What would you give someone in a juvenile correctional facility?
February 6, 2008 1:49 PM   Subscribe

What would you give someone in a juvenile correctional facility?

My aunt has just emailed the family to send letters and care packages to her 16 year old son (my youngest cousin) who is in a juvenile detention center. He has been sentenced for a minimum of 1 year, but that may have just been extended. I don't know him very well, the family lives in Colorado, but he seemed like an angry, troubled kid. His parents are going through a bitter divorce, they both are arguing over who gets the kids. Either parent wants them because of their shenanagans. Sad I know. So he is obviously acting out as much as possible to get their attention. Robbery did the trick.

To let you in on his personality, he was dissapointed that he was put in with the soft kids and not the rough, higher risk kids. This email that just got sent out by the aunt just mentioned that he got moved to the higher security facility. I guess he hasn't been doing to well in there.

So, the aunt has tasked us, the family, to reach out to him, send him a letter, a care package. What would you send a kid that might make a difference, might make him think, or just pass the time?
posted by brinkzilla to Human Relations (17 answers total)
Send him a letter, and call the center and see if you can add a little money to his commissary account. This will let him buy what he really needs, either for himself or as barter for something else.
posted by nkknkk at 2:07 PM on February 6, 2008

nkknkk - Is it really a good idea to give someone in that situation bartering power so he can dig himself an even deeper hole? I think giving him the ability to spend money, given his surroundings, is a bad idea.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:16 PM on February 6, 2008

Maybe a book that will give him some insights on how to change his life around - A Thousand Words for Joy by Byron Katie.
posted by watercarrier at 2:19 PM on February 6, 2008

I would try to send things that help do three things: to keep his mind occupied and sharp so he's not looking for ways to further his criminal career, to give him hope, and to let him know he is loved.

Seconding A Thousand Words for Joy. I'd add How To Win Friends and Influence People.

I'd also send lots of puzzles and mail-related games (chess). And letters, and photographs.
posted by fandango_matt at 2:32 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

An inspirational book and a letter.

The objective of your letter should be to to persuade him