One of the guys I knew the longest at Geneva was Mike (not his real name). He walked into my office for the first time, looking like an old, decrepit man. He didn’t or couldn’t look up. His face was drawn and bony; his body thin, shriveled and folded down onto itself. His affect was like his body; curling inward, protecting the delicate, fragile center. It was the early 70s and Mike was 18.

Mike, like all juveniles sentenced to be incarcerated in Illinois, was first sent to ‘Reception’ at Joliet for assessment and placement in one of the institutions in the state. He was a heroin addict and had come off cold turkey while at Joliet. It was hard to tell if the lack of eye contact was due to his question-mark posture or an internal void. He’d been through hell and there didn’t appear to be much left of him physically, emotionally or spiritually.

An ex-Marine working as a Cottage Supervisor at Geneva, discovered Mike’s interest in boxing. He knew the Junior Boxing coach from the Olympics in Mexico City. With much advocating (and begging), I was able to gain approval for Mike to train with this coach.  Mike’s body started to recover and gain strength.  This was the pathway for his journey to wellness.  He had an interest, a goal and a reason to live.

I didn’t know on that first day that Mike would be one of many young people whose futures would haunt my thoughts 40 years later – did he survive the streets, drugs and future incarcerations; did he reach his 50s or die with a needle in his arm.  I’ll tell you more about Mike and what I learned from him and other inmates at Illinois State Training School for Girls (aka the ‘Girls School’) in future posts.

btw have you checked out Brenda’s and Mya’s Story under the Your Legacy page?  Amazing stories from courageous women – don’t miss them.  If their stories resonate with you be sure to let them know.  Brenda will be writing more about her experiences so stay tuned.  If you would like to tell your story, please contact me.