A confession: kids scare me

Posted: October 1, 2008 in prison, general, teaching
Tags: , ,

Once again I’ve realized the importance of having a community to support the work I’m passionate about. Late last week I met with a Mindy Hardwick (see her website at www.mindyhardwick.com and her blog at www.mindyhardwick.wordpress.com ), who has worked inside the Denney Juvenile JusticeCenter since 2003 guiding the kids in writing poetry. We met at a coffee shop just off the ferry and for the next two hours talked about what it’s like to teach on the inside. Much like getting together with my fellow writers, you never know how much you’ve been missing people who “get” you until you bump into one and get to have an animated conversation during which you speak a similar language, laugh about similar experiences (though the other patrons at the coffee shop who overheard our conversation probably thought we were crazy to be laughing about “ducking and covering” in case of riot) and share a free-flow exchange of ideas that manifests so organically it’s energizing for days.


I guess that’s all to say Mindy and I had a good conversation.


Here on Whidbey we have a relatively new juvenile detention center, and for a while I’ve wanted to talk with them about starting a writing program there for the kids. But here’s my secret – I’m a bit afraid of teenagers. Not safety-afraid, but afraid that I won’t know how to communicate with them, won’t know how to keep my patience, won’t know how to relate. Right now I ride our local public transit to and from work and sometimes I am “graced” by the company of several teenagers along for the ride. It is often all I can do to not throw my book at them (I know it’s terrible, but how many times can you use the word “like” in a single sentence without expecting something to be thrown at you? I ask you, like, truly?). So, I had a lot of questions for Mindy about her work, and when I confessed my fear of working with kids, she admitted she’d be afraid to go to Monroe and work with the men, which is funny because out of all the things that intimidate me about going to Monroe actually being in the room with the men is the least frightening (the guard towers with guards I can’t see, the drug-sniffing dogs, the abundance of weaponry – all those things intimidate me). I suppose Mindy feels something similar about working with the kids. They don’t scare her.


I still want to try someday working with the kids in the juvenile detention center here on Whidbey. For no other reason than I feel like it is important to do work in my own backyard, so to speak. To do work at the detention center would take me far outside my comfort zone – and that’s taking into consideration that my comfort zone has expanded since I started the work at Monroe. But if I got into the work with kids and found someday I couldn’t relate to them – that I wasn’t doing a good job – then I hope I have the wisdom to leave and do my work elsewhere. Fear is a hard place to do good work from, and just like the men at Monroe deserve someone who can stand in their space with them, the kids at the juvenile detention center certainly deserve the same. They deserve someone like Mindy, someone who can see their potential, someone who can believe in their ability to do better.

  1. Ah…the teens aren’t scary…it’s exactly as you wrote, “They deserve someone who can see their potential. Someone who can believe in their ability to do better.” And I’ll add, they need someone to listen to them without trying to fix or change them…someone to just listen.

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