My first 'real' job as a lawyer was as a prosecutor in the DeKalb County Juvenile Court. I loved it. I ended up working there for over ten years, and left only because I decided that after ten years it was time for me to see what else was out there in the world before I got too entrenched and no one would ever let me do anything else.
It didn't take long in my tenure there to learn that there were certain patterns. (There are also patterns in private practice, such as the 'back to school' divorces, but that's a topic for another day.) Every time there was a school break, there was a large uptick in shopliftings and burglaries and generic fights. A lot of folks do their Christmas shoplifting, too. The hours of 3-5pm were prime residential burglary hours. The reasons for this were fairly simple. School keeps kids occupied with productive (or at least non-destructive) activity. As soon as school lets out, whether it is at the end of the day, or for an extended break, there is nothing productive for a lot of kids to do, and during these times of day their parents are working, so there isn't a whole lot of grownup supervision.
I'm not talking about the kids who are on the school teams, or who play an instrument in the band, or who have a job. Those kids are capable of finding their own things to occupy their time. I'm talking about the kids whose family support isn't what we wish it would be, either from complete lack of interest or an inability because they are working two full time minimum wage jobs just to keep a roof over everyone's head and food in their bellies. Really, think about it. There are so many families out there, where Mom or Dad can’t be present because they are working 50, 60, 70 hours a week just to keep the bills paid. I don’t know about you, but those are the people I want to help – the people who are trying as hard as they can but it just isn’t enough. I’m talking here about kids who want nothing more than positive attention, and, when that can't be gained, they get attention in any way they can. When you are getting arrested, everyone is paying attention to you, no? You are the focus of a whole lot of people. And Mom has to stop what she's doing to deal with you. Since there aren't adults who are either willing or able to make these kids feel good about themselves, they turn to their peers. And we all know what good judgment your typical 15 year old kid has, and what makes them laugh, and what they think is 'cool'. It isn't good grades and law abiding behavior.
In working with the Juvenile Court in DeKalb, when I did it exclusively, and since in my private practice in many Courts all over the state, I can tell you this: I have never seen a kid in Juvenile Court who was an active participant in the Boys & Girls' Club. (Well, as a defendant. Some might have been witnesses if you want to be technical.) This really is an amazing organization. Unlike almost every other activity for kids the entrance fee is ridiculously low. Seriously, it is something like $35.00 for the whole school year. So all the families that can't afford a babysitter or afterschool care, or the price of sports and other activities can afford this. They even provide transportation from the school! It gives kids a positive, safe place to be when school is out, and teaches them all about leadership and friendship and cooperation, and all of those things we'd like kids to learn, as opposed to which stores has the least observant security guards, and what kinds of locks are easiest to pick. If you have ever heard one of the graduates speak about their experience there, what they came from, and how the Boys and Girls' Club helped them find a future, then you have cried. If you have not cried, then you are some kind of soulless robot.
My friend Lindsey Hickman is on the board of the Walton County Boys & Girls' Club. She emailed me a few days ago and asked if she could hijack my blog for a day to give them a little publicity. Naturally, my first thought was, "Requests? What am I? A lounge singer?" But then I thought well, why not let people know what a wonderful public service this group can provide? Most of us are oblivious to what it does. Lindsey also supplied me with some helpful facts that I could use, my favorite of which is that for every dollar spent on a child at the Boys & Girls' Club, $5 is saved down the road in terms of prison costs, public assistance, and public housing. Normally, I am pretty skeptical of numbers like that, which usually sound made up to me. But having seen first hand how much it costs to keep a kid on probation, or put him in jail, and knowing how many zillions of tax dollars each year go into public assistance programs, I think that dollar figure is probably pretty low. I don't want to give a person a fish on a prison lunch tray. I want to teach them how to fish in the free, fresh air. And that, in a nutshell, is the mission of the Boys and Girls' Club -- they want to teach these kids to fish so we don't have to pay for the fish on their behalfs (behalves?) later.
On the cover of the latest Walton Tribune (am I allowed to say that on the Patch?), I read an article about how the Social Circle Boys & Girls Club had to close and it was ‘merged’ with the Monroe Club. What a tragedy it would be if the Monroe Club closed as well. I’d expect burglaries and shopliftings to go up, too.
Naturally, even though a child is only charged $35 for the year, it costs waaaaay more than that to keep them occupied. Another fact Lindsey gave me for use herein is that it costs $1000.00 a year for each child at the Club. That extra $965.00 has to come from somewhere. Consider it an investment -- every dollar you spend now is four dollars you don't have to spend later. More if you count the alarm system you'll have to buy after the after-school burglary and the extra home insurance rates after you make a claim. I also happen to know that most big stores jack up their prices to make up for the stuff that walks out the door and to pay for the security guards. I don't know about you, but I have no interest in paying for these things for these bored jokers. I'm too busy trying to scratch out my own living. I've already outed Lindsey, so I won't out her further by giving out her contact information, but I will give you the address for the local club: 405 Community Circle, Monroe, GA 30655. Surely when we are forking out $45 for the latest video games, we could find something -- if not money, then supplies, or our time, or whatever they need -- to save money down the road.
This concludes the public service announcement portion of this blog. I will return to my usual drivel in the next posting.