Heart of a Southern Woman

A snapshot of life one blog post at a time.

“J” ~ Juvenile Detention/Treatment Center




Teen in jail

source: httpwww.independent.co.uknewsworldamericasorange-jumpsuit-for-nineyearold-whos-accused-of-shooting-girl-7440652.html


After college, for seven years before graduate school, I was a teacher of  children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral disorders.  So it stood to reason that my first job offer right out of grad school with my Master’s in Clinical Psychology, was in a juvenile treatment facility.   I was the “Staff Psychologist” (masters, not PhD), and there were 8 to 10 kids for whom I was regularly responsible. There were, all together, about 50 adolescents, ages 12-18 in the building.  Most were “Juvenile Offenders”, meaning they had been picked up by the police for shoplifting, fighting, or breaking other laws and were mainly with us awaiting their first day in court. In those days, the 1980’s, there were some kids who’d been apprehended for running away. The police picked kids up for that back then, not today.  These kids were only with us two or three days usually, and I only worked with them if they were suicidal.  

I was hired to work with kids who had been proven violent and aggressive by the courts and mental health agencies, and were therefore locked away from general society, called treatment, not jail.  


I was actually quite excited to have this  job opportunity. Coming right out of school with training in behavior modification, and realizing there was a caring, committed, and well-trained staff already in place, I truly, with all the enthusiasm and naivety of youth, believed we could turn these kids and their lives around–inside out– and send them on the “right” path through life.

We controlled their every move. Child care workers (guards) told them when to dress, eat, and sleep. They slept in individual locked cells. The doors along the hall were locked every ten feet or so, leading to other areas of the small building. I had to learn to buy and wear clothes with pockets in them, so I could carry my keys with me at all times. The kids went to school in this small, squat brick building as well– in fact lived there–sometimes for years. They played outdoors where there was a basketball hoop surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence, and they had therapy.  If they behaved and followed the rules, they could earn privileges including going out of the facility, to see a movie, to shop, or maybe even to see family. Staff was generally kind to them, there were long talks with lots of people–even the cooks and teachers, the director, all were involved.

If a kid had a temper tantrum, “broke bad” , child care staff would go silent. They would surround the child, and take him or her to the floor gently by sweeping them up by their feet, while others held their shoulders.  Then they picked the kid up with about six of them carrying him. They would take them to a “cooling off” room, and put them on a bed where they were put in five point restraints until they were calm. If the kid was a head banger, or tried to bite the staff, they had a helmet put on their head, and a mouth guard put in their mouth. The psychologist, social worker or head child care staff were the only ones who were  supposed to talk during this time, to see if the child was okay, if they wanted to cooperate, if they were ready to talk– instead of course, to threaten, kick, hit, spit, bite, or whatever.

When I started working at this facility, my oldest daughter was 12. She had a favorite pair of black jeans she wore, with a pink lining which had little black polka dots. My very first day on the job, I walked in–and my first sight was to see the staff having to take down a kicking, screaming, biting young girl, who was only 12 herself! As I watched them helmet her, I realized she had on those same black jeans with the pink polka-dotted lining, that I’d just left at home on my own child! I had to leave the room as tears flooded my eyes!

Individual and group therapy, and designing behavioral modification structures,  was mostly what I did at the center. We were teaching the kids to talk about things instead of acting them out…in babysteps. So we had group sessions often.  We role played behaviors, we talked about families, we talked about growing up in a facility, getting out, how to cope, so forth and so on. Sometimes it went very well– sometimes not so good!

I remember very clearly one time when we were meeting for group therapy– I was sitting on a couch with one other teen, and the other eight kids were seated in a circle. The very same young girl I’d seen restrained my first day at work, was sitting across from me now, almost 2 years later. She was getting angrier as the group discussed an earlier altercation on the playground. It had cost a lot of them privileges, and even though painful, we were trying to learn what principles had been taught by it. Sally (fictitious name) was getting angry and I could tell. I was getting ready to ask her if she needed to take a timeout, or to take some deep breaths.  Before I could blink however, she attacked me! She leaped out of her chair and it seemed like she was flying across the room! Then she jumped on me– grabbed me around the neck, and took me over the back of the sofa onto the floor! Before I could get a breath, six childcare staff, summoned by the one who’d been in the room, surrounded her and took her off of me and once again put her in restraints. Her lack of impulse control, was greater than her loathing/fear of going back into the restraints.

I wish I could tell you that we did indeed “turn these kids lives around”.  Unfortunately, I saw many  transfer out at age 18, only to be arrested a few weeks or months later for hurting someone! Then they went to jail. I became very disenchanted, and more cynical. I became a believer in the “missing gene” theories of crime, it surely seemed  like something was missing for these kids, with such highly invested treatment, not to be able or willing to change their behavior. Some seemed to literally have no conscience, to be budding psychopaths and sociopaths. 

