January 15, 2019: Tina’s first session with Storycatchers Theatre at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. She is a 17-year-old with long hair with raspberry-colored streaks. She is quiet, somber. She looks like she hasn’t slept in days.
She tells us that inside she is feeling “sad and anxious.” We ask her to set a goal for the session, and she says “My goal is to see my daughter.” She has an infant daughter. If she maintains good behavior, she will be able to have a visit with her baby the following week.
In our first few sessions with her, Tina keeps her head down on her desk. She is often pulled out of class to go with facility staff. Sometimes she returns to class, looking sad or shaken, other times we don’t see her for the rest of the session.
Tina is in the Detention Center because she has been taken away from circumstances that are not good for her or her baby. We have worked with a number of kids who are held at the facility for this reason, most of whom are girls. They need to be housed in a safe place until other housing can be found for them. Though she is there for her safety, Tina must follow the protocol of a prisoner. She is locked into a cell at night. She walks in single file with the other girls from her cell to the classroom, with her hands behind her back. She shares her days with a volatile group of distressed girls, some of whom have committed violent crimes.
During the next few weeks, Tina begins to adapt to the facility. She is very interested in our songwriting process, and contributes lyrics to the song “I’m Going Home:”
Freedom is home
And home is where I’m free
A parade of love
Is waiting there for me
I wonder what faces Tina sees in the parade of love in her mind.
While she is with us, she writes a moving story about one of the foster homes she has lived in. She describes her kind foster mother: “This woman is so soft. She has a strong southern accent, and looks so ancient and wrinkle-filled.”
At her foster home, Tina meets another girl who she later discovers is a cousin she had never even known about, another child who was on her own in the world, and whose face was bruised and cut when Tina met her. Their kind foster mother tells everyone they are sisters, and, in Tina’s words “treats us like her own.”
Tina and her cousin bond. “We smoke together, steal together, lie together, sleep together, fight together, and go everywhere together. We go through two foster homes together. She cries with me when I have a miscarriage. My long-lost sister…then we are separated.”
During our short time with her, we see Tina grow in confidence and take on a leadership role in the group. She mediates a conflict between some of the other girls. She collaborates to write and rehearse songs. She loves her pink-covered Storycatchers journal, and asks if she can take it upstairs to write in on her own. She brings it back down, and shares her beautifully handwritten work, rich with vivid details.
In our final performance with her two Fridays ago, Tina truly shone. One of the facility administrators, who knows her situation, commented on the progress she has made since she arrived in January. Tina was radiant after the performance. She answered audience members’ questions, eager to contribute to the discussion. I saw her smile, proud of herself, and I think of how she was in January- shut down, shellshocked.
Like so many of the kids we meet at the Detention Center, Tina is talented, thoughtful, compassionate, creative. She has dealt with so much in her 17 years, but she is resilient and adaptive. She has had to be.
Tina leaves the facility this week. We hope she will find a place in the world where she and her daughter are treated with the same kindness and respect that she found in the home of her foster mother a few years ago.
Godspeed, Tina. We won’t forget you.
— Cheri Coons, Storycatchers Program Manager of the Temporary LockDown Ensemble at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.