Volunteering and researching two days a week at the high school has been entertaining and eye opening. One moment, I'll feel like I'm back at Canyon High, hanging with my friends, discussing the genius of Duran Duran, without a care in the world. The next moment, I'll feel like I'm crossing the yard at a Super-max prison.
The main teen angst issues are the same; love, friends, cars, parents, parties, popularity, college applications. But the striking difference is the prevalence of drugs, selling drugs, getting busted for drugs, showing up to class on drugs. Some kids approach me and ask if I'm a NARC. Of course I always say YES. At first it was funny and cute. Now, it just kind of freaks me out.
I'm always shocked when someone comes to class drunk or high. At least when I was in school the people who drank or took drugs did it in the privacy of their homes, or behind the school by the sewage ditch. Now the kids aren't embarrassed or afraid of getting caught. In fact, some WANT to get caught. They think jail is cool. Sexy.
The other day I tried mightily to scare the crap out of one kid who I really like. With a court date approaching on a potential felony conviction, he casually told me that he'd rather go to prison than have to stay in “stupid school”. Apparently he's got a steady diet of gangsta' rap videos that glorify the prison culture. Now, I listen to the same music and watch the same videos, but I also have a more advanced brain that enables me to see the difference between entertainment and reality. Having spent time in a juvenile prison camp (tutoring, NOT serving time), I also have firsthand knowledge of what those places are really like. No, they don't lift weights and watch “Booty Call” on the TV all day. In reality, they spend their time hiding in the air vents or praying they get thrown into solitary so no one can mess with them. When I say “mess” I'm not talking about beating up or stabbing each other. I'm talking worse. MUCH worse. After the talk, the kid seemed un-phased, and I told him I'd bring cupcakes when I visit him in the pokey.
In my day (yes, I sound like a little old lady) kids were mortified to get sent to the principal's office, let alone get arrested at school. But now kids wave drugs around, daring teachers to report them. And suddenly it's very cool to get busted and have a “court date”…Woo-Hoo!
Speaking of getting the crap scared out of you, the other day I saw ALPHA DOG, an outstanding movie about white middle class gangsta' wannabes chasing trouble around, trying to be cool. It really affected me because I see these kids every single day. There's got to be a killer (excuse the pun) YA book in that! So, the next day I called my sister, the Public Defender, and said, “ I must write a book about kids in prison.” So, I'll be spending a lot of time in Florida this year tagging along on Amy's court dates and jail visits. (After I complete my YA Romance, of course!)
I don't plan to write a cautionary tale or a preachy “message” book. In fact, I really just find this subject fascinating. MONSTER, by Walter Dean Myers is my favorite YA book of all time. And for years I've Tivo'd every prison documentary on The Learning Channel. But, I can't lie. Deep down, the old lady in me is hoping that a realistic book on juvenile prison life will serve as a natural deterrent for impressionable kids.