“I’m the Champ!”

Yesterday I got to spend about two hours at Denney with one of my favorite kids. It probably seems like I call all of them my favorites, but really and truly… this one has captured my heart. Who am I kidding… they all do. But, I wish I could adopt him. I’ll call him Lance. Lance’s case is getting more intense and he’s been feeling some major anxiety and depression. One of the supervisors clued me in on this and asked if I would be able to spend some extra time with Lance over the next week because he has started isolating himself. I was at Denney to assist/observe a drama camp that AWAP was putting on, but I asked the sup if I could go hang out with him right then. He took me down to the unit, and honest to God, Lance’s eyes lit up. He talked and laughed and shared all kinds of goofiness for half an hour before I had to leave so the unit officer could get lunch. I asked Lance if he wanted me to come back after lunch or if he wanted to just see me on Monday, and he was like, “Yeah! Come back!”

So the officer came back to get me half an hour later, and Lance and I danced for the rest of our time together. He’s SUPER talented… one of the most naturally athletic people I’ve ever met… but beyond that, he’s just SUCH a kind, loving, funny kid. He trusts me, and it’s evident. We played with different movements and choreographed together— while he’s willing to just learn from me, one of the things I love most is that he gets excited about coming up with ideas and figuring things out together. He gets so hyped up when something turns out well— he might jump up and down or yell something adorable like “I’m the champ! I’m the best!” He might throw his arms around me. His smiles are SO BIG, and this time he laughed and ran a victory lap while I jumped around and showed how proud I am of him. For that hour and a half there was joy and love burrowing its way into the concrete.

There’s so much beauty and light in Lance. I know that not everyone gets to see it, and I know what a precious gift it is that he shows it to me. Sometimes I’ll read the articles about the crimes my Denney kids are being tried for, and though the crimes are often horrific, the hardest part for me is reading the comments. Even the kids being tried for violent crimes, the kids affiliated with gangs, the kids whose actions have changed lives for the worse… those kids have beauty, too. They aren’t cold-blooded. They are not monsters. They don’t have evil eyes. All of us are one bad decision away from being jailed at any given time, and I, for one, had many supports in place while growing up that many of these kids don’t. Though I was never in trouble with the law, I made MANY bad decisions that could have put me in the wrong place at the wrong time. Who knows what mistakes I could have made if faced with the right situation.

I am not passing out excuses— actions require consequences. But I value this time so much, and I’m praying hard that I’ll get to keep dancing and laughing and connecting with Lance— with all of these valuable humans—when they head out to their next facility, their homes, the streets, the world… and remind them just how worthy they are of joy, laughter, friendship, safety, and love.

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