What I Learned from Lockup

By Jesse Turner

For the final project for my Youth Work class, I made a board game. I called it, “The Game of Life in Juvie.” This term I have been interning at an all-male juvenile correctional facility. One of the ways the youth and I pass the time is by playing card games and board games. “The Game of Life” is one of the games we have played several times, and because going to prison is not an option in that game, I find it a sadly ironic one to play. I watch each youth choose to go to college, start a family, and pick a career with the highest salary.

I made my board game as similar as I could to the original. Instead of a job, each player picks the crime which sent them to juvie. Instead of advancing through the life stages, players must advance through the point-and-level system that the facility uses so they can gain more privileges and eventually get out. I tried to make the game as unwinnable as possible. When asked if I would share this game with the youth on my unit, I said, “Absolutely not.” For one, I wouldn’t be allowed to bring in contraband. But really I would never show it to them because the youth already know how horrible life in juvie is. I wouldn’t want them to think I was reducing their situation to something trivial. That’s not how I meant for this game to be taken. I wanted it to express how often many of the hardships that happen to the youth on my unit are out of their control and simply left to chance.

Many youth on my unit have shared with me their goals for when they get out. Most of them express desires to continue school, get jobs, and start families in front of staff. But around other youth, they are much more honest. The two biggest plans I hear about are to get as high as possible and to get tattoos for the gangs they affiliate with. I come from a place of incredible privilege, and many of the youth react to what I say as empty rhetoric. But I keep telling them I want them to do better on the outs. I don’t know who will listen, but I do know that the Oregon Youth Authority has a 65% recidivism rate. This is not the first time in juvie for most of these youth. And the sad truth is it probably will not be the last.

 

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