California Educator

March 09

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 7 of 39

School behind bars Probation officers stand behind bulletproof glass to press the buzzer that opens the door to Nidorf Juvenile Hall. After you enter, the door bangs shut loudly. You can’t help but wonder how teenagers — who supposedly have their whole lives ahead of them — feel when that door slams shut, knowing they could be locked up for decades or the rest of their lives. Most kids only stay at Nidorf a few days or months, but there are hundreds of others tried as adults and facing years or decades of incarceration. Many will be sent to adult correctional facilities on their 18th birthdays. While some will be released when they are 25, others may return to life on the outside when they are senior citizens. And some are serv- ing life sentences. It seems strange to call them “kids,” but that’s what they are. Nearly all of them are poor and children of color. And they don’t stay kids for long. “In the first year, they may go from 15 to 50,” says a Nidorf teacher. Nidorf teachers and counselors are members of the Los Angeles County Ed- ucation Association (LACEA). They are dedicated and courageous. Most love what they do. But it’s not easy — even with a captive audience. Teachers never turn their back on a classroom, even when writing on the board. They count the number of pen- cils they distribute at the beginning of class and count them when class is over, putting them in wooden pencil holders and making sure there are no empty slots. Sharpened pencils can be weap- ons. And even with probation officers close at hand, they can never let down their guard. Journalists must wait a month to receive a court order signed by a judge for permission to visit classrooms in Los Angeles County juvenile deten- tion facilities. The court order stipu- lates that journalists may not ask about the criminal histories or activi- ties that brought minors here. Many of them have cases still pending. Be- cause they are under the age of 18, their faces may not be shown in pho- tographs. Identifying tattoos must al- so be excluded from photos. >>> Stories by Sherry Posnick-Goodwin • Photos by Scott Buschman

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of California Educator - March 09