Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Detention has yellow concrete walls. Built in the 1970s, the seats are concrete slabs, polished gleaming by thousands of teenage butts. When you visit a client in detention, you check in at the front desk, speaking through a hole in a glass wall. You show i.d., write down the reason for your visit, and then a correctional worker comes out and pats you down, searching you for contraband. These searches are important. Visitors and family members have smuggled in items ranging from candy bars to porn, drugs and weapons. One gang member in our city was observed doing a strange kind of dance with his mother every time she visited him in detention. A later search of the client revealed small packets of cocaine hidden in his underpants. The packets had been passed from her body to his via the shimmying activity. She went to prison for her smuggling effort, he racked up a longer stay in a secure juvenile facility.

When you've been cleared, the correction worker escorts you to a visitation cell.

These cells have plexiglass and concrete walls, the better to see you with, and heavy metal doors that slam shut with a sound like a tomb. They are used by defense attorneys, parents, and case workers, to visit directly with incarcerated clients, review cases, and share brief moments of family interaction. Like the walls, the floors are concrete, with a drain in the middle of the cell so they can be cleaned more easily, with a hose. Doors slam in different sections of the building, echoing against the concrete and metal, and are the only sounds you hear for the long minutes spent waiting for your client to arrive.

A youth corrections worker delivered Flaca to the visitation cell. Flaca took a seat on the concrete slab across from my own and looked down, apparently paying particular attention to the drain.

We sat in silence. I stared at her, willing her to speak. She stared at the floor, avoiding my eyes. The silence stretched out like a yoyo spring, and I waited for the eventual rebound when she would be forced to open her mouth and speak. I can wait a long time, sitting in silence too loud for most kids to stand. It's a gift.

I noticed that her yellow detention shirt was spotted with moisture, presumably from unseen tears, but still she didn't speak. Finally, her voice crept out into the quiet, rusty and muffled by her tear-thickened throat.

"Sorry, Wedda."

"Me, too," I told her. "It wasn't fun calling my department and telling my boss what a fool you'd made of me."

"I didn't mean it like that. I just kind of lost it. I couldn't stand thinking of CeCe in here, alone. We were snorting coke before you got to the house, and I wasn't thinking straight. I went a little crazy."

She openly began to sob. We sat again in silence, punctuated by her hiccups and snuffles. Finally, slowly, I stood up and walked across the gap between us. I sat on the cold hard bench beside her, and put my hand on her shoulder. She grabbed onto my arm, hard, and the sobs increased in intensity. When her crying slowed down and quieted, I said, "look at me." She looked up, red bleary eyes and wet cheeks, shining through her dark bangs.

"What you did hurt me, Flaca. I trusted you. I'm really mad at you right now. But, I forgive you."


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