It was my first time speaking at Juvenile Hall, I was terrified! I had seen enough movies to know I didn’t want to be there. As I hurried through the metal detectors, and pushed through the big metal doors, my heart was pounding and I was filled with fear. I wondered if I would get out of this place alive.
I passed the holding tanks, rooms with big windows containing kids who had just been arrested. In there were kids pacing, fighting addictions, fearfully waiting to be assigned to a unit. Some kids were right at home. They knew this place! They had been there before.
When I stepped into the inner sanctum I heard sounds that confirmed my fears. Angry kids were screaming, using profane language. I heard loud pounding on the doors, which dotted the narrow hallways. Juvenile inmates were communicating through the thick cement walls. As I scurried along, I saw empty eyes piercing out at me through the small, eye level windows of their rooms. I passed through more metal doors and hallways, until I came to the unit I was to speak in. Inside sat fifty young men, of all nationalities. I knew from their varying hair color. Their backs were toward me. They were juveniles from the age of 15 to 17.
As I slowly walked to the front of the room, I made sure there was a guard on either side, in case one of them grabbed me. I took a deep breath and turned toward them. My heart stopped! I was shocked! They were just kids! I expected them to look like criminals, but they looked like they could be one of my nine grandkids.
Although some did appear tough, and others rough, there was something about them that touched me. At that moment, my life changed! A still small voice inside me said, “you must try to help them!”
Thus began my continuing, nine-year mission, to help kids who are in trouble with the law. These are my kids. “The Forgotten Kid.” The children we think we can lock up, throw away the key, and forget. The ones who learned most of the bad things they have done, from us, the older generation. They are kids, paying the price for the sins of society. Our scapegoats
There are up to 600 kids locked up, in this facility, at any time. The Hall houses kids from the age of 10 to 18, although I saw a nine-year and ten-year-old carrying blankets and pillows. Were they going camping?
No! They were headed to their rooms, to be locked up, for armed robbery.
BE A WINNER IN LIFE IS MY PROGRAM. I help the kids believe they can still be WINNERS. I teach them they have potential to do amazing things with their life. In fact, I believe God sent them to this earth to do good with their lives. I tell them each one is a genius, in their own way, and can do something better than anyone else can do. They must find their genius. They must go to school, obey the law, obey their parents, be honest and work hard. My goal is to share with them the same truths I taught my kids: the basic truths of right and wrong.
I hope to support the parents who are good parents, but their kids got on the wrong track. I try to teach the ones with bad parents, or no parents, values they were never taught: basic principals of good and bad.
How did I start speaking at Juvenile Hall? It began a long time ago, when I was a little girl, the daughter of an alcoholic father who emotionally damaged my mother and us kids. I grew up in circumstances similar to some of these young wards.
I speak to them because I would have loved to have had someone, who cared, talk to me when I was young.
Some of these kids, like me, are the off spring of parents who didn’t care how their actions affected their kids. We were from homes full of contention caused by parents with addictions. Sick parents who were unable to control their own lives, let alone parent a child. So-called parents, who lived in their own hell and created havoc in the lives of their children. Parents who abandoned their kids.
When I talk to the kids, I relate to the ones who hope to fix their parents, and those who must care for their siblings. I relate because I remember pouring my Dad’s alcohol down the drain, thinking it would fix our problems but instead, I got myself into lots of trouble. I remember taking money from my Dad’s pocket, after he passed out, to give to my Mom. Money for food.
I remember the day I realized that whatever I did at home would change nothing. I would never have the loving family I longed for. Like many of these kids, I turned to friends for the family I needed. Like them, they were usually the wrong kids of friends, peers who were doing bad things. I remember drinking alcohol, even though I hated it, so I could fit in.
I hear my same story, over and over again, at Juvenile Hall.
To help them I share a profound truth, which I discovered in my young life. “Bad things happen for a reason!”
My bad thing: after a wasted life, at the age of 57, my Dad died an alcoholic. His drink of choice was 100% over proof rum. The good thing: My Dad’s death led to me realize I didn’t want to end up like him, or give my kids the life he gave me. I eventually made a commitment to stop drinking and change my life. Thankfully I was young and not an alcoholic, like my Father and Grandfather.
My commitment worked! I share with them how wonderfully my life has turned out, because of one small choice. I used my Dad’s mistakes to choose a better life for myself. I now have the life I dreamed about. My husband and I have been happily married for 45 years and with our children and grandchildren, are a close knit, happy, non-drinking family.
I tell them, “you can turn the bad things which have happened in your life into motivation for a better life too.” I help them believe they still have time to change.
Another reason I speak at Juvenile Hall is because I was a victim of a drunk driver. At the age of 17, the car I was riding in was hit head-on by a drunk driver. My head went through the windshield. My nose and part of my ear was torn off. Thankfully doctors put me back together, but I came to realize the terrible carnage alcohol could cause. I’ve had a mission all my life to teach the evils of alcohol use. I was a speaker for Mother’s Against Drunk Driving for several years. In fact, they were the ones who first sent me to speak at Juvenile Hall.
