I got the pleasure of attending a seminar this past Friday and it was so needed. It was a reminder on why I became a Detention Officer in a youth facility. We were there to learn why some female youth come into the facility more than others and why they repeat the same behaviors. I live for these types of training moments. I am fortunate enough to take training outside of the facility and I take advantage of anything I can get. This one in particular was set in Seattle and they spoke about data and statistics during the first part of the day. I learned that most youth girls enter the facility because most come from foster care or group homes. I also learned that most of these girls are not attending school regularly.
There has to be a change in the way we help these youth girls. Of course, pulling resources can be quite the task for all of the departments involved. I know the court system, schools and individual homes must all be involved if we want to see change or success. Our kids need support and it does not have to always come from a parent. Teachers are mentors, coaches are mentors, youth pastors are also mentors. We (Detention Officers) are mentors and there is plenty of room to make a difference.
When I first started my job I did come in with an attitude that I was going to change the world, that all kids were going to listen to me, and they were all going to succeed. It is heart breaking that this is not reality. We have to understand that some kids just don’t want the help, but most do! I have had the opportunity to sit with so many kids over the past 2 and a half years and one of the most alarming things that they have in common is that they lack adult support. Sadly, our system will release youth to their same environments so how do we expect change? We as adults in any of our roles have to start stepping up and volunteering in areas where our youth need us. Schools! I am not going to preach unless I practice and I can honestly say, my volunteer form at my kids’ school is filled out and approved. We have to start somewhere.
Some adults that I meet whether it be at the moms group I belong to at church or friends I come across or haven’t spoken to in a while can’t understand why I would want to work in such a negative environment. Yes this job is challenging, but it also has its rewards. I get to challenge myself too. I love sociology (the study of human behavior) so this job is right up my alley. I love to figure out why people do the things they do and what triggers them the most, this helps me to try and help them. One of the things that helps me the most in my job is listening. I have to figure out a balance on a daily basis because I am in an “authoritative” position while having to earn a youth’s trust. So how do I find that balance?? One of the ways is leaving my personal life out of this place. If I am angry or frustrated because someone cut me off on the road on the way in here, I have to leave that at the door. Secondly, I have to be a good listener because after all, that is how you start great connections.
Yes this job is challenging. I think I mentioned that already. We have to be ready for anything and the most important thing is safety and security in this setting. Being able to recognize behavior through body movement and tone is very important. I enjoy this part of the job as well. I was in loss prevention for YEARS and studying body movement was an integral part of that job. I feel like if you want to be successful here, go people watch at the mall. I know to some that may be creepy, but start studying how people move, where they put their hands and arms, on top of what facial expressions they are portraying . YOU WILL LEARN A LOT about people just by watching. A no-brainer right? But let’s picture you being in a locked down facility with 30 youth who are from different gang affiliations, a variety of different crimes, and they being between the ages of 10 and 17. PHEW, a challenge right? But I tell you, earning their trust will make for a better day. So start listening. KIDS want connections and relationship, so either they will side with someone their own age who might influence them in a more negative way, or they will listen to the detention officer that is actively listening. I pick the latter.
There was a panel of youth that spoke to us during the last hour of the seminar and they all had very many things in common. These youth came from broken homes where adults did not believe in them. Some saw juvenile hall, while others saw the streets. These girls were told that they would grow up to be a NO ONE. That they weren’t smart, or pretty, bullied for the material things they did not have. Most of the girls I get to interact with come from these places. Some come in drug addicted and most commonly placed in an environment where sexual abuse is prevalent. I just cannot imagine living in these conditions because I was fortunate enough to have adults in my life that took care of me and cared that I was around. I want to be a light where their worlds are dark. So when I come into work, I try my very best. Not all days are successful, I know that now. I do get mentally drained and exhausted, but that is okay. IF you work in this field, you do understand where I am coming from. But I try my best at starting fresh everyday and realizing that these KIDS need us!!
The girls (6 of them) on the panel shared their personal stories with us and the thing that stuck with me was that although there were adults telling them that they were not good enough, that there was at least ONE adult in their life that shined a light for them when they needed it the most, and this is why they decided to change. They all now speak at conferences and are all involved as advocates for the youth in their schools. They are our future, so why wouldn’t you want to shine a light on them?
This is why I do this type of work. For more info on Justice for Girls, click on the link below!