Our throw away kids

There are jobs you do for money and there are jobs you do for love. It has been my luck in life to do more of the latter than the former.

There are times when I am working with kids in the state system that I wonder if I’ve stayed too long at the fair, if I should maybe consider retiring based on sheer fatigue caused by the realization that while I may win the occasional small battle or skirmish, the war will go on.

But whenever I’m feeling like I want to hang it all up, I think about other people I know in the field, people who go every day to a job where they are confronted by the kids we have so terribly failed that they are in jail before they are old enough to drink, drive or serve in the army. These are the people who work in juvenile corrections with some of the most challenging children in our state.

I had occasion to go to the McLaughlin Youth Center recently. It’s where we send our youth whose criminal behavior has already reached such an egregious state that they need to be kept separate from society. These are young men and women kept physically behind locked doors while counselors, therapists and clinicians try to unlock the closed doors they’ve erected around their mental and emotional spirit. The ultimate goal is to somehow reach them so that they do not graduate from kiddie jail to adult jail.

It’s a difficult, frustrating, sometimes unbearably sad place to enter every day. Statistics on adult inmates show that the overwhelming majority started their criminal career as teens and were never able to deviate from that course as they aged. Those same statistics also show that the overwhelming majority of adult inmates come from broken, dysfunctional homes where physical, emotional and mental abuse occurred on a daily basis. It is not a coincident that many of the kids at a place like McLaughlin began their state journey as children in need of aid through social services.

When my mother died, about 16 years after my father’s death, someone put their arms around me and whispered, “No matter how old you are, it sucks to become an orphan”.  Truer words have rarely been spoken.  Even at 50 years old, I felt lost and abandoned.

While I am sure there are children in places like McLaughlin with caring parents who did all they could to direct their child properly, those children are definitely the minority.

Most kids in juvenile correctional facilities are essentially orphans, whether or not they have living parents. Many of those parents – and I use that term loosely – were really little more than egg and sperm donors. Once the child was born, they used him or her to meet their own physical, mental and emotional needs in ways often too horrific to describe.  Their concept of parenting is based on the child meeting their needs, not vice versa. When these children reach the age of incarceration, they are usually broken and sad, with a sadness often expressed as rage.

Not that these kids could articulate that. The basic human longing to belong causes them to cling to the dysfunctional and harmful adults who conceived them long after it becomes glaringly evident that their “family” has done nothing but harm to them. Breaking the law in ways often violent and sometimes downright sadistic are the only venues some kids have for their anger, an anger usually directed at anyone other than the parents who created it.

So every day a group of dedicated and concerned adults walk into juvenile corrections facilities around this state and try to make a positive difference in a young person who has already known more pain and sorrow that most adults will know in their lifetime. These men and women go back to this every day, day after day, taking care of the victims of a social network that failed to put a net under them while their parents figuratively… and sadly, sometimes literally… screwed them up.

Society pays Lindsay Lohan a millions dollars for her tale of two weeks in jail. They should pay these counselors, probation officers and guards two million for the effort they put in to saving our throw away children.