Academic journal article Social Justice

"I Accept That I Have Nobody": Young Women, Youth Justice, and Expectations of Responsibility during Reentry

Academic journal article Social Justice

"I Accept That I Have Nobody": Young Women, Youth Justice, and Expectations of Responsibility during Reentry

Article excerpt

Eighteen-year-old Sarah is done with trying to get off drugs--and tired of people telling her what to do. During our two interviews in Valley County Juvenile Hall's conference room, she reflects on the role the youth justice system has played in her life and talks through what might be next for her. For much of the first interview, she sits with her chair tilted back towards the large plate glass windows behind her, her tattooed arms crossed over a bright green, juvenile hall--issued T-shirt. Like most of the 36 young women interviewed for this study, she has been to this detention facility many times, and, like many of the other participants, she has also been to numerous residential drug treatment facilities. Sarah struggles with heroin addiction and, like most of the young women interviewed, methamphetamine addiction. Like her fellow participants, she has a stressful home life, although Sarah's is more chaotic than most. Her dad drifts between family life and hanging around with men who use heavy drugs--men whom Sarah also knows through her own use, men who she says "gave me a lot of the problems I have today." Although I never ask for details, I sense that she has been through things that no person should.

By the time we talk, on this her last stay in juvenile detention, Sarah feels that "everyone should just give up" trying to change her. But as she talks about her long history with the juvenile justice system and drug treatment, it becomes clear that she did not always feel this way. Her experience at one place in particular, a place called Cottage House, was particularly positive.

The court sent a then 15-year-old Sarah to this out-of-state residential drug treatment facility. She had been to several residential drug treatment facilities before--and a couple since--but none of those places "worked" for Sarah, who usually ran away from them the first chance she got. But Sarah says her experience at Cottage House was different:

   It was the best place I could've possibly gone to.... We had like
   case parents--it was just a lot better [than other programs]. I
   think I stayed there for a year and I, like, did really good. And I
   got so attached there--I just didn't wanna go home.

When asked why she did not want to leave this place, she says she wanted to stay "because I loved them, like they were my family and this [was] my home now."

Eventually, however, it came time for Sarah to return to her biological family. She explains, "Like [the Cottage House staff] were kinda like 'You're ready, your family wants to see you.' And I was kinda like 'Fuck my family. You guys are my family now."' Sarah went straight from Cottage House to her home, where her parents fought and her dad, who was in and out of the home, sometimes used in front of her: Predictably, she was soon on the run again, bouncing between hotel rooms and friends' houses while using heavily--the gains made in treatment totally erased. When I asked her what Cottage House could have done differently, she said: "Keep me."

It is this experience with Cottage House that explains, in large part, why Sarah thinks people should "just give up" on her getting sober. After Cottage House, Sarah never bought into treatment again. Moreover, this was just one of the several times that Sarah was placed in a facility, told to change, and then released right back into, as she puts it, "the same shit." This frustrating cycle between juvenile facilities--some of them "helpful," some of them not--and unworkable lives on "the outs" was not unique to Sarah. This article is about the physical and psychic consequences of this cycle, the strategies that young women employed to negotiate it, and how these experiences heightened young women's expectations of their own responsibility during the reentry process.

Drawing on interviews and observations at two county-level juvenile justice facilities for girls, this article explores how the failure of the state to meet the material needs of young women upon release lowered their future expectations about state support and heightened their sense of personal responsibility. …

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