January 15, 2019. It’s Tina’s first session with us.

She is a 17-year-old Latina girl, with long hair with raspberry-colored streaks. She is quiet, respectful, pale, somber. She looks like she hasn’t slept in days. On her first Inside/Outside sheet, she writes that inside she is “sad and anxious.” Under Personal Goal she writes: “My goal is to see my daughter.”

Tina has an infant daughter named Ariel. If Tina works up to behavior level 2, 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.

We are not sure of the exact circumstances that have brought Tina to the Detention Center, but she shares a story with us about her caseworker’s concern that she has run away from foster home situations many times in the past. We wonder whether she had been on the run again, with her infant daughter in tow. Regardless of the circumstances that brought her to the Detention Center, while she is here, she must follow the protocol of all the children who are detained within this facility. 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 group of girls, some of whom have committed violent crimes. The girls are anxious and miserable, and staff tells us they pick at each other all day long. They are grateful when one of our sessions provides a little relief from the bickering.

Through our first few weeks with Tina, she begins to adapt to the facility. She is very interested in our songwriting process, and happily 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, Tina writes an extraordinary story about one of the foster homes she 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 her cousin.

Tina describes how her foster mother “puts us in school together, and treats us like her own. 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 time with her, we see Tina grow in confidence and take on a leadership role in the group. She mediates a conflict between two 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, taking our notes to expand her writing, and shows us beautifully handwritten work that is rich with vivid details.

In our final performance on Friday, Tina shines. One of the facility administrators, who knows her situation, comments on the amazing progress she has made since she arrived in January. Tina is absolutely radiant after the performance. She answers audience members’ questions, eager to contribute. An audience member once described seeing our kids actually grow lighter during the process of the performance – that they seem to grow larger and glow as they realize their accomplishments.

Tina leaves the facility on Tuesday, so she will miss our cast party. Our team is so happy that she was able to complete the cycle and have a final performance with us before she leaves. She spoke to Ms. P. after the performance and says she intends to look up Storycatchers and apply to Changing Voices.

– Cheri Coons, Program Manager, Temporary LockDown Ensemble