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Digitized Discipleship

Pardon My French

Posted by Dana Jean on

By the end of this post, I may need to just put my debit card in the jar.


When a friend asked me to mentor a girl in juvenile detention, my initial response was flat out, “No.” (I may also have rolled my eyes.) A year later, I have mentored three teens and find it to be the most rewarding ministry I have ever done. Now, I mentor once a week; I cook mac & cheese and mashed potatoes for holidays for the girls to share; I deliver shoes and toiletries from church members; and I share messages from women who pray daily for my girls. It blows my mind how much I love mentoring these girls.

Actually, it blows my mind how much I love these GIRLS. Not the mentoring. The girls themselves.

On the one hand, when I’m there, I experience a disconcerting sort of sensory deprivation and loss of control: I sit in a cinder block room with no windows in an uncomfortable chair, trying not to look directly at the glass pane where guards are always watching from a dark room with video screens and a panel of equipment.

The “pod” where juveniles live in groups of up to 12. This is NOT the tiny visitation room.


On the other hand, my senses are bombarded and I am acutely aware of the position of power I hold as I look across the table at a young girl wearing a dreadful orange jumpsuit. I hear the slamming of heavy metal doors and the clinking of locks from other areas and the serious tones of guards talking to each other, and I know that I am on the “safe” side of those doors.

Currently, I’m paired with a 17-year old who is in for shoplifting. What she is NOT in for is the gun she got when she was 11. Or the drugs she was selling by the time she was 12. Or the sex she was selling by the time she was 13. Or the assaults she made on people who crossed her. Those are the things she WASN’T picked up for when she was caught shoplifting.

The cousin who raped her when she was 8 wasn’t picked up either. Nor was the uncle who took her in his 18-wheeler across state lines to sell her to other men for sex when she was 11. And her dad, a widower, spent most of her childhood in jail for felony theft.

My girl is surprisingly upbeat despite her situation. She has learned about Jesus while in juvie and was baptized. She attends weekly bible studies and talks frequently about praying as “coping skill.” At times I’m enormously hopeful for her future!

It took me several visits to realize that she has no idea that what was done to her is wrong. She has no image of what a healthy family should be. I spend my time trying to talk to her about what her life could be like when she gets released. She shows me her homework and her grades, and she talks to me about “coping skills” she’s learning in counseling. For the first few months, it was fairly superficial. I worried that this might be the highest level of a healthy relationship she’s ever reached, and I didn’t know how to get to the next level.

The “bedroom” the juveniles go back to each night.


Until just before Christmas.

At our weekly visit, after showing me her grades, she started telling me how she got a few points knocked off her behavior log for “mouthing off” to guards and how it’s the guards’ fault for pushing her. She spent 10 minutes venting about how everything was someone else’s fault: she wouldn’t get violent if the other girls didn’t provoke her; she wouldn’t refuse to work if the teachers would quit taking points off for “stupid” reasons; she wouldn’t disrespect the guards if they didn’t deserve it. On and on she went. I sat there as long as I could, figuring I’m the only one she can open up and truly vent to. And then I’d had enough.

I crossed my arms, looked her square in the eyes, and said, “Excuse my language, but I’m calling bulls**t.”

She looked at me like I had three heads. I’d never used bad language in front of her, so I took her by surprise. I went on to tell her that it was a cop out to blame everyone for her own behavior. I called her out for her lousy attitude. At first, she tried to argue with me, and then all of a sudden the tears welled up in her eyes. She sobbed, “I just can’t take it in here anymore! But I’m going to be institutionalized my whole life! I’m going to be like my brother and my cousins and my dad! I’m never getting out!” She went on for about 10 minutes, until, again, I had had enough.

And I crossed my arms, put on my stern face, and called bulls**t again.

I lectured her about how her attorney would not have bothered getting her a mentor if she didn’t think my girl had potential; how the counselors and teachers all say she’s incredibly bright; how they all invest themselves in her, not because it’s their job but because she’s got potential and she could have a different life. I went on to tell her I wouldn’t waste my time just to shoot the breeze, that I only mentor her because I think there’s more to her.

And then something happened and the atmosphere in the visitation room felt suddenly more still than usual.

I heard my voice get louder and felt my heart begin to race. I asked her if she really believed that Jesus died for her sins. I told her I didn’t think Jesus died on that cross, bleeding out in front of his mother and his best friends, while his lungs collapsed and nails ripped through flesh and bones, just so she could sit in a jail.

I demanded to know if she was going to waste her life behind bars when her savior died so she could be free and live the life he wanted for her.

Where that came from, I can only guess. Because I’m no evangelist, and the words coming out of my mouth didn’t feel like my own.

I took a breath to steady myself as she wiped her eyes and sat up in her chair. I finished with a pep talk about how she could vent to me but that she had to march back into the pod and get to work, to stop blaming others and hold herself truly accountable for her actions and inactions, and to pray. I hugged her before I left, looking her in the eyes and telling her I love her but that more importantly, God loves her.

Really, I sat down here to tell you about the Holy Spirit being in juvie. I was going to tell you how when Jesus said, “I was in prison and you came to me,” he really meant it and if you want to meet him, come with me to the juvenile center!

But what I find myself more compelled to do though is to ask you this:

Are you whining about or blaming others for your lot in life?

Are you wallowing in self-pity thinking things will never change for you?

Because if so, just like with my girl in juvie, I call bulls**t. (Excuse my language. I’ll go put a dollar in the swear jar when I’m finished here.)

BUT REALLY. If you’re reading this, I’m pretty sure you have way fewer excuses to be whiny and wallowing than my girl in juvie.

So hear me: Jesus died for us! The least we can do is live — I mean really live — the life he wants for us! Not some half-a** excuse for a life! (There goes another dollar in the swear jar.) Blaming others and wallowing in self-pity isn’t living! Pull yourself together. Or better yet, realize that he’s already done that for you.

So get up and go live.



No excuses.

And, in case you need a reminder, the Holy Spirit, while he may be in juvie, is not ONLY in juvie. He’s with you too. Call on him. That’s why Jesus left him with us.