Grief

Yesterday I told a kid that his only living parent, his mother, died. I have been working with this individual for a year and a half, he’s one of few kids that I have known and worked closely with for my entire involvement in the criminal justice system. I met him when he was 13. I’ve spent time with him in juvenile detention, at school, at behavioral health treatment centers, in his home, at bookstores, applied for jobs, went to the gym, and, of course, have had countless conversations and visits with his mom.

I put my hand on his shoulder as I watched his face go from happiness that I was visiting from out of town, to confusion, to sorrow when a member of his support team told him his mother had passed. I had my hand on his shoulder while he wept as he spoke with a relative on the phone who was weeping as they consoled him from afar. We listened to music, played video games, and went on a walk where I told him about grief. I explained to him how people may try to say comforting things that actually come across as painful and hurtful, how people may look at him funny, or talk weird to him because they are avoiding making anyone feel uncomfortable, and how people may not talk about his mom without him talking about her first. We shared memories about his mom, he processed despair that both of his biological parents are now dead, and I checked if he was going to try and hurt himself throughout this process. He shrugged.

See, this kid has survived watching his parents drink themselves to death. He himself has survived hospitalization for suicide attempts. Yup, plural. Three, to be exact. He does not believe in a higher power, he does not have a source of hope for his future, and he feels disconnected from everyone except… His mom. He found motivation to do well in looking to his mom. He found comfort in talking to his mom. His mom told him that she loved him. He was working (successfully) on his sobriety for his mom. And she’s gone. I am terrified that soon he will be, too. You see, each day – scratch that – each hour this kid is still alive is an answer to prayer.

I don’t have a happy ending to this one, folks. He’s still alive, and that’s solace enough for me tonight.

Daily Grind

It’s been four months of my personal experience being a community supervisor for the sake of child rehabilitation and community safety. It feels like it has been much, much longer. I have definitely underutilized this wonderful resource of writing to cope with the trauma, relapses, and dysfunction that has become my “daily grind”. Poetry seems to be my favorite outlet, so here it goes:

One of my kiddos is preparing to go to college this month

Yesterday I taught him how to type, go online, and check his email

He is concerned and unsure, his impoverished childhood had no computers

You would have thought I was trying to teach him braille

One of my kiddos just had surgery for birth control

I took her to the doctor – she was relieved and freed

From the pressure she feels daily under her mother and friends

As they compare her to all those around her who succeed

One of my kiddos  was ordered to inpatient treatment

He just turned thirteen – his biggest threats are his mother and brother

He hasn’t been sober since he was seven

Being raised by a frail grandmother

One of my kiddos is homeless with a child

His mom’s car was repossessed, so he lost his employment

He failed all his classes when his parents were evicted

Yet we applaud for his 3 month sobriety – such accomplishment

These are my people, this is my caseload

I am witness to success, trial, fear, and life plans slowed

Some days I feel as though I could implode

Yet how beautiful a gift I have been bestowed

To walk with these kids down their tough and trying roads.

 

Your Perfect Little Mold

Alternative high schools. What an absurd idea. “Let’s take all of the kids who struggle in school, and socially isolate them in a room. When they continue to act out because they just spent an entire day with other children who have behavioral disorders, let’s socially isolate them in building of their own, where they can learn and feed off of one another.”

Sure, I get it. Education is precious, and we don’t want difficult kids taking all of the attention and time from teachers. In special education and for children with learning disabilities, this is essential for some kid’s success.

But why is it the solution for kids who don’t have¬† a learning disability, they just had a particularly tough time dealing with the divorce of their parents, or fell in with the wrong crowd, or had a horrific childhood and lack proper outlets?

I have a kid on my caseload who is good at basketball. I mean really good. He’s 6’3″, and knows how to play ball. He was removed from the public high school in the boundary zone of his home (for misdemeanors) and placed in an alternative school almost entirely lacking any extracurricular activities whatsoever. Because of the State we live in, he is still eligible to participate in extracurricular activities in the public school that is in the boundary zone of his home. Too bad this is the school that rejected him and kicked him out.

Basketball tryouts are today and tomorrow, and this kid has to meet with the principal before the school will allow him to even tryout. He has the paperwork done, he is ready to go. They don’t even remember this kid and don’t trust him. None of his charges are against the school. They are making it near impossible for him to even try to have this opportunity as he fights to be perfect so he might be allowed to re-enroll in their perfect little school.

I wouldn’t be so angry if this wasn’t the second kid on my caseload to be pushed so far to the limit and tested so heavily that the teen is given no choice but to cave in. When you look hard enough for flawed behavior, you will find it eventually, even if you are creating it in your mind.

Teenagers are amazing. They are unique, they are dangerously individualistic, they are hilarious, they are curious, and they are messy. Teenagers who are on probation are no different. They may be rougher around the edges, and lack trust in adults who say they care about them. They may need a few extra chances, and they may just need a little irrational hope to scoot them through their days. The kids on my caseload are no less valuable than the non-probation kids who are simply interrogated less, luckier, live in a wealthier neighborhood, or wear less baggy clothes. They still dream, they still have goals, and they still have some hope left in them for their future – until a school says “we don’t trust you enough to let you play ball, and by the way you cannot play anywhere else either.”

Sorry my kid doesn’t fit your perfect little mold.

Parents

Parents are designed to support and guide

To love and protect, care and provide

Their journeys begin in hospitals and crib-sides

First steps, giggles, chubby legs and a first bike ride

Their children’s accomplishments fill them with pride

They love and they give and, eventually, they die.

Being in parent’s arms should make one feel fortified.

Yet sometimes horror and misfortune collide.

Some parents make children feel petrified

Does a parent’s childhood ridden with abuse make that justified?

There is no test that makes you certified,

So maybe we can just call it misguided?

The stories I have heard would make anyone mortified

I wish there was a way to purify

Make right, reverse, remove pain, and provide

A reason for hope, to fight, and to change tides

So I will pray and petition, press in, and open wide

My heart and ears and fiercely stand by the side

Of each child I meet regardless of social divides

And let them know it’s okay to cry.

 

 

 

 

Potentially Interesting

Today a kid on my caseload got drunk in the back of his school and decide to jump over the school’s back fence to leave. When I asked him about it, he said, “I just didn’t want to be there anymore.” Fair point.

A kid on my caseload that was in juvy told me that they had pretended to be suicidal their first night detained just because they wanted a staff to waste their time sitting 1-1 with them and he knew the right things to say. I tried not to laugh, but these kids are so clever in their payback.

As I tried to think of what my next post should be, I realized that maybe the day to day stories aren’t long or filled with philosophically deep thoughts. Sometimes they are short, sweet, and ridiculous. And sometimes they are short, sad, and incomplete.

I have a very young kid who smokes because he doesn’t “feel funny anymore” when he uses marijuana. I’m not positive that he is even aware of the long-term effects of his choices, or his time on probation.

I have another kid who smokes because every time he gets close to sobriety and back to playing his favorite sport (which he is still getting recruitment letters from college for even though he hasn’t played for a year), his older brother walks into his room with weed and pressures his brother to take a hit, resetting his fight against addiction. DCS won’t get involved because he is old enough to walk away.

This job is full of short stories that are part of much, much, larger stories. As I begin to write this blog, though, I am realizing that most of my stories are very sad. Unfortunately, this is the reality of many kiddos coming from lower socioeconomic status and criminogenic families. My interactions each day with these kids are amazing opportunities to learn perspectives that I may never have learned it from before, and this blog is an opportunity to give others the same choice to see something from a perspective that they may have never considered before. Here’s to having funny stories to share with you later.