Monday, April 29, 2013


It seemed like a good idea at the time.

My partner and I were doing the juvenile detention social worker equivalent of good cop, bad cop, in the "O.P." (out of program) room. Our companion in the room was an intensely agitated and violent teenager. Designed as a "cooling off" space, the O.P. room had no furnishings with the exception of a single mattress on the floor. It was stark and utilitarian, but a necessary room at times.

This time around, however, Sheila wanted to be the 'bad cop', which left me in the role of the opposite.

Hoping to appear as non-threatening as possible, I had seated myself on the floor, opposite the 17-year-old who was pacing back and forth like a predatory lion. To my immediate right, a splash of bright red blood was smeared across the only door to the room, a result of the teenager pounding his fists repeatedly on the metal door.

Sheila hovered just next to the bloodied door, following my lead but ready to intervene at a moment's notice. Physical restraints, including the use of handcuffs in some instances, was an unpleasant but at times unavoidable part of doing our jobs.

My verbal attempts at de-escalation weren't having the effect I had hoped for; our main goal was that the teenager stop the self-inflicted violence, and ultimately, that he calm down enough to actually discuss what the issues were.

Still seething as he contined to pace quickly back and forth, the teenager abruptly changed direction and lunged towards me. The folly of my seated-on-the-floor approach was instantly apparent, but the sudden actions of the teenager gave no time for me to adjust.

Leaning forward, fists clenched and with a wild expression of rage and implied violence, he shouted in my face, "I hate all of you! I could kill you! Don't you get it? I could kill you right now."

Without thinking about what I should say, I heard myself replying to him, "Maybe. And maybe not. If God has decided that it's my time to go, then I can't really stop you. But if it's not, then there's no way you could kill me. But that decision isn't up to you. It's up to God."

Sheila had swiftly moved just behind the teenager, poised and ready, although for some inexplicable reason (as she would later tell me), she held back against all of her training and instincts to tackle him before the situation escalated any further.

The teenager just stared at me for a several very long moments, breathing heavily, every muscle tense. His face reddened even further as he screamed at me, inches from my face: "I don't care! Do you hear me? I don't care what any of you say! I don't care if you hate my guts."

"I don't care if your eff-ing God hates me!"

Again, the words came without thought, as I looked into his blood-shot eyes, mere inches from my own, and I heard my voice saying: "One thing you can be absolutely sure of, is that God will never hate you. Nothing you have done, or will ever do, will stop God from loving you."

For what seemed an eternity, he stared silently, chest heaving.

It was in his eyes that I saw the change begin. His breathing slowed, and his taut body language relaxed. Slowly, without breaking eye contact with me, he began to back away. Coming up against the far wall, he slid down to the floor, his position oddly mirroring my own.

Lowering his gaze to the worn carpet, he exhaled deeply and simply said, "You guys don't have to stay. I'm good. I'm okay."

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