One Friday night, about 10pm, when I was at the Juvenile Center because one of the “regular juveniles”  had threatened suicide, I talked on the phone with my husband.  He was home alone with our two children, ages 7 and 15, and his wheelchair-bound father, who had moved in with us after his mother had died. I found myself asking , “How are the kids there, honey? Did they get to bed easily?”  In turn, he asked, “How are the kids there doing?” WHOP! That conversation hit me upside the head, and got my attention!  I was suposed to be at home, helping him raise our own kids.  Yes, I felt a great responsibility and caring for the kids at the Juvenile Center, but actually, they were beginning to get more of me than my own family! That was a turning point, and it wasn’t long before I had moved to outpatient counseling of adults, families, and groups in a center owned by a private psychiatric hospital.  As the director of the small counseling center, I also got to teach seminars all over the community, in schools, churches, and businesses–I was a teacher at heart and loved it.  A whole new chapter of my life..one full of new experiences and joys had opened–and although I was sad to leave the Juvenile Center behind, I was thrilled to move on as well. 





Author: Helen Holshouser

Old enough to enjoy life, I am a Red Hatter, grandmother, gardener, and amateur genealogist. I am a retired clinical psychologist, master's level, who is disabled with heart disease, but having fun with family and friends. Married over 40 years, I have two grown daughters and three grandchildren. I have learned that grandchildren provide a joy one never knew existed---writing feeds my soul, gardening is therapy, and genealogy research makes me feel like a detective!

14 thoughts on ““J” ~ Juvenile Detention/Treatment Center

  1. Helen, this post was interesting and heartbreaking. My oldest son has a huge lack of impulse control. We’ve been working with him since he was 4, and he’s on medication, and he’s doing so much better. But, when he gets angry, he attacks too. He’s gotten to where he won’t attack us (thank goodness), but he still sometimes breaks things or tries to hurt himself. He was a headbanger as a child, and he is intense. Super energetic, super smart, and a driven individual. His psychologist thinks it’s a neurological chemical imbalance. He’s been diagnosed with mood disorder, but is also easily frustrated so we think it has to do with perfectionism too. I can’t imagine how much you gave of yourself to these children. And I’m sure some of them benefited from it, even if you can’t see how.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Lauren, I am so sorry if I sounded like I got cynical, actually, i wanted to adopt each and every one of those kids, well most of them! Your son is so lucky to have two parents who care and are willing to work so hard to help him grow up. Keep your goal in mind, I feel sure he will grow better, maybe not until the brain matures at 25. He may need meds all his life, but he will learn to control some impulses I’m sure. Needing meds is no big deal in my book, if it helps improve your quality of life, Research is improving all the time, and the treatment of chemical imbalances is getting better every year! I will be praying fervantly for you all.


  3. Great post today. Seems like we walked some of the same ground in our life. I worked at a place some what like the one you did. Except the children were placed by the families, and schools who no longer could control them. They all had some sort of disorder as PTSD, OCD, and much worse. I wish I could say we made a difference, but we really did not. My degree was in Therapeutic Recreation.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Charles, no wonder we have become friends! We both love genealogy, and we have similar backgrounds. I keep thinking we’re going to find out we are cousins, it wouldn’t surprise me! It is sad when you try your hardest, and get very invested, if you leave feeling you might not have made a difference. I suspect you and I both did, to some kis somewhere. But it is the nature of the beast not to keep up with them, to respect theri privacy. I’d love to know what happened to some of them. Thank you so much for keeping up with me, it is so encouraging. You will probably have heard the next three posts before however, k, L, M==Katy, Liam and Max my husband and grandchildren. I just can’t, not do it! LOL Hope you have a great weekend! Helen


  5. Helen, I have always admired people like you. It takes a special type of patience to deal with troubled youth, elderly and the mentally ill. God bless you for the work you did for those kids! xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I started my training as a counsellor, because I wanted to work with troubled teens. Sadly life intervened and my path has changed. I admire you for being able to work in a juvenile facility. The emotional drain must’ve been huge. Good to hear that you were able to find a compromise that worked for both you and your family. D

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I worked in a halfway house for several years. The residents were adult men with mental retardation who had previously had run-ins with the law. I enjoyed it very much for about 3 years, but that was all I could manage. The stressed began to take it’s toll.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Judi, thank you so much for your support and understanding, We all have different strengths, and different needs, i think at that time I needed to be needed, a lot apparently! LOL I do thank God for the callings I have had. H.


  9. Debs, how very interesting, you would have been great working with teens I believe. Look at this very thread,! You, Scarlet, Lauren, and my friend Charles, all of us dealing with troubled peoole in our lives. How interesting that we are drawn towards each other, very tellling!


  10. Scarlet Embers, how amazing! Like I responded to Debs above, it is amazing that we are all so similar! No wonder we are drawn to each other, kindred spirits! Your feedback is very meaningful to me, thank you so very much!


