In a room with a rapist, a murderer, and assorted petty criminals, there is serenity in this place. It is a sanctuary, a privilege, and they know it. They sacrifice their recreation time to be here.
When I tell folks I volunteer in an art and writing class in a juvenile detention center, they always ask, "What do the students draw?" They imagine gruesome scenes of blood, violence, and darkness.
"Mostly hearts, crosses, angels, flowers, and praying hands," I reply.
"Huh? Well what do the writers write about?" Same kind of thing.
They all turn to God and love. When they enter this room, they don't dwell on why they're locked up, what they've lost, or anything else negative. They choose to express the love they have for their family, their friends on the inside, their yearning for spiritual connection. Personally, I'd like to see some rage and anger because it makes for great writing, but they don't want to go there.
In many ways they are typical teenagers. They don't cross the threshold of the classroom and automatically become peaceful, enlightened beings, but they try. And they hunger for better. I feel a kinship with these young men.
Lauretta Hannon is a volunteer at the Paulding County Youth Detention Center, and author of The Cracker Queen, a memoir of growing up in the South on the wrong side of the tracks.