Last week was my first time in the Juvenile Detention Center. I've always been a "good girl" (I hate getting in trouble), so I was nervous to be around teenagers with a different outlook. But I'd gotten my fingerprints taken, my photo ID, and attended the volunteer training, so I wasn't about to back out now. Plus, I'd survived 5 years of working at a charter school with several ankle-monitored kids in attendance. It couldn't be that bad, right?
I'm volunteering with my friends from Alert (the same group who ministers to sexually exploited women at brothels and strip clubs). We realize that many of the girls in juve have been sexually exploited already, and have been involved with prostitution, drugs, or criminal behavior. Our goal is to connect with these girls and introduce them to a loving God. To teach them life skills and pray with them, if they want.
The girls walked in the room, hands behind their orange shirts, escorted by the female security guards on duty. It was a typical group of teenagers- some were smiling and talkative, others were silent, and a few had scowls on their faces, with a don't-mess-with-me look in their eyes. They sat in a circle and talked about how their week was. They remembered the previous week's lesson on assertiveness vs. aggression, a good start. Then we told them the day's topic- mother daughter relationships.
We split them into small groups and had them work on a collage. They were to put images or words that described their relationship with their moms or mother figures. Some girls immediately began flipping through magazines and ripping out pictures, while others needed a lot of explanation and had trouble getting started. I walked around the room, encouraging their efforts and asking questions about the words and images they selected.
One girl had been silent the entire time, refusing to comment on her week. For the activity, she pulled a chair to a corner of the room, facing away from everyone except one of the security guards. At first, I didn't think she would participate at all, but I watched her begin to draw. Then she asked for a magazine and glue. She finished quickly, then put her head down.
I cautiously approached and asked if I could see her collage. On the front, she had drawn a picture of her shooting her mother, with the words "pay back is here" and "I got revenge." She had drawn a broken heart on the side, and the bottom said "I still love you!" On the back of the paper were two smiling faces- one woman, one girl. She had written "when we were happy" and "we were both clean."
The girl silently wiped tears from her eyes as I handed her collage back. I told her that sometimes art was a great way to express things we can't talk about. And I left it at that. Although she didn't say a word the rest of the time, she let me take a picture of her work.
On my way home, I realized that she was the reason I wanted to help people. There are so many out there who are hurting and desperate and lost. They don't want to be talked down to or preached at, they want someone to listen. To care. To cry with them, and offer hope that things can change. I realized that even though I have so many issues myself, I can still help. When I see girls like her, my heart is filled to overflowing with love and concern. And I realize that I can still make a difference, one person at a time.