Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas in the Clink

Today was the last day of school at G House before the holiday break. Keeping with tradition, we had a huge midday feast, complete with roast ham, pernil, roast turkey, seafood salad, rice and lentils, and loads of sweet stuff for dessert. As I sort through my mental snapshots of today, I call up images of lots of smiling faces, both staff and residents alike. The kids all received Christmas presents, consisting mostly of clothes, games and candy. Those kids from local neighborhoods were encouraged to invite family members to the feast. I truly enjoyed meeting the grandmother and aunt of a new student of mine, Antonio. It's been a rare experience to be able to make face to face contact with the families of my students in DYS, and I felt lucky to have the chance to see another facet of Antonio's life.

While chatting with Antonio's grandmother and aunt, I noticed a very quiet Manuel over my left shoulder, sitting in a corner chair. He had his hoodie zipped up all the way so that it covered his face. That's strange, I thought. Manuel didn't seem tired just a second ago. But then I noticed Manuel's chest shuddering, ever so gently, beneath that hoodie. Suddenly, I got it. Manuel's family. They're local. He invited them. They didn't come.

It's easy to look at these kids as statistics on paper and just dismiss them. If most people saw Manuel's rap sheet, they wouldn't have a shred of sympathy for the kid. Manuel has done some pretty bad things to pave his way into lock up. Most of these kids have. But they're kids. They're human beings, and they've got so many unmet developmental needs. One of those needs is love. The kind of love that's demonstrated by showing up for an hour to see your kid and get some pretty damn good free food at the same time.

So that's Christmas in the clink. Some good times, some bad. I suppose it's just like everyone else's Christmas, with bits of sadness sprinkled in with the holiday joy. I know I can't ask for a world without tears. But I'd really like it if misery would walk through the back door of these kids' lives a little less frequently.


  1. Poor Manuel. Does your position allow you to comfort him, or do you have to maintain a little more professional distance?

  2. I think my position allows me to offer comfort, but in this instance, I got the feeling that Manuel just wanted to disappear. I thought maybe he wouldn't want the attention.