Recently one of the boys broke off several inches of the spiral binding - a great weapon or self-harming device - and, even after the entire unit was turned upside down, the pieces were never found. It was at that point that I switched to basic black hard bound books. Juvenile Hall just about never allows hard bound books, with the exception of a few textbooks in the classroom. It's just too easy to pick one up and bonk someone over the head. An exception was made in the case of the art program: I now give boys these books and, so far, there have been no mishaps. Eventually something will happen, but........
In the meantime I was trying to get postcrossing.com back into Juvenile Hall. I sponsored the program for two years in a boys' class, but I was working directly with their teacher who was openly receptive. After she retired I let the program drop. As a postcrosser myself I thought it would be nice to offer something to think about besides sitting in the day room telling war stories. So I introduced the program in the girls' group therapy and the postcards began streaming out as the girls wrote them, and in as others from around the world mailed them into the group.
Okay, then I made my big mistake. This new program seemed so wonderful that I just had to brag about it to administrative staff. Oh, my god! Would the girls need access to the Internet? (No, I photocopy everything and bring it into the unit.) I covered all the issues of confidentiality - I don't allow the girls to sign their last names, their profile doesn't say they are incarcerated ("We are a group of high school girls interested in learning more about other cultures, communities and countries....."). I use my own post office box as an address and gave the group the username of worldcitizen. Eventually staff was mollified and life went on.
The next step was getting the cards into the unit when I am not there. The ring binder option proved to not be an option at all. Metal, even the rings on a sturdy binder, could never be allowed. It would be okay to leave the book on the book cart, but not in the form of a binder. Eventually it occurred to me that I could photocopy the message side of each card and mount the original card on one page and glue the message underneath. Staff was happy for me to filch one of the bound books from the boys' art program and dedicate it to this project.
And so it will be. All the cards the girls have received are now glued in the book with the country of origin stated clearly on the bottom of each page. All the thank you messages that have come in through email are glued on the left hand pages with the country of origin at the top of each page. When I drop off the book on Monday afternoon the girls will now have a choice: Sit in the dayroom and tell war stories or flip through the postcards and wonder what it might be like to live in that country. Awesome!