Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

Halloween Masks–Writing with Youth In Juvenile Detention

on October 27, 2008

Each week, I volunteer and facilitate a writing workshop with youth at the Denney Juvenile Justice Detention Center. The following is an excerpt from my memoir in progress about the experience:

Halloween Mask Writing

“We’re going to write about masks,” I say to the twelve young ladies who are clustered around 100lb tables in the unit of the juvenile detention center on the afternoon of Halloween. Handing out white paper, I suggest that we start by drawing a mask. “What type of mask do you wear in your life?” I ask them. “In here? Can you draw it?”

The room erupts in giggles as twelve voices cry out, “We’re PUMPKINS!”

It takes me a minute to figure out what the girls are telling me, and then Ashley, pulls hard on her detention issued orange t-shirt with the v-neck and says, “See. Pumpkins. Orange.”

I study their orange t-shirts, orange pants held up by elastic, thick orange socks, and orange plastic sandals. The plastic soles of the sandals are always the first thing I hear as the youth walk with their hands behind their backs, and the orange sandals, click, click, click on the floor.  Sometimes my heart beats just a little faster before the faces appear, and I remember that I know these kids. Week after week they show up for writing workshop where the youth become writers, and I forget that we sit surrounded by guards, barbed wires, and doors that lock and have to be opened by electronic monitors from guards who watch through cameras posted on the concrete walls.

“Pumpkins.” The girls in detention giggle as they begin to draw.

The girls continue to giggle about their pumpkin outfits as my eyes wander to the windowsill where generic bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and even boxes of tampons line the sill. There is no privacy in the detention center. Drawing my attention back to the girls, I suggest that we write poems about masks. What masks do we wear in our lives? What do those masks hide?

The chatter subsides for a few minutes as the girls clutch small, stubby pencils and start to write. As they write, my thoughts drift toward the upcoming Halloween evening. At 4:45, it will already be dark when I leave the detention center, and trick-or-treaters will begin appearing at my doorstep soon. I will spend my night, opening the door to small costumed children who will hold out small pumpkins to be filled with goodies. As the night progresses, the trick-or-treaters will get older.  Instead of small pumpkins, there will be pillow cases to fill with goodies. And then at the end of the night when my candy is near the end, the high school kids will arrive, some looking sheepish as they stand on my doorstep with only a mask thrown over their heads. “Trick or treat.”

Meanwhile, across town, at the juvenile detention center, the teens in orange will sit behind their locked cell doors that don’t allow for trick-or-treat, and they will tell themselves, “We don’t need costumes. We are orange pumpkins.” As I hand out candy, I will think of those teens, trapped behind their cell doors and dressed in orange. I will think of the teens who creatively find a way to celebrate Halloween– regardless of where they happen to be.

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2 responses to “Halloween Masks–Writing with Youth In Juvenile Detention

  1. M.I.N.D.Y. means Mold Ideas Now to Develop Yourself

    Keep helping to empower our youth.

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