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My Time at the Detention Center

I ran a therapy group at the local juvenile detention center for about 5 weeks as part of my internship this past semester. It was amazing. I learned so much. My experience with the girls was transformative to say the least.

So the girls. When they saw me they would stare at me, gawk when I talked, and bombard me with all kinds of questions. They started out innocent enough- did you play sports in school? Are you in college? They’d ask me about my hair or my major. Those were par for the course. Most of the girls are African American. And here I came crashing into their world looking like the most foreign object ever- I talk “white”. They’ve never seen me with weave or nails. How are you 23 with no kids? That one got them whispering among themselves. But you know what part of my life incited the most discussion and energy for each new girl that came through? My purity ring. At first its presence on my finger was riotous enough. I guess they figured that I must be gay and now I’m just that random chick that comes in with a purity ring. I was kinda a legend there. Each new girl would get the scoop from another girl when they first came in- “Hey, she’s got a purity ring.” “Nah-uh!”

Here’s the thing- I am unicorn to them. I am an anomaly. I am the smallest minority of people that they may have ever heard existed. I am brown like many of them, but I don’t sound like them. I am in school. I have no kids. And as far as they can tell I don’t have man drama.

There’s something else that they picked up on though. There’s something that drips off of my life that they perceived as different. It was if they could guess at how I conducted myself beyond our group sessions just by how I interacted with them and carried myself for the one hour I spent around them once a week.

My life, the fruit of walking with Jesus, presents a different way of being in the world for and to them. Up until this point, they have reproduced what they have seen. They slid into the narrative of their world- this is who women are in relationships, what they do in conflict, where their priorities should lie.

Then enters my life- it presents a completely different reality but in that they see another option. They may not have known they had a choice; that there was in fact a different way to be in the world for them. Not just for people out there, but for them. My life, the ‘little stuff’ played out in front of them has lasting impact. I build up with my words. I give each girl the room to be who and where she is with no judgement. It’s not just modeling, its putting the fruit of partnering with the Holy Spirit in doing life that these girls get to partake of. Like literal fruit, they should be able to taste something different that makes them hungry and thirsty for more of what’s different about you. They eat of my walk in gentleness, in mercy, in controlling my tongue, in seeing how I handle a snide comment. How I offer sympathy and not a visceral response out of my own insecurity or hurt. How I offer vulnerability and softness when a girl tries to take her insecurities out on me. That’s a different way of being that I hope makes them ask, “What is that?”

I’d like to submit to you that your open life is supposed to be the same to everyone you encounter in your day to day life. The moment by moment walking in life, through decisions, with Jesus is what people need to experience. In ordering food in the drive thru to talking about how you plan to handle some relational stress with a co-worker. That kind of stuff is the big stuff. It’s the stuff that should be so different from the norm that people are intrigued. People ought to be able to eat the fruit off of your life and taste Jesus. Literally, the day to day stuff. Not the “big” soul winning sprees where you have no established relationships. I’m not saying that sort of stuff isn’t profitable, I’m just saying don’t neglect your daily sphere of influence and be trying to minister to the masses and the nations. Be a good and faithful steward over the ‘little’ that is currently entrusted to your hand. Because through you, God is wanting to bring water to a thirsty world.

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