I teach the kids to abstain from alcohol and drugs. I have commitment cards, which I encourage them to sign and honor. I know if I can help them make a commitment not to drink alcohol, or use drugs; they will have a better chance at changing their lives and reaching their potential. They don’t need alcohol or drugs in their life. Most of the kids are locked up because of their first drink of alcohol, which lead to drug use and criminal behavior.
One of the questions people always ask me is “what is it like to talk to young criminals? Do they listen to you?”
My answer is, “at first it took a little time to know what to say and how to say it, so they would accept me. It took me time to overcome my fear of knowing how to communicate with them and have them accept me.”
One night, one of them asked, “why do you come to Juvenile Hall?” I answered, “why do you think?” His response, “for the money!” I replied, “no one pays me, in fact the first time I spoke, someone stole the hub caps from my car.” His mouth fell open and then he really listened to my program.
I’m happy to say I do very well with them! The kids are very attentive. They know I care. I don’t judge them. In most cases, I don’t know what their crime is. I don’t want to know. I tell them that what they have done is wrong and they must pay the price. On the other hand, I hope to stop them from getting deeper into crime. If I can stop them from hurting someone in the future, I feel my time is worthwhile.
I know I won’t get through to all of them, but I hope to plant seeds, which may take root someday when they have choices to make. My dream is to save as many as I can.
It is very gratifying when I feel I have gotten through to them and when they thank me. One boy said. “You told me bad things happen for a reason. Your right!” I never would have gotten an education if I hadn’t come to Juvenile Hall. I just got my GED. I applied to a college and was accepted. I will be going to school to be come an engineer when I get out.”
I am happy when I feel I have helped them look at life in a more positive way.
I try to help them turn their mistakes and bad experiences into something good. My greatest success is that I encourage the kids at Juvenile Hall to write letters to save other kids from the consequences they are experiencing. They have written incredible letters. Their letters have great impact on other kids because they come from their peers. My latest book “Letters from Juvenile Hall, Kids Helping Kids contain the letters.
Here are inserts from some of the letters:
Addiction controlled my life. Don’t let it control you! I wish for all you guys to be safe, and I pray for you kids that don’t know what life is really about, because after that second when you make the bad decision, it goes down hill from there. Only you can change your future. I hope you all understand that there’s a number in prison with your name on it, if you don’t change. Now’s the time to change. Not later. Not when you get out, but now! If you don’t change now you never will.
Gang banging was my worst thing I ever gotten into. If I could take it back, I would. I repeated my Dad’s cycle.
Now I sit here in a one-room cell, facing 25 years to life. I want you to look around and see what kind of situation you’re in. Open you eyes and your minds and soak as much education as you can. I’m 17 years old in a couple of weeks. I will be graduating from high school (in Juvenile Hall). Education is the key to life.
I’m in the Hall, Unit 800. Why? Because I committed a sin while I was on drugs. At the age of 13, I started using drugs because my best friend was asking me to try some. At the age of 16, my charges are DUI, evading a peace officer, driving at an unsafe speed with no license, a firearm in the car and 187 murder.
All the violence that is going on in our community is not solving nothing. The only thing it’s doing is killing us off, one by one. Before you know it the human race will be extinct. Because we are the last of the dying breed. I’m only telling you this so you guys can make the right decision. Your homies probably say they are down for you, but they be faking, and that’s real. The only people that’s going to stick by you is your mama and your family. I seen too much in my life young homies and it’s not what you are thinking. I lost my little homie and that really hit me. All that was on my mind was retaliation but when I thought about it, I knew it wouldn’t bring him back so I thought of another game plan. I prayed!
Eva, I want to thank you for all the help that you have given me. All the little words you’ve spoken in your groups have helped me so much along the way. I have changed in ways that people wouldn’t believe. I have done a whole 360. Without the help of you, I see the change being 100% more difficult. I wish my family was around to see my new life.
As you can see, my experience with my kids, at Juvenile Hall, has been emotionally rewarding and very satisfying to me. These kids give my life meaning. I feel I am making a difference.
I continue to try to help kids. I have written a book called “BE A WINNER IN LIFE”, which I hope to get into the hands of every child in Juvenile Hall’s, all over the country. Also, I want to get it into the hands of parents. I hope to get to kids before they are locked up.
Yes I’m a grateful to be a senior citizen at Juvenile Hall! I’m grateful my senior years have value and that I am doing something with my time, which is worthwhile.
I now know that every senior citizen can use the wisdom they have gained throughout their life to make a difference. We can all do something. I encourage you to find a way to help a child. Our kids need you!
Eva Fry is an author, singer/songwriter and motivational speaker. She had a ten year volunteer program at Juvenile Hall called “Be a Winner in Life” She has three books “You Must Have a Dream” for seniors, “Be a Winner in Life” for kids, troubled kids and their parents, and Letters from Juvenile Hall, Kids Helping Kids” – for all kinds, especially those who are locked up and to help kids from being locked up. She started writing and songwriting at the age of 60. Her goal is to encourage seniors to reach their potential and help kids do the same. She has many free articles on her web site to help young and old. She has six CD’s which are spiritually based and inspire young and old. She is avilable as a speaker or performer. Her work is available on her web site Eva Fry – email@example.com http://www.evafry.com ( She has many free articles on her web site)
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