Every year our church gathers a bunch of food and goes to the juvenile hall jail to give the kids housed there some kind of Christmas, this year I decided to go. I gotta say I had a ball.
I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like and honestly, I was a little scared. I mean these are just kids, but they are kids who are doing things to where society has to lock them up. But as in everything God has led me to do, I knew I just needed to suck it up and let Him work.
We got there and got a speech mostly about what NOT to do. Don’t tell them your last name. Don’t give them anything, especially pencils or anything sharp. Don’t let them give you anything. Then they lead you into what is called a Pod. A Pod is a big room with a large guard platform in the middle. On either side are four picnic style tables and two levels of jail cells. The kids on one side generally don’t mingle with kids on the other.
They wear orange or yellow sweatshirts, blue sweat pants and slip off shoes. They have wrist bands with their picture on them and a barcode to identify them. The youngest one there tonight was I think about 14 and the oldest, 17. The 17 year old was clearly the old man of the group. Gang tattoos on his hands he already had several kids and was planning on getting married as soon as he got out. He admittedly had an alcohol abuse problem.
Another kid told me that it was pretty good in jail, better than living on the street. He had been here many times before and this time he was most likely going to do 6 to 8 months.
Yet despite these experiences, when you sit and talk to these kids, you see that they are still kids. They still tease each other like kids, and laugh at immature jokes. We had them all singing christmas carols and playing dumb games and it’s in those times that you realize that the vast majority of these kids aren’t hardened criminals. They’ve been raised in broken homes and mistreated and have fallen in with bad people and that’s why they are where they are. Now, I’m not naive, there’s some that are playing the system and simply know how to B.S. and they are very good at it. But there are many that have potential.
So for me, it was a sobering experience. On one hand it was just an opportunity for God to grow me a little more. Get me out of my comfort zone and continue to make me see that there are things I can do. On the other hand it was a great chance just to show some love to kids who haven’t been shown enough. You know, you can’t really change these kids. You can’t make them change their lives. But you can show them and tell them about Christ’s love. You can share some life experiences. And some day, when these kids hit their bottom, if that’s now or 20 years from now, they might just remember some stranger telling them that they could be better if they just reached out to God and had a little faith. And they will use that to start a new life.