Broken Boy


One of my students was arrested today.  It happens a lot when you teach delinquents, so why has this one got me in tears?  This one is broken.  He’s angry and volatile and hurting from the inside out.  Others here may know it, but they see it differently.  They look at him in handcuffs with tears running down his face and say, “Well, good.  That’s what he needs – to be scared straight…” But what I see is this broken child going into a system that doesn’t want to fix him or those like him.  Fixing them is too expensive.  Therapists cost money.  So, instead, they learn from their peers.

What these kids learn in jail is not how to be stronger, but rather how to act stronger.  They learn how to react aggressively to hide their fear, because fear is seen as weakness.  They learn to hate.  They come out even more damaged because now they have a reputation and while their homeboys might pat them on the back for it, society discards them like we would a violent Pit Bull. Like a violent Pit Bull, this boy is violent because he was taught to be.

What boys like him need is rehabilitation.  They need someone to help them learn to pick up the pieces and allow them to be afraid so they can overcome those fears in a healthy way.  This one in particular probably needs treatment as a danger to himself.  All I can do is pray that he gets it in time.

Maybe I’m just too sensitive, acting like a momma hen and treating them like I would my own.  Because, at the end of the day, they aren’t.  There are days I think that if only I could take them home with me for a while and show them that the world is not always cruel, then maybe I could bring them a sense of peace.  And if that peace was allowed to take seed and grow inside them, then maybe we could break the cycle.  But I can’t.  Because I’m just their teacher.

So today, I watched while he struggled against the officer, threw himself against a wall and had to be restrained on the ground. I wanted so badly to shout at them to let me calm him down because I know I could if they’d let me. But I didn’t. Because I can’t.  I am just his teacher.

I watched while they twisted his arm behind his back and led him out of the building.  And, when all I want to do is give him a hug and calm him down, I can’t.  Because he’s shackled in the back of a police cruiser. And I am just his teacher.

I ask the officer to roll the window down, and I watch this broken boy sob, refusing to look at me, and I tell him, crying myself now, that I’m here for him, and just do what you’re told so it doesn’t get worse, and I love him, and it’s all going to be okay, I promise.  But it’s a false promise.  Because I don’t really know if it will.  And I may never know – I don’t even know if I’ll ever see him again.  Because I am just his teacher.



March 1, 2013 – Update:

The boy in this story was suspended from school for three days and ticketed for the incident that got him arrested.  While suspended, he was arrested again and has been placed in a Juvenile Justice Corrections facility.  Not at all where he needs to be….

His mother is asking that he be detained until she can transfer him to his father’s custody because she “cannot control him any longer.”


7 thoughts on “Broken Boy

  1. Pingback: Broken Boy | The Rag Tree

  2. Kelli,
    Thanks for following my blog. Without that notification, I likely never would have come across this excellent post of yours.
    Your insight into the deficiencies of The System is heartbreaking. The fact that you are “just” the boy’s teacher makes the pain no less real. I work with young adults, too, but for the most part, they’re privileged, generally well-balanced, all avenues open to them. It’s an environment that shelters them, and shelters me, too. So, reading an account like this helps put things back into perspective.
    Teachers used to have power. Not in a disciplinary sense, though they had that, too. But, it used to be, teachers were given the respect their position deserves, from students, parents, authorities. What’s happened to make our educational system the last standing battlement between these kids and an ugly world that doesn’t want to save them?
    Thanks for sharing this moment. I know it sounds empty, but that’s all I can say.

    • Thank you so much for the kind words. I need to write more posts like this one… This has been good therapy, and I hate to say it, but things like that happen all too often in my school…

  3. As a teacher, I can sympathize with that helpless feeling of wanting to do more but not being able to. I have never had a student arrested but I have seen ones with horrible home lives and I just want to make it all better, but I can’t. As you said, I’m just the teacher.

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