  11. Helen,
    What a testimony to your love of children and your willingness to on a challenge. I also love children and was certified at the master’s level in EBD, SLD, and MI/MOD.
    What a tribute to our common ancestor, Miles Cary, Immigrant. You through Henry and I through Thomas.
    At this juncture in life, I am now the caregiver for my mother who has dementia.
    I enjoy reading your blogs.


  12. Dear Shirley! How wonderful to hear from you! I know of two more EBD, SLD certified people in our line! Doen’t seem like it should be affected by DNA, but gracious, that’s pretty amazing! I would love to “talk” with you more. Are you on facebook? Perhaps you’d like to email me at helenholshouser@gmail.com Thank you so much for writing and sharing, cousin!


  13. This is a subject that hits close to home. Our son , our adopted grandson, had a brain bleed when he was four days old. Of course cerebral palsy is the outcome of that. However, those years in school were sheer hell for our son, as well as my husband and I. Be the time he was in middle school, the problems were getting more out of control. He would turn on someone if they bothered him, or teased him. We had our first taste of help when the Mobile Crisis Unit came to our home. We met for the first time a person that had a lot of answers in his bag of tricks. We had two social workers who came to our home for two years, two times a week for two hours at a time. I was mostly the target of my sons out rages. I had managed him well while he was small and I could physically move him when he needed to be moved. We were very hands on with the school, and worked to follow what the social workers tried to teach us. However, we had a child who needed medication, and that was never mentioned to us. We, after all were very new with this type of developmental disorders. We went through hell trying to get help for our son. The teachers were wonderful in his primary classes, but with the changing of the schools, it was a down hill struggle. One child in the classes he had from Kindergarten through 5th. grade was always a problem to our son. By the time he was in Middle School, this child was still tormenting him. To counter act that, I let the school know I would get a restraining order, so he couldn’t be around my son. Finally, toward the end of the two years that the two social workers worked with our son, on said to me. I know a psychiatrist that is in your community. Would you like to try to see him with your son. I jumped at the opportunity. It was only a couple of sessions with the psychiatrist until he decided to put him on a rather heavy duty drug. He knew he had the developmental disorders. Nothing else had worked. We jumped at the opportunity to try to see if this would help. It was like daylight and dark. We began to get our son back. On May 6th. he will turn 31. To this day he is on the same medication. The dosage was increased one time for an evening dose after having a morning dose. He is a sweet, gentle young man that would not harm anyone. He could not help having the brain bleed that led to this traumatic event in his life. We have been so grateful for the young social worker who just wanted to help us so badly, that he even joined us at the doctor’s office to give his version of how they had already worked with him. I know that if for any reason he were to find himself with out his medication, that we would no doubt be back to square one. Families go through pure hell under these circumstances. We are given the stigma of bad parenting. Children with the type of disorders that you have described, should at least be given a chance to try out a medication that might turn their whole world around. We lived under such stress, that I ended up in critical care when my son was in 5th. grade. Doctors were sure I had just had a heart attack, but thankfully, I had not. In this day and time of many medicines that have the potential to help a child, why were they never used. Were the kids, and perhaps parents just labeled as “Bad”, and that was the end of it. If it were not for medications actually to treat a different type of mental disorder than our son has, but it worked for him. I don’t think I have ever shared this part of our live with you. It was nine years of pure hell before he entered high school in the eight grade. He did well there. But the teasing and bullying never stopped. As soon as he turned 16 we removed him from school. That was the beginning of a regular family life. We were all less tense. We did things together. And today he truly is my Sunshine. I dread the thought that I might ever leave him here on earth without me, but I have tried to arrange for his care to go to his birth mother whom he loves, and hopefully she would keep his medications going. If God is really good to us, he will take him home before we have to leave him to chance. Spiritually, we know we were meant to be together. We also know that he wanted to come into this life and experience life in a less than perfect body. To do that, he had to know that he could count on the parents that he would call his own. His birth mother’s only role in that plan was to deliver his soul to earth. I leave him in God’s hands, and know that His wisdom is far greater than mine, but I do believe what I have been told since he was two years old. So, this is our story with the system, and with what our child really needed.


  14. Dear, Dear Lois, thank you so much for sharing this with me and this community! I am so sorry you had to go through such torture until you finally got medication to help. I am a strong believer inusing medication if it helps! Actually, I think parents who sy, “Oh I’ll never give my ADHD child mediction, are doing a great disservice, actually neglecting and endangering their child! when a child has a brain problem that can be helped with medication, it should be criminal to deny him that saving grace to add quality to his and his family’s life. I don’t think I discussed medds in this post, for several reasons, but this is where I stand, and I am sorry I didn’t make that clearer. As a therapist, we are taught, trained and educated to use other techniques than medicine, but as we get more experience, we realized some people, children and adults ust need the right medicine for their body’s needs. We dont’ deny diabetics, we shouldn’t deny “brain illnesses” either! Illnesses of the brain, like of the heart, and the pancreas, need medicine, not to be labeled “mental illness”. love ou dearly, thanks for this, helen


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