Yesterday I visited the young people at the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center. Three classes of young men, and one class of young ladies. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t more of the same, that it was an unfortunate repeat of the last two days: good kids, bad decisions, desperation buzzing in the air like fluorescent lights. It was all that, but there was one thing I found super interesting.
When I was taking a break in the library, the librarians were flipping through the books, ripping out certain pages and sometimes throwing whole books in the trash. When I asked what they were doing they explained that sometimes the inmates tag the books with gang signs or notes and sometimes even prayers. It’s almost like they exercise their frustration by scribbling in the books. Better yet, they declare and stamp their identities on the pages, then tuck them away amongst the rest — a meta-articulation of their everyday lives. I imagined a kid, writing a message to God in a book, then coming back to check it out and read it every few weeks, reminding himself that God was there. Somewhere. Hoping that God was listening. And this note written on the pages of a novel, was in fact his message in a bottle. The desire to survive breeds creativity, and that creativity perpetuates survival.
Here are a few of the torn out pages the librarian, Amy, saved and taped to the wall of the library bathroom.