Once upon a time, at least forty years ago, I actually worked in a juvenile detention center. Before you have me doddering with my walker, I was still in college then (OK, maybe I am that old), untrained and totally unsuited to the job. I lasted about three months.
It was supposed to be a model facility- one house for girls, the other for boys. On the outside, it looked good, sort of like a boarding school with very high fences. But I soon learned that there was a big secret to the place. It was completely anti-female. This reflected the justice system at the time, which I wish I could say has changed.
The boys at the place were in for burglary, vandalism, auto theft, trying to knife someone. The girls? Their crimes were "incorrigability", "running away", and one shoplifting. All but one of the twelve had been raped. One doughy, plain child had been given by her family to an uncle in the hope he would pay their bills. Every one of them was a victim rather than an offender.
Even worse was the attitude of the men who ran the place. They acted as if the girls were willing prostitutes whom they had to save. They made comments that today would, I hope, put them behind bars.
Building on Ann's comments, I understand now that there were two prisons there, one of the body and the other of the mind. And, as a very young and naive woman, I was in danger of landing in the latter. I wish I could go back and do the job better, stand up for those battered children. I don't know what happened to them and shall always wonder.
I've never written about this and rarely spoken of it. Not knowing how to help is one of the great regrets of my life. I remember the feeling I had when I drove away for the last time, as if an enormous rock had rolled from my shoulders. Then I was relieved to go -- but now I would have tried to find away to take the girls with me.