Guest post by Chantilly Mers-Pickett
Last summer I attended a panel discussion organized by Community Connections for Youth (CCFY). CCFY is an organization in the South Bronx that works really hard to provide alternatives to incarceration for youth.
I remembered a grandmother on the panel who spoke about her grandson turning 18 in a detention center. She fought back tears when she described what he endured.
Judith shared that story again with me. With voice trembling she recalled her grandson not calling one night, as was his routine. She called the facility wondering what happened to him. They told her Zachary was fine. But no one told her what really happened.
No one told her that after an altercation with a CO, he was restrained. No one told her he was put in a dark hole for days where there was no bathroom. Kids just used the bathroom in there, she said. He wasn’t fed.
Finally when she got through to him over the phone, Judith begged her grandson for answers. “How long were you there?”
“I lost count of time,” he says.
“Why didn’t you make noise or call out to someone?”
“Who could hear me down there?” was his reply.
Judith would later find out Zachary was placed in what they called the Pit for three days. He lost 15 lbs while in “solitary confinement.” The doctor who later examined him called his punishment cruel. “How do you treat kids like animals? These are kids!” Judith cried.
It’s been a few months since Zachary returned home. Her grandson went in as a child and returned a man. He doesn’t talk about his time in detention. But Judith is still looking for answers. Sometimes she asks God for answers. “God, can you tell me? There’s so many answers that I need. What happened to him in there? Why is this happening to our young people?”
Judith said she’s still waiting for God to answer her. Sometimes unanswered questions cause her to stumble, but every time she falls, she gets up. This has become her cross to bear. Sometimes it feels too heavy for her to carry. But when she thinks about Jesus and how he stumbled with his own cross, she is given strength. Some days all she can hold on to is her faith. God has given her tremendous strength to even help share the burden of other families. If parents can’t make it to a teen’s hearing, Judith stands in the gap and goes for them.
“What’s that like?” I asked her.
“It’s heart-breaking to hear a judge tell a child he isn’t fit to be in society… But that’s trash-talk,” she says. “Trash talk. They are still children. They are God’s children.”
Judith is a CCFY advocate. She spends so much time going in and out of the courthouse that people ask her, “Grandma, grandma what did you do? Are you on probation?” Judith laughed, while this time I held back tears. I was so moved by her courage.
When Jesus says, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for your children,” I picture Judith at the foot of his cross. She stands at the cross each time she stands in the gap at a courthouse. She stands at the cross holding on to her faith in the face of so much sadness and so many unanswered questions.