Diverse Families

“Do you live in the black part of town or the white part of town?” the young man asked me.

“What does that even mean?” I said.

He wasn’t from this small town. He wasn’t here by choice. He was a youthful offender, committed to the local facility for a crime which I can’t disclose. That’s his story to tell.

He persisted, “Do you live on the black side of the railroad tracks or the white side?”

“I live in what some of the locals would call the ‘bad part of town,’ but that’s such a joke to me. I grew up near St. Louis, one of the most dangerous cities in the US. Compared to that, there is no ‘bad part’ of this small town. Just because a handful of black people live near us doesn’t make it bad,” I said.

“So you do like black people,” he said. He seemed content.

These teens that I work with have come from such diverse backgrounds. Some have families that come to visit regularly. Some have families that would like to visit but can’t afford the gas to get here. Some of their parents are on drugs or in prison, while others are trying hard to keep themselves off of drugs and out of prison. Many of these boys come from the kind of background that small town locals and suburban-raised folks can’t even relate to. They are confined within a gated facility where every door is locked. Even the bathrooms.

And yet every day, these testosterone-driven young men from such diverse backgrounds–who have been seen as a threat to their communities in various ways–demonstrate that they can get along (whether they like each other or not), express their feelings and thoughts to their group members and staff, show ambition for their future, and seem genuinely determined to make a productive, drug-free, crime-free life for themselves once they are granted what they all miss more than anything else: freedom.

It’s a whole different kind of family.

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2 Comments on “Diverse Families”

  1. It sounds like you have gotten yourself into a very interesting an challenging work environment.

  2. Laura says:

    You’ve got that right… Interesting and challenging. I love it.

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