Dec 21 2012

Doing Time During the Holidays…

It’s that time of year again. I am writing cards for several prisoners. I’ve shared my feelings about the holidays & prisoners here before…

One of my former students spent several years locked up. I used to write him regularly and by his 5th year in prison, mine were the only letters that he received. He told me that they became his lifeline. He told me the letters helped him remember that he was still “human.” When he shared those words with me, I felt a huge weight land on my shoulders. For a few weeks, I was paralyzed and unable to write more letters. I don’t know what was wrong with me but I just got scared. Thankfully, I snapped out of my funk. Writing is such a small thing. It was something that I could easily afford to do. I felt relieved to have moved past the paralysis.

Below is an image of a cell at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC). It is a photograph by Richard Ross for his seering Juvenile-In-Justice project. I have and do spend a lot of time at the JTDC. My organization incubates a project called Girl Talk there. I have been in those cells. I know the young people who are locked up there. I hate to think of them there at all (and especially during this time of year). Christopher spent time locked up at JTDC when he was 13 years old. You can hear him talk about his experience here (note: when he references the “Audy Home” he means the JTDC).

by Richard Ross (for Juvenile-In-Justice)

by Richard Ross (for Juvenile-In-Justice)

The cages that we lock children up in are lonely, lonely places. A young woman named Heather who spent time jailed at the JTDC wrote a poem titled “Depression” to convey her feelings:

I see you and I see me
I see trees but no leaves
I feel wind but no breeze
But what I’ve really been wondering
is why I let these streets control me
It feels like I’m blind and can’t see
Because I let depression overcome me.

Depression by Heather

When you are 14 and caged, you sometimes suffer from depression. So as we approach Christmas and the new year, I hope that those reading this post will do what you can to reach out to someone who is in prison over the next couple of weeks. If you particularly want to support a young person behind bars, the Campaign for Youth Justice created a holiday toolkit (PDF) that includes several good ideas. It only takes a little effort to extend oneself and you can’t imagine the joy that you will bring with even just a small gesture. This past weekend, Girl Talk volunteers came together to organize a self-care day for the girls at JTDC. Below are some of the items that we collected to distribute to the young women…


I was unfortunately not able to participate in this year’s self-care day at JTDC in person but look forward to the one that will take place in January at IYC-Warrenville. I wrote briefly about last year’s Warrenville self-care day here. From all accounts, the young women at JTDC were able for at least a few hours on Saturday to think of something besides the fact that they were in jail. Every little bit helps…