Over the course of the past month and a half, I’ve had the privilege of going on ride-alongs with our local police and fire departments. The opportunity came through my participation in Leadership Plano.
They were also designed to prepare my Leadership Plano class for our April session, focused on public safety in our community.
That session was yesterday.
We spent the morning with our police, fire and emergency services department. They were, as expected, great. I learned a lot about personal property safety (Kelly has a long honey-do list that he’s not yet aware of) and had a great lunch with our local firefighters.
Then we went to the county justice facility (read: jail) and the county juvenile detention facility.
That was a different experience altogether. I’ve never been to jail and am hopeful that I maintain that track record.
I was really impressed with the system of prisoner monitoring in my county – guards are actually in the housing units, actively supervising individuals. This protects prisoners and reduces incidents.
I was also impressed that a jail built 20+ years ago used made an effort to design in daylighting. Fresh daylight permeates all areas of the jail and I think that makes a tremendous difference in feeling.
But. It was still a jail. And there are people there who have made some terrible decisions and, in some cases, simply made some bad mistakes. So many are there as a result of having poor formative experiences that have fundamentally shaped them as adults – not that this is an excuse for terrible decisions and bad mistakes, but it is an influencing factor.
Even more so was the juvenile facility, housing kids from 10-17.
Yes. 10 years old.
10. That’s a grade-schooler.
I can’t even.
Just typing that makes me cry. Again.
Kids are in the system for a number of reasons – they’ve been victimized and their actions are a direct result of being abused (and worse: trafficking). They’ve made bad judgment calls (teenage hormones and all). They’re addicted to drugs and alcohol and porn. Yes porn.
And porn, by the way, is a big problem for those 10-year-olds. Watch your cell phones, Watch your laptops. Never let kids be on them alone in their rooms.
I’m not kidding.
I was just overwhelmed by the tragedy of it all. Broken families, broken hearts, broken trust, broken society – it all leads to broken kids.
That broke my heart.
But y’all, the staff of the juvenile facility love kids.
They LOVE KIDS.
They aren’t there to punish them or make them feel like they’re bad.
They see their work as providing much-needed discipline and LOVE.
That also broke my heart for other reasons. Like – are we loving on the people that we pay to love on these kids? Are we taking care of them so they stay good and emotionally healthy? Because what they do is a calling. And we need them. And those kids – boy, they really need them.
I spent a lot of time trying not to cry while on our tour. And I failed,
I ate some chocolate. (Just like overcoming the effects of a Dementor, chocolate is pretty good at (temporary) overcoming the effects of heartache.)
But then I went home and told Kelly about the day and cried again.
I feel really challenged by my experience to “love the least of these.”
I don’t think I’m a person who’s called to work in a prison or even do prison ministry, but I do think I need to be more mindful and find the ways that I can see and love on the all-to-often forgotten, marginalized members of our community even if it’s just collecting toiletries to donate for those kids whose families won’t supply those nicer-than-government-issue supplies.
People and kids in need are out there – in fact, more of them are out there than are in “the system.”
It’s just a matter of if we choose to see them or not.
The staff told me their job was like catching water one drop at a time in a thimble.
The key was to celebrate every drop you successfully caught.