I was asked to speak to a group of teenage boys locked up in a correctional institution. As they filed into the auditorium, it was obvious the crowd of fifty or so was going to be tough! They came in with their best bad guy look on, conveying their disinterest in me. I could tell they were thinking; oh, there she is another do-gooder here to make herself feel good by trying to save us, at least we get out of our cottage for the evening.
After they took their seats I looked down on a sea of blank faces that seem to say; go ahead lady, take your best shot! The boys were quite and attentive, they had no choice guards were posted at both doors. I have to admit I was uneasy and tense by the way they controlled the atmosphere with their intimidating, defiant stars.
I opened by saying, “my name is Lynda Long you and I are not so different, we have much in common, does anyone know what it is?” One boy in the front row who had been sizing me up from the start said; “You’ve been where we are.” I said “that’s right.”
With his statement everything changed. They collectively let their guard down and visibly assumed a more reverent, open posture that invited me to speak to them.
At the end of my talk, I asked if anyone had a question…they all did. We spent another hour talking, most of the questions and comments centered on the same theme, they wondered how to dig out and overcome.
I told them I was fifteen-years-old, the same age as most of them when I decided, NO MORE! My childhood was stolen from me but no one would ever have the power to ruin the rest of my life!
When I was finished, I stepped down from the platform to gather up my things when one boy approached me and shook my hand, it was the one who was brave enough to open the door for me to tell my story. One by one they formed a line, some simply said thank you but, to my surprise some hugged me and I could feel their arms soak up my hug like water on a wilted plant. It was all I could do not to cry. I was thinking these are God’s most precious gift to a mother and a father. Some were celebrated on the day they were born and some were not but, somewhere along the way all were let down. Now they were hurt, broken, disappointed boys in a battle to believe they were worth something in someone’s eyes and loveable by someone. I knew their battle would be hard and some would l lose the fight.
Afterward, I ask the Chaplain how many of these boys were growing up in a fatherless home he answered, 60%. And, only 10 to 15% come from homes where both biological parents are present.
Believe it or not, kids don’t want much, only a home with a loving, caring mother and father…a family. Because of the breakdown of the American family, the United States has more of its youth locked up than any other country in the world!