What begins with “attitude” as they walk into the classroom – each trying to act cool by ignoring me just a little, trying to sit with others they know will chat off topic with them – very quickly turns into a frenzy of hands in the air.
Being invited to the hall began when one of the officers was fed up with the hellfire and damnation she heard religious preachers yell at the girls, every few days, week in and week out. The final straw was hearing the preacher tell the boys the bible instructs them to dominate women. The atheist officer then created a weekly class of her own, built acceptance over months for her new class idea which she based on general life skills, to get it approved, then carefully brought in her first atheist guest (me). She had me back a second time months later. Then, having proven interest from the girls, she launched her big idea she had been planning all along: A regular spot for an atheist to come in just like the churches do. We finally have that now. We were just last week approved for a class with our own regular time slot.
Maybe someday we will have enough non-theist volunteers to hold the class weekly, but for now I’m proud to announce that “Freethinkers Class” begins in October, after almost a year of careful planning. Why would a class require a year of planning, you might ask? In the name of retaining authority, religion seems to have a stranglehold on what is expected out at the hall. Fiery indignation, shame and name-calling in the name of Jesus seem to have been tacitly approved as the modus operandi for the detention facility. Without religion and shame, how can anyone turn their lives around, they seem to think. Thanks to this one officer, at least now once a month the girls in one unit will have a place to go to hear the “real” good news – that they can be responsible for their own lives and hold their heads high despite those who try to shame them, yell at them or threaten them with fairytale torture.
If you are interested in joining me for a visit, just let me know. We’ll keep it just females for now, while we set up this program slowly. Whether a onetime visit, or eventually getting your own permanent visitor’s badge and time slot, the girls’ responses to what you have to share will make your day.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll get it. I’ll contact you.
By the way, they have no internet out there. What they are told and the books they are given to read are all they have. You can purchase books for Juvenile Hall through Books Behind Bars Wish List. You order them. We deliver them. They devour them. (Seriously, they do.)
Juvenile Hall Outreach is organized through AOF. Join AOF here.
First published in Sacramento Reason, available at sacramentoreason.org