Transitioning from their cells to dinner, and then back to their cells for the remainder of the evening, was a transition I was never there to witness. I would be present the following morning when the girls would need to debrief after a restless night. Each of the girls had a countdown waiting anxiously for the transition out from behind locked doors. Almost all of them had high hopes for their return to the community; many believed that this time would be different. No more drugs, drunken nights or finding comfort with the wrong guys. They were going to go to school everyday and would be there on time while avoiding fights with their parents, a perfect plan they dreamed up during these sleepless nights.
I clearly remember Katie’s transition from jail back home. Heroin had been haunting Katie for several months and she was determined to stay away from the boyfriend who was sure to lead her back into the darkness of this drug. As Katie’s assigned therapist, I thought it would be appropriate for me to be present when she was reunited with her caretaker, her aunt, after being locked up for almost two months without visits from her family. Katie’s family believed it was a fair punishment to remove their love while she was incarcerated. This misconception of necessary additional punishment is not only maintained by many family members, but also often maintained by teachers and other imperative support systems. I wanted to try to explain to her aunt that being in jail for two months was a tremendous consequence for becoming involved with a man and a drug in an attempt to escape a horrendous past of abuse. My plan was to empower her aunt to see that her support could help Katie overcome the trauma of her past and move toward a more successful future.
Her aunt’s face was stern as she waited, looking at her watch every two minutes and then glaring at the door just beyond the security sensors waiting for Katie to appear so that she could get on with her day. I felt tears well up in my eyes, imaging what it would be like if I was going to pick up my niece after knowing she had been locked up alone for two months. Knowing my feelings were inappropriate, I turned to her aunt and started with, “I am sure Katie will be happy to get back to her bed, as the beds here are like sleeping on cardboard and the blankets are like sandpaper.” Her aunt replied, “I let her sister have her room, she doesn’t deserve to have a place to live.” I knew that Katie’s greatest trigger was her sister being favored. I tried again with a more desperate attempt to elicit compassion from her aunt, “you know the ongoing physical and sexual abuse Katie endured has been causing her great amounts of emotional pain, which she has been working on…” I was cut off. “I don’t need your therapy crap. She knew exactly what she was doing when she got caught up with that guy.” I tried to align with her, “you are right, this is therapy crap, I have no idea what you have been through with her. I just know that she may go down that same road again if she doesn’t have a support system.” Katie walked through the security sensors as her aunt responded, “well that is one less kid for me to bother with.”
Katie immediately sensed that things had not gone well with her aunt and her bright smile began to match the torn clothes she had come in with after a heroin binge. It was always sad to see them put on the clothes they were wearing when they were arrested. It is was as if they were already given less of a chance to be someone different.
Katie came into individual therapy for the next three weeks. She really tried to not let sleeping on the couch and being called a slut repeatedly get to her, but in our last session she let me know that she couldn’t take it anymore and there was only one place she knew to go. I tried every intervention I knew to instill hope in her, but because she was so far behind in school after being locked up so long, there was no way to convince her that there might be a “good” life out there for her. If Katie had a program like Create A Path to feel safe and comforted while receiving guidance and education, she may have a chosen a different way, but the last I heard her path was only leading her deeper into darkness.