A Story From One of Our Residencies 

We shared this on our facebook page, but wanted to put this in a more permanent location: 

From the Idaho Anti-Trafficking Coalition:

Our artist in residency, Jessie Nilo, in partnership and funded by, Idaho Parents Unlimited at the Southwest Idaho juvenile Detention Center.

“You’re coming back here on the Fourth of July? On a holiday?” the young man in the jump suit asked, his eyes searching my face as he looked up from his colored pencil drawing. He sounded perplexed. I was collecting their artwork and explaining we’ll continue our drawings next time. Earlier in the same session I had sternly made this same kid change his drawing, reminding him: No gang imagery, no gang colors. He had complied without argument.

“Yes,” I answered. “I’ll be here again Thursday with our supplies, and we’ll continue where we left off.”

“But why? Aren’t you off on the 4th?”

“I decided not to take the day off. I want to be here.”

“But why?” he asked sincerely. “Why would someone choose to be here? This place is so ... sad. And dull. Why would you want to be stuck inside here on your day off?”

“Because I care about you guys,” I answered matter-of-factly.

His eyes lowered quickly and he seemed to grapple emotionally with my words. There was not a sound in the classroom. I could feel all 13 inmates listening. These are fifteen-to seventeen-year-olds kids incarcerated for assault, battery, rape, theft, murder.

“Look. I know this class brings you guys a little peace and relaxation in your day, and you’re making amazing things, really amazing. I always have fun teaching art. So yeah. I’ll be here again this Thursday. Looking forward to it. You all did good work today, and I love your imaginations, every one of you. We’ll see you next time.”

I heard spontaneous applause escape from a few pairs of hands. Aww! That was new. 🙂

The guards called them over one row at a time, and had them line up at the classroom door, hands clasped obediently behind their backs. “Thank you,” a number of kids whispered to me over their shoulder before walking out of the classroom.

I smiled and waved acknowledgement.

Gah. My heart is full, and I’m kind of a broken mess now, at the same time.