Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

Who Are These Juvie Kids? PART ONE

on October 3, 2009

The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress about working with the kids at the juvenile detention center:

After I am cleared through the metal detectors, leave my car keys in a metal locker, and give up my driver’s license in exchange for a plastic “volunteer” badge, the guard escorts me down the brightly lit hallway to the girl’s unit. The double doors to the unit click open and I step inside. I’m glad to see the girls are already seated at tables in the large, open unit room. Sometimes, I have to wait until the girls are released from their small, individual cells which line the large room. When the small cell doors open, I always have to turn away while my heart pounds in my chest. Just looking at the small, enclosed space makes me feel claustrophobic.

Today, it’s a large unit with fourteen girls and they are very chatty. The guard in the unit is someone who I have worked with often. Sometimes he will join us at the table and write with us. But today, he is not smiling. Today the guard is frowning, and I know it’s going to be a long hour with the girls. “Good luck,” he says to me from his perch at the front of the room.

Trying to think positively, I pull out a chair at the table. The girls grumble and shuffle over to make room for me. The chairs are light-weight, but the tables weigh 100lbs in order to prevent them from being tossed in a fit of anger. Behind us, a long wall of glass windows overlooks a courtyard. In the open courtyard, surrounded by barbed wire, boys toss a basketball into a hoop. Occasionally, a girl looks down at the boys. She giggles until the unit guard tells her to stop looking or she’ll be sent to her cell.

As I pull out my poetry books and yellow writing tablet from my canvas book bag, I try to make small talk with the girls. But, before I can begin to explain the purpose of the poetry workshop, the unit door swings open. A girl enters carrying the Detention Center’s mandatory blue bed blankets. She is thin, walks with her head down, and heads directly for her cell as if she’s been here before and knows the routine. Immediately, her presence sends the girls at the table into loud chatter.

“Guess she got caught.”

“Couldn’t stay out there forever.”

Curiosity gets the best of me. I lean over to ask the young lady next to me, “Who is she?”

“Drug dealer,” the girl says, and shrugs. “She sold to most of us.”

Sometimes when a new detainee is admitted to the units, the guard will ask if they want to write with us. This new girl gets no choice. She remains in her cell. Later, I find out the detention center is full and there is only one unit of girls. One unit of girls means all girls are placed in a unit together–the drug dealers and the drug buyers.

The girls continue to mutter about how when this new girl finds out that one of the big gang leaders is also booked into this same unit there is going to be trouble. The girls are gleeful about this trouble.

I hope I’ll be gone long before trouble starts.


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