Earlier this year, I was at the courthouse with one of my foster daughters. We sat on the wooden pew in the waiting room. As different families came in to report for their court date, my daughter pointed out which teenagers she knew. She explained to me the reasons why they were in trouble with the law: Drugs. Fist fights. Theft. Child porn. Prostitution.
I looked at their faces: 13 year olds, 14 year olds, 15 year olds, 16 year olds. They looked tough, but they also looked YOUNG!! So young. These were the kids who were growing up about 10 miles from me, living in homes with illegal drugs on the counters and cops showing up at their doors every week.
My foster daughter and I sat next to each other for over an hour, waiting for our turn. She played a game on my phone and kept telling me about memories—some with the kids she knew in the waiting room. Right before it was our turn, a man busted through the courtroom door. He was obviously the father of a child who had just received his sentence. This man was loud—crying and cussing the whole time as he angrily stomped out of the building. Then the lawyer called our names, and we had to walk in as the rest of that family (also angry and crying) was walking out.
My foster daughter was not rattled by this at all, but I was very caught up in this scene. Then when I walked in the courtroom, I saw the boy. I guess he was 15 or 16, but he looked so young. He was shorter than me and had acne on his round face. His hands were handcuffed and shackled to his feet. He was weeping. And I mean weeping. Whatever the judge had just sentenced him to...he was no longer tough and defensive; he was now vulnerable and scared. His sobs filled the courtroom. Because his hands and feet were connected by chains, the kid couldn't even lift his hands to wipe the tears from his face. The officers were trying to escort him out of the room, but it was like he was so distraught that he could barely walk.
I was in shock, just staring at him and blinking back the tears. What if that were my child?
Raise Us Up
It’s been several months since that court hearing, but I will never forget that day. I will never forget that boy.
Since that moment in the courthouse, I feel a sense of responsibility that I have to do something. These kids are living 10 miles from me. I can't ignore it.
My foster daughters lived on the same street and went to the same school with many of the kids that were in the courthouse that day. My girls told me that these kind of kids have "I Don't Care" parents—meaning their parents really don't care what they do, where they go, what they smoke, who they're with, what grades they get. They don't even care whether or not the kids get to school each day.
I believe these parents still love their children, but poverty, violence, substance abuse, etc. have stolen their joy and their energy. So these children are now roaming the streets with no adult supervision. No one is there to listen to them talk about their day. No one is there to protect them from abuse, to pull them back from a fight, or to tell them, "No, don't smoke that—it's bad for your brain! Also, it's illegal! And you can't make good decisions when you're high! And you could get addicted and that's a scary path!! And do you know anyone who does drugs who is able to keep a good, steady job? No, you don't, so make sure you stay away from them so you can be able to be financially secure when you're older!!"
…I don’t have any real answers today. I just have enough faith to ask God to raise us up to be foster parents, youth group leaders, school teachers, tutors, mentors, coaches, social workers, juvenile probation officers, etc. who will be intentional to minister to kids who are vulnerable and at-risk.
The Lord is really stirring something in my heart about this, so I’d appreciate your prayers for me to see what else God is calling me to do here. And today I’ll pray for you, that God would speak to you and help you to show compassion to a young person that He puts in your path.
Mary is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.
Mary is the Associate Director at Hope Center Indy.. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.