Hopscotch, I always thought, is a game played by innocent, laughing children on a playground that is safe from danger and pain. It is part of sweet childhood memories, times of happiness and lightheartedness with the painted squares forming a symbol of purity and simplicity. Never before did I think my ideas surrounding this game would be challenged or that I would ponder what seemed to be so straightforward. However, this is exactly what I did during my tour of the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center on the first day of my internship.
Caroline Birdrow working at the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center
Walking around the outdoor recreation area for the residents of the Detention Center, I encountered the hopscotch and could not wrap my mind around what I thought was a paradox. The residents had committed crimes. How could they also play hopscotch? Are they young and innocent enough to play hopscotch? These two worlds seemed completely separate to me.
This feeling was difficult to shake, and I could not figure out an answer or understand why I thought hopscotch was such a strange thing to have at a detention center. I wrote about this in a Shepherd blog discussion, and Professor Beckley helped me reach a conclusion. He claimed that “there are many reasons not to treat them [the residents] in the same ways that adults are treated” and that “their lives remain malleable.” These comments reminded me that, although these children had acted against the law, they still have futures and are worthy of the chance to restart their lives for the better. After further conversations with Professor Beckley, it also occurred to me that it might not even be strange to find hopscotch at an adult jail. No one should be denied the opportunity for renewal simply because of having more or less of a future ahead of him. To do so would be to deny the value and worth of a human being. Society has a responsibility to help individuals grow from their past and take advantage of what is to come. Therefore, hopscotch may represent a new beginning and remind us of the need to promote capability for all.
Nonetheless, I began to wonder why the residents’ level of capability suddenly was an issue now that they had run into trouble. Should we not have worried about it before they found themselves in handcuffs? As I considered this question, I recalled something that a fellow student and previous Shepherd Intern, Leah Gose, had stated. In her opinion, healthcare sometimes is “placing a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.” Leah expressed her belief that there are changes in lifestyle that we need to be making to prevent problems from arising in the first place, not simply treating them once they become severe issues. It is necessary to give second chances and offer opportunities to those who have made mistakes, but we also need to direct our attention to stopping problems before they start. Why should we let problems develop in the first place?
Often times, those who are detained also happen to be victims themselves. Many have been sexually abused, neglected, exposed to drugs and alcohol, or living in unsafe neighborhoods. Others may be fortunate to have been members of communities that fostered their capability. However, many of the residents I met experienced less fortunate circumstances, to say the least. Whatever the case, misfortunes do not serve as excuses for the residents’ actions, event though the misfortune may have restricted the choices that led the youth on a path to the Detention Center.
With this in mind, the mission of the Detention Center “to administer justice, rehabilitate juveniles, support and strengthen families, and promote public safety,” seems unrealistic. The Center does give the residents clothing, shelter, food, enrichment programing, health care, psychological therapy, schooling, and other necessities that promote capability. However, the effectiveness of these services is limited because many of the youth have extremely deep-seated troubles and do not live in the Center for very long, as it is a transitional environment where the youth await the outcomes of their cases. Thus, the Detention Center, and facilities like it, cannot be expected to fully rehabilitate the youth or eradicate poverty, as the problems have begun far before the law ever became involved. Perhaps society has wrongly tasked the American justice system with these hefty duties, and society’s expectations are too high. The Detention Center, from my observations, only proves to be effective for the children who have been in the Center multiple times. After going back and forth, they mature and realize that how much their freedom means to them. Thus, the Detention Center needs more time to fulfill its responsibilities, and other facets of our communities need to be deployed for rehabilitation.
Perhaps we should be looking to society as a whole to address these issues, not simply the justice system. I realize that there is no clear solution for keeping juveniles out of trouble and out of the system, and it is extremely difficult to help them once they have entered it. However, a holistic approach needs to be taken in order to address problems when they begin and to actively keep children engaged in a healthy lifestyle. Every aspect of young persons’ lives needs to be attended to in order to make sure that they stay on the right track, even when they become curious and especially when they are faced with personal and situational barriers and obstacles.
I do not know, at this point, if I am interested in pursuing criminal justice as a career, but I do know that I am committed to helping young people develop into productive and healthy citizens. No matter what career I choose, I want to be civically engaged and always to be a neighbor who cares for those I call members of my community. If we all were to be accountable for one another, perhaps societal ills would not reach the point of seeming to be irreversible. Maybe no one would ever live without freedom, understood as the capability to make one’s own choices? Maybe we need to blame ourselves more for the problems around us and take a stand to promote the capability of others?