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The East Ferry Detention Center MAG
"Lauren,I'm scared," the girl next to me said, nervouslytwirling her hair.
"I am, too," I replied, "but it's going to beokay," I reassured her. "I mean ... well, what's the worstthat could -" I stopped short, realizing I didn't want to finishthe thought.
"Rape? Murder?" she filled in.
Iron gates surrounded the building. Inside were 60 hardened teenagecriminals. The van with our church youth group pulled into theparking lot. The East Ferry Detention Center is a holding place forkids who are in trouble with their parents, peers or the law. Itisn't a jail; the kids are only kept there for a few weeks untiltheir court dates. We had come before and met the girls; they aremostly runaways or have been kicked out by their parents.
We spent about an hour presenting a program of music and drama, andthen just hung out and talked, or rather, listened. They love havingsomeone to talk to. But this time would be different. Today we wouldbe going into Building #4: secured males. These kids have actuallycommitted crimes, even though they are only 12-16 years old.
We were admitted into the front hallway. Other than an empty tablenext to the wall, there was no furniture. We made last minutepreparations for the short program we had planned.
One of the workers spoke up above our nervous chatter, "Thisgroup currently has 14 teenage guys. They're rough. Most of 'em arein here for crimes ranging from robbery or assault to rape or murder.I'm warning you now - they're rough guys. Don't bring in anything youdon't need. They'll take it and use it against you. Pocket knives,pens, pencils, whatever. You see this here?" He jerked the sodacan out of James' hand and abruptly snapped off the tab. "This,you see this?" He held up the small metal piece, brought it toJames' neck and slashed it across in the air. "Just like that,they'll slit your throat. So be careful. Any questions?"
Our already scared group was now silent. The guys quietly set downtheir cans of soda. Hastily, we modified our plans. In our ignorance,we had prepared an icebreaker game involving pencils and a drama thatrequired nails. We decided to ditch the game and do the drama withoutprops.
"Any problems, we'll be there. Don't hesitate to ask for help.As soon as we go in, I'm going to lock the doors. I just want to warnyou. Everyone ready?" the other worker asked. Inside the room,14 guys turned around and looked at us. They wore dull blue uniformsand tan plastic sandals. They sat on large foam rubber seats indiagonal rows facing the front of the room. Other than a few morechairs and tables, it was empty.
Our youth minister introduced our group and then turned it over to usfor the program. We began with a skit. As soon as the music started,they looked up. From their slightly amused expressions, I could tellwe had caught their interest. We went through the short program ofmusical dramas and brief testimonies. At the end, we handed out andexplained a tract that told the story of Jesus. Then we broke intosmall groups to talk.
In my group were four girls from our church and two guys from thecenter. Our youth minister directed the conversation by askingquestions to break the ice. George and Roger, both 15 years old, hadgone to schools in inner-city Buffalo, but now attended school withinthe center. Every day they were handcuffed and taken across theparking lot to the school room. From the way they spoke, we couldtell school was a joke. There was a gym and a small TV, but otherthan that there was not much. Every night they were locked in theirrooms at 8:30 and didn't come out until 7:30 the nextmorning.
"That's when it gets lonely," George said. "They justlock you in and all you can do is think - think about what you'vedone, and when you'll get out of here ... then we just wait tillthey come let us out."
"Yeah, that's the worst part of bein' here. You're all shut upin that little room with nobody to talk to. They don't let us havebooks or nothin'," Roger added. "Other times we got theguys here and we rip on them 'n' have fun so it's not so bad then... but night's the worst." They weresurprisingly open and talkative.
"So what'd they tell ya'll before ya came in here?" Georgeasked us and we laughed.
"They scared us so bad," Heather said, still laughing."We thought you guys were gonna be so, I don't know ... theyjust scared us."
"Yeah, we're all just normal guys, just like you. I mean, we'reall the same as you, we just done bad stuff," Georgesaid.
"Yeah, just done bad stuff, that's all," Roger echoed. Andit was true. They were kids who had gotten into trouble with drugs orthe law and now were paying for it.
As we were getting ready to leave, George asked Kate, "Aren'tyou scared coming here?"
She replied hesitantly, " No ... not really."
Then he asked, "Do you know what I'm in here for?"
She repeated even more hesitantly, "No ... "
He told us he had raped a 14-year-old girl and he would probably getoff fairly easily because he was still a minor. And these were normalkids, they "just done bad stuff, that's all."