Monday, August 24, 2009

Juvenile Court

Earlier this week, I sat for a while in the Denton City Juvenile Court, just as an observer.  A court official called out names.  Each name was repeated into a room behind the court. Then the young offenders, dressed in shapless and ill-fitting jumpsuits, would walk in, their hands touching behind their backs, elbows akimbo, and join family members standing before the judge.  Each had spent at least the weekend in juvenile lockup, some longer than that.


After initial instructions by the judge, the charges against each youth were read.  Some attorneys were present, but most were unrepresented by legal counsel. 


After stern admonitions by the judge, some of the youth were released to parents or guardians. Others were deemed too dangerous to be released, and were detained pending further arrangements.


I sat in complete stillness and prayed for each individual, each family.  I watched faces full of anger and frustation, grief and sorrow.  I saw a few of the mechanics of a complex legal system seeking to cope with youth who had transgressed the boundaries of normal society while seeking also to preserve the boundaries of legal protection for these young people.


How does it happen?  What has gone so wrong? What will these youth become as they move into adulthood?


I don't know the backgrounds or the family histories here.  I can safely assume, however, they each young person had a place to live that offered a confortable bed for sleep, adequate if not abundant food and clothing, and multiple entertainment options. 


After returning to my office, I saw an article about young girls in the South African country of Swaziland who work at deslolate truck stops in that impoverished and ill country (one-third of the population is infected with the H.I.V. virus). The writer interviewed a 16 year-old orphan named Mbali, herself H.I.V. positive.  She said, “I have nowhere to sleep unless I find a man.” She added, “Sometimes I don’t have money and food for two days. A man without a condom will pay more, so obviously I say O.K. because I need money. I am so tired. These men are so rough.”  


The interviewer found herself unexpectedly moved emotionally by this young woman's story and burst into tears.  Here's what happened next:  "Mbali held my face and said, 'Don’t cry!' She hugged me. How absurd can life be? A 16-year-old, H.I.V.-positive orphan was comforting me while I wept. It was a strange way to carry on an interview, but that’s what we did. I asked her what she needed most. 'Someplace safe,' she said. 'Someplace to be a girl. Someplace where I won’t have to have sex with men anymore.'


What a strange world.  The rebellious and angry youth in the courtroom today seem to have cavalierly thrown away the places that would look like a heavenly haven to Mbali and the many others in her awful situation.  She and others like her would treasure the opportunity to live a life with parental support and restrictions. 


Are the homes that those youth in the juvenile court today come from perfect and lovingly supportive of the challenges of growing up?  I seriously doubt it, mainly because I have yet to see that perfect home and family. 


I know that growing up is hard.  I wish we all did it better than we do.  A simple moment of sadness here--there's just got to be a better way.


So I am troubled as I observe and read about these things.  I have no quick and easy solutions. I do know, though, that the people, whether youth or more mature in age, who have actively served in areas of extreme underprivilege tend to receive life with considerably more gratefulness and happiness than those who just take what is given and then demand more.  I just want to be one of the grateful ones.




Angie Hammond said...

Ok, I have very mixed emotions on this one.
I see your point about serving in areas of extreme underprivilege making you much more grateful.
But I experience youth that often come from abuse and great strife and they are so angry and messed up that many are not grateful for a safe place and food when it is provided for them. What is offered where I work is a safe place, food and structure, but quite often they run from this. The reasons they run are many. But a common thread in all of them is fear.
Fear of being held accountable and being responsible for their own actions. They say that they want to be their own boss, but they do not know how to do this, so they run and say that they can't handle following the rules and that is why they are leaving. Sometimes they come back, and other times they don't. Sometimes they wind up in jail and other times pregnant. Many times they are homeless and hungry and still they will not come back to a place of safety and shelter.

So Christy, I see your sadness and I feel it as well, because even when a better home is provided there are those that would run from it.

As I watch those that I serve runaway for whatever reason, I find myself feeling very grateful for the things that I often take for granted. Food on the table, a home to call my own, a safe place to sleep and those that love and care about me. Yes I have these things and have always had them.
Many of those that I serve never had these things, or ever experienced a loving relationship.

Do we have all the answers? No, but what we do offer is Hope to those who need it in a world that seems hopeless.
Do all that come to us accept it? No and that confuses as well as saddens me.

Some just take what is offered and demand more or throw it back in your face with a few choice words.

And perhaps that is why I have mixed emotions.
While I feel for the young girl in South Africa,
perhaps because she longs for a better life.
I find myself angry that many of those I serve throw away something she is literally dying for, that being life itself.

So as not to paint the entire picture black, please know that I do serve some that are indeed very grateful for what they receive. Those that run are the minority, but the picture of the juveniles in court reminded me of those that run.
It also reminded me of the need to serve both in areas like South Africa and in places like I serve.
Christy, I've purposely left out the name of where I serve. It is for the protection of those that I serve.
But you know me, so you know it as well.

Great article, awakened many emotions in me.

Christy Thomas said...

Yes, Angie, I was thinking of you as I wrote this. The thing that got me the most from this is that it did not appear that most of these youth came from underprivileged homes. But I do think you are right: they are terrified of being held accountable. And that's part of growing up.