presentation.
“Ms., can’t I tell the judge nicely, like you taught us, to just please stay one more week?”
“NO, absolutely not - baby, you want to go home, home is so much better than being in the show, or being here.”
I know, for many of them that is actually is not necessarily the truth.What waits for them outside is so far, far from what I do with them. What waits for them is the complete opposite of what they have at the camp (the incarceration facilities are called camp.) Food, shelter, no pressure, no drugs, no abuse-here they have people who care for them. They have nothing else to do, but go to school.
And, no temptation. What waits outside is so, tempting. There is so much temptation. Too much temptation. Scary temptation. Temptations I cannot do anything about or help them with. Last week one of my favorites from the previous group happily said,
“I’m going home on Tuesday, Ms.”
“Amazing” I told her, and then I saw the cloud appear over her head.
“What?” I say, (I truly adore this kid).
“I’m scared Ms.”
“What if I take the temptation?”
“What if I lose what I got?”
“How am I going to do this?”
This girl is so young, she has completely turned around in the past four months. From a tough rough rude gangbanger, to a sweet funny fun young woman.
“I don’t want to go back, I want to go forward,” she says.
“I know, I know” I say, and my heart is about to jump out of my body to hold her.
You see this kid had everything going against her. She still does, but now there is hope. Her mother is in jail, no dad. She grew up on/in the streets. She lived, breathed, and WAS the gang. She is 16 –been in for almost 2 years she has been smoking, doing drugs and armed robbery since she was 10 –possibly younger.
When she was arrested she was so high she didn’t know her name, and now? She wants to be a cop, she wants to be in the gang unit, she wants to help kids like her do better.
She found her smile, she has a core.
I listen to her, and I am lost.
Lost for words, what can I say? What can I do?
I look straight into her eyes, “How long have you been clean?” She tells me. “How does it feel?” I ask. “Awesome.” She smiles. “What do you want to do?” I keep pushing.
“Go to school,” she says softly.
“Who do you want to be?” I move closer to her.
“A cop,” she says with conviction.
“Can you be high and be a cop?”
“Funny Ms.,” she says.
“Hilarious right?” we laugh.
“Well,” I say,“Listen to me. You have a path, you know what you want, you see a future. That is how you will stay away from the temptation –you keep your eye on the prize.”
My heart is so heavy I might just fall over. How, how the hell will she be able to stand against what is waiting for her?
“And you know something,” I add, “If you slip, you get up and get right back on that path. Don’t let the path get away from you!!”
“Ms.” Her eyes are filling with tears.
We stand and hug for a long moment. I whisper in her ear, “You can do this, you have so much, and I am waiting on the other side, so you better call me.”
Thirty minutes after she got out she called me.
“I’m out, It’s weird, N-a-o-m-i.” She says my name in a whiney little girl’s voice.
“I know,” I say.
“You got this, you can do it, give it a few days you will get used to it, stick to your path, eye on the prize.”
She laughs out loud, “I knew you would say that.”
“I’ll say it every day if I need to.”
“Good” she answers and then says “I’ll call you tomorrow, I love you, bye”
They cannot stand against the temptations alone, society needs to help, support and create ways for them to move forward. We all need to be the watch dogs of their temptations, because at the end of the day temptation can be, so less tempting, if you are not alone fighting it.