On Thursday, I was invited to speak at the Texas Library Association’s Annual Conference. (And what a great conference it was – a TON of true book lovers everywhere… a total blast.)
However, a few librarians from one of the local juvenile halls found out I was going to be in the Austin area asked me if I’d speak to some of their kids.
Now, if you have never been to juvenile hall, never seen and worked with incarcerated kids, let me tell you, it’s awe-inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time.
12 year olds covered with tatts. 15 year olds with babies being watched by grandma. (It was a mixed-gender facility but of course, they kept the boys and girls very separate.) Kids who have been dealt some of life’s worst cards and kids who have done some truly unimaginable things.
But yet, these are still kids. I mean they walk into the room single file with their hands behind their backs and “hard” looks on their faces but after 15-20 minutes, it’s like milk-and-cookie time when I visit. (Note: I’ve done a bunch of these before and sort of know how to soften them up… plus, when you’re in lock-up, one of the few things you can do is read and my books are really, really popular with this crowd so I come in with a bit of a leg up.)
But truly, what I see playing over and over again when I make these type of visits to youngsters in juvee is that the adults working at the facilities trying to help these young people get an education and make good choices in the future (remember, they will all be getting “out” one day”) are doing almost Mother Theresa type of work. They have so little in terms of resources and support, they have such immensely tough “clients” sitting in their chairs and society, culture, whatever, certainly seems to be conspiring much more against them than it is conspiring with them.
That’s why I visit. A part of me knows my life is very blessed and has always been very blessed (comparatively speaking, it’s inarguable) and being able to give back in any small way to those less fortunate is just the right thing to do. And being that a guy like me can come in, make the kids laugh, make the kids feel, make the kids believe in their own future – make the kids think (through stories, Q&A’s, books, what not) well… if you can help someone, you should, right? I mean, not to over-inflate my own importance, but my visit to them might just be that thing, that one thing that lights it up for a kid who is prison to change their ways.
Or maybe it won’t. But how will any of us ever know if we don’t try.
And though the room was full, what if I only got one of them? (Which, statistically, would be an abysmal ratio.)
What if I only got one? Well, it still would have been worth it, right?
(Side note: many props to Disney – one of their team came with me and is going to be sending a bunch of my books – free of charge – to fill the library’s shelves. Very cool, stuff y’all! Thanks.)