Monday, December 31, 2012

Helping Kids Cope With Juvenile Detention

Artwork in the JDC library
“The library has proven to be my best friend.”

The young man who told me this is not who you might expect. He is a temporary resident at the Pima County Juvenile Court Detention Center
(the PCJCC) and a constant visitor to the center’s branch of the Pima County Public Library.

PCJCC library is like no other branch that I have visited. When it started out in the early 2000s, it was simply a cart and a librarian delivering books to the living units. Now it is a cheerful, welcoming room with computer stations, shelves of books, and a staff of three. The library and the center are decorated with amazing artwork from the residents.

The staff at the center believe it is their job to provide a safe, nurturing, educational environment for the kids staying there before they
are released. For the young residents of the center, being in detention can be stressful and confusing. The library is a lifeline for many of them. The encouraging and dedicated library staff work hard to instill a love of reading and learning experiences that the kids will take with them and hold onto when they leave.

I spoke with two bright, polite young men when I visited the
PCJCC and its library. To protect their identities, I will refer to them as Reader One and Reader Two.

Before coming to the detention center Reader One, the young man quoted above, had never been in a library and really didn’t read much. Now he is a voracious reader and describes himself as “addicted to reading."

The library doesn’t just help these kids pass the time. For these two young men, there are a lot of experiences and stresses to cope with everyday, and the library helps them relax and clear their minds. Reading has helped them learn new things and improve comprehension and vocabulary. Reader One has learned to figure out a word from its context in a book, and he tries to use the words he has learned when speaking with his groups in the center. Reader Two told me “I think the opportunity to read more has helped me with my communication skills, being able to express himself.”

Artwork in the JDC hallway

Both young man think it is great to have the librarians around, and I can tell how much they both appreciate the staff’s help. They credit the library staff with broadening their interests and helping them discover thoughts and ideas they never would have pursued on their own.

The librarians have recommended books that neither of these readers would have thought of reading. And reader recommendation is huge between the kids in the center. Reader One likes to recommend books to other kids because he wants to use his experience with books to help others learn to cope. As Reader Two put it, “I like to recommend books to new kids because I know what it is like to be here. I know that reading is a different way to unclutter your mind and take your thoughts away from stress and aggression.”

Along with all the learning, reading is also an escape for these kids. Reader One expressed his interest in getting insight into characters and explains “It’s like I get sucked into my own movie.” Reader Two told me: “When I read a book, I feel like I am a part of it.”  He looks forward to his time in the library every week. It is one thing that he can’t wait to do.

Library mural
Before I left the center, one of the two youths told me, “The library will definitely continue to be a part of my life when I leave here.” The PCJCC library and its staff are proud to hear such wonderful results, and I was deeply moved by the way that books and the library have changed these two young men.

Sharing their new love of reading is something they are proud of and they clearly will take away a very positive experience from the center.

Written by Samantha Barry


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