Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Reality Check

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Recently while exercising on my treadmill, I watched Judge Hatchet, a program I usually would not have seen.
The defendant was a 13-year-old girl who dumbfounded the judge by her disregard for her parents and authority.

“You’re telling me you tried to stab your Dad with a knife and then got expelled from school for threatening to blow the place up?” Judge Hatchet said.

“Yes,” the 13-year-old said proudly. “I don’t need anybody to tell me what to do.”

“Then you run away for six days without telling anyone where you are? Come back and then do it again for five more days?” Hatchet continued.

The teen appeared proud of her ability to take care of herself.

Her mother said her biggest fear was that her child would end up dead or in jail if she continued down this path. Judge Hatchet agreed. He sentenced the child to participate in a “jail-experience” program for teens, a program designed to give “troubled” teens a wake-up call.

And wake up the 13-year-old, it did.

She was smiling as she was escorted to jail. When they handcuffed her and put her in the police car, she believed it was all a game—a game she would win.

The game was much tougher than she realized. She was treated like an inmate, but also protected from the other inmates. I wondered if the female inmates played along while understanding the “child” had to stay safe.

Once the teenager was stripped of all her possessions and individual freedoms, she started to understand. When she demonstrated a little defiance in the beginning, she was quickly made aware of the fact that she was no longer in charge.

She also was frightened of the other women who stole her jail-issued shoes. The girl cried many times and it was clear to viewers she was afraid. By the end of her time behind bars, she understood that her actions were taking her down a bad, bad road—a road that only led to a few dark, dreary places.

Before she returned home, she had a face-to-face chat with a young woman in her twenties who was waiting out a 25-year-sentence for accidentally killing a man.

The scenario sounded similar to the teen’s. The woman had pulled a knife and jabbed at the person. The only difference between the teen and the young woman was that the young woman had hit her mark and the man died.

To talk to the prisoner, the teenager had to sit on the floor and look through the meal slot. The killer was in solitary confinement.

When the teenager, her mother and Judge Hatchet returned to court for the final sentencing, the change was evident. The child’s demeanor had completely changed.

She asked to read a note she had written to the judge. She thanked Judge Hatchet for opening her eyes. She explained that she had no idea how bad jail was. She also realized that if she stayed on the previous course, her life would not end up in a good place. “Thank you for the reality check,” she said.

Television programs sometimes do have good lessons. If you are parenting or caring for a troubled teen and/or a teen who takes drugs or consumes alcohol, consider some tough love measures to help them get back on track. Sometimes just visiting a jail and talking to inmates will do the trick.

When I was a teenager, my church group went to Parchman, a penitentiary in Mississippi. Those men’s stories and how they lived will forever be seared in my memory.