The Shackle Shuffle



Working in residential, you’re supposed to get use to the “shackle shuffle.”  As kids are brought from the detention center, dressed in scrubs or a similar jumpsuit, their legs and hands are shackled causing them to shuffle their feet in order to move.  Like I said, you’re supposed to get use to it, seeing it often, but I never have.  My mind can reason that it is a consequence of their crime and choices; it’s to keep them and others safe.  But, there is still a minor hiccup in my spirit every time I see it.

Maybe I cringe because this person in front of me is no longer a case on a page, but a living, breathing, and usually extremely likeable kid with their own story to tell.  Although I may not agree with their choices, I now understand them, or can at least follow the irrational thought process that led to them.

This week, I found myself in the court room waiting area, not just waiting for our name to come up on the docket, but also waiting to see her shuffling toward us.  This one was going to be especially hard, because…well…I especially liked her.  I distracted myself by noticing the drooping pipes hanging from the ceiling, the drab carpet worn from the many years of youth shuffling their feet across it, and the chairs wedged in uncomfortable positions to make the necessary space for the case workers and families that would also be waiting for their name to be called.

And the hiccup came, and it was stronger than I anticipated.  Her face was sad, but she mustered a small smile just big enough to show her child-like dimple for a second.  I’m not sure why these moments continue to affect me, after all I’ve seen it enough.  Maybe, this one was hard because she’s a mini version of my best friend complete with crazy hair, a feisty attitude that thinks she’s about a foot taller than what she actually is, and a chattiness that can jump from one conversation to the next without a breath in between them.  Or, maybe it’s as simple as I genuinely just like her.

Regardless of why, the sadness was still there.

We waited patiently listening to the clinking of the heavy metal doors open and close and made small talk.  We laughed as she would give a description of each passerby, at one point saying, “Mm-m-m, the things you see in the juvenile justice court system.”

The light-heartedness changed as soon as the court was ready for us.

Walking into the court room is always a free for all, with each party having to attempt to find the proper seating.  The DJO points one direction, the bailiff another and all you’re secretly praying for is that the judge won’t ask you a question.  Anxiety completely engulfs the room.

She is quickly directed to remember to stand up when the judge enters the room, even if it’s awkward with the shackles.  Once the judge enters the room, the formalities begin.  A list of all her wrongs are systematically read and the judge begins to question her for her plea and her understanding.  She pleasantly and politely responds with, “yes, your honor,” after each question.  Her anticipation and anxiety shows when her “yes, your honors” start coming at a quicker pace and at unnecessary times.  We hold our breath for the judge’s response, and that’s when it happens.  A small smile creeps onto his face and that’s when I know, he sees it too:  that undeniable likability of this young girl sitting in front of us.

She must have seen it too, because she relaxed, and then we all relaxed. Encouragement replaced anxiety and plans began to take place.

We left the court and I no longer noticed the drab carpet or bland walls.  I no longer cared that the chairs were placed just a little too close together.  Instead, I saw this girl in front of me with a glimmer of hope.

As we sat in the waiting room, talking about her safety plan and what she will do when she feels like running, she looked at me with a serious look on her face and said, “You don’t have to worry about that (holding up her handcuffed hands).  I’m going to learn to just read a book.”

The Power of Our Words!

addie fountain3

According to about a million websites and self-help books, it’s not uncommon for a lady to use up to 20,000 words a day. I’m not sure where the research comes from, or who decided to start counting, but I do know that I use every single one of my words daily. I love to chat. I love to debate. I love conversations in the backyard and conversations on the front porch. I love going for coffee so we can talk. I love to verbally process. I love talking so much that sometimes I go somewhere public to engage a complete stranger in telling me their entire life story and in return sharing mine, just to get all my words in.

20,000 words daily and I get them all in!!

That is 140,000 words weekly and, if my math is correct, 7,280,000 yearly! That’s a lot of words!

But, how many of those words do I actually think about and process before they go straight past my lips? How often do I think about the expressions I use, the sound bites I share, or the piece of advice I offer?

I wish I could tell you these thoughts came from my profound maturity and wisdom. But, the truth is it came from a simple conversation with Addie, my adorable 4 year old inspiration.

I’m trying to be a more intentional auntie, checking in on my kiddos and letting them know I love them. This week while texting Addie through her mommy, I replied, “tell her I love her bunches.” Simple, right. I think it’s a pretty common phrase which usually leads to a simple response of “love you too.”

But, not with Addie. Her response was, “she loves me as much as bunches! What does that mean?” It took me a minute, because I knew she wanted a real answer. A simple catch phrase we throw out randomly would not suffice with Addie. She needed to be able to see it; to understand it.

So, I thought before I responded. I wanted to find a way to help her understand how much I loved her. After much contemplation, I responded with, “it would be like if you took all the stuff that is important to you and put it in a bunch or a pile, that’s how much I love you.”

It apparently appeased her because she simple responded with, “oh, ok. I love her too.”

A simple, un-thoughtful comment led to a great life lesson… Think about what we say and communicate to one another. Does the other person truly understand what we are trying to tell them? Can their mind grasp the feelings we are trying to express? Are our comments intentional and effective, or are we just trying to get in our 20,000 words?

I set in a booth at Bread, Co., of course (trying not to engage the women next to me), thinking about my words today.  Not all of them were encouraging or edifying.  A few were harsh and unnecessary.  Several were impulsive. 

But, these thoughts of Addie, made me a little more intentional; a little more thoughtful.  I caught and stopped myself a little quicker.  I paused before sharing opinions and checked motives. 

So, I may have only got in 19,000 words today, but they were a little more meaningful.

***the picture above has very little to do with our words, but I think it definitely captures Addie’s spirit & why she’s so inspiring!***

Bonding on a Plastic Chair

red plastic chair
I slowly placed my bags through the x-ray machine, hoping I had removed anything that could be perceived as a weapon. I then hold my breath and walk through the metal detector, a habit from the many times I unintentionally set it off in the past. The DJO is paged over the intercom and I’m then escorted through the waiting room. I wait for the click to signal I can walk through. I adjust my strategically placed scarf (I was a little cocky thinking I could eat in the car) and shift from foot to foot, while I patiently wait for the click.

I’m not sure what waits for me on the other side, but I anxiously wait.

Once I’m ushered through the door, I see her sitting, waiting for me in a box-like, cinder block room on a flimsy, plastic, red chair. She’s hunched over the table. We’re both apprehensive and we recognize it in one another.

The introductions are made and door closes behind me. We’re two strangers, yet the expectation is that she’ll share intimate details with me of her life as a run away.

She looks up at me and I instantly like her. She’s tough but with a baby face. And, her hair sticks up in all directions held out of her face with a small headband. We attempt small talk, but quickly realize we both prefer to just be straight with one another.

Within minutes, we were laughing.

And then she would disclose something.

Then we’d laugh again. The cycle went on and on, she’d disclose, then joke, and then back again.

I was struck by the dichotomy in front of me. I was suddenly aware that the young woman setting across the table from me was caught between being a completely, innocent kid one moment and that innocence being completely stolen the next. I listened to stories that were hard to hear, but recognized the importance of her getting to tell it. I watched as bit by bit she was getting her voice back, and although it was hard to hear it was beautiful to watch.

Our time was up, but as I as I was waiting to hear the click of the door, I left knowing I would get to see her again; and knowing that I was going to grow as much she does.