The institution, Illinois State Training School for Girls, Illinois Department of Corrections, Juvenile Division at Geneva, we abbreviated in conversation to ‘Geneva’. Named after the quaint town on the Fox River straight down Roosevelt Avenue about 40 miles west of Chicago, the venue was beautiful but isolated. Few inmates’ families had transportation to visit their children so were separated for months. My first job was as a cottage supervisor in a medium security building for females. For six months, I worked the 3PM to 11Pm shift with two other women supervising and cooking for the girls; some as young as 11.

I remember a beautiful girl, Denise, 11 years old and incarcerated for truancy. She would sit in the TV room at night and rock forward and back, forward and back, her arms encircling her body in an attempted hug. Taking a child out of her family home for any reason is terrible but for truancy, it’s appalling. Her innocence was exposed to older and wilder girls that had life experiences Denise couldn’t comprehend – it was the worst form of education for this child. She was a beautiful, innocent child and you can bet if she’d been white, she would never have heard of ‘Geneva’.

Sometime after being released on parole, Denise got in trouble and was returned to Geneva. I was shocked to see her and the thick shiny scar running jaggedly across her face from temple to the corner of her mouth. During a fight with another girl in the street, she was attacked with that piece of metal coil that protects the wire connecting the phone receiver to the box in a telephone booth. During the months when we had the opportunity, we certainly didn’t teach her any skills to survive intact on the streets of the ‘inner city’. Her exposure in the institution provided a fast track education to trouble. Her childhood was lost and she came back mean, hardened and angry.