CHICAGO – A cosmetologist. A pediatrician. An anesthesiologist. A computer engineer. Maybe choose two, one teen suggested.
All were potential careers mentioned by teenagers over lunch at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, which houses kids ages 12 to 17 who have cases pending in juvenile court. The conversations were part of a series called “Tell Your Story,” organized by County Commissioner Bridget Gainer to bring Chicagoans in various professions together at a speed-networking event with detained minors.
“I thought, if they can’t leave at this moment, then let’s bring people to them,” Gainer said.
She has been visiting the center for years. For kids inside, placement there is a fork in their future. She worried they would be forgotten in the large West Side facility.
“It’s really easy to forget that these kids are here,” she said.
The idea of “Tell Your Story” is to paint a picture of potential professions for boys and girls who might consider their future already in jeopardy.
According to the Circuit Court Office of the Chief Judge, about 92 percent of the 218 residents are male; the average stay for residents is 30 days. All attend Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School, located within the detention center with classes from Spanish to driver’s education. They also have access to chapel services and programs like “Tell Your Story.”
Late last year, Courtney Jones, a Chicago real estate agent, spoke to a group of kids at the detention center.
He explained he too had been in juvenile detention. He’d hit someone with a brick, he said, when he was defending someone. Sitting behind locked doors gave him time to re-evaluate his priorities, he said.
“I did not have to go that way,” he said. He told the girls to take advantage of opportunities.
Leaning forward in his chair, he looked around the table and said, “You owe you and your God a life here.”
Other speakers emphasized similar themes: Your life matters. Your future has value. We care about you.
The residents, as they’re called, are just children, officials like to remind visitors.
“They’ve gotten themselves into a bad situation,” Gainer said. “But it’s not forever. And it’s so important for them to hear from other adults that this is just the beginning of their lives. There’s so much more ahead of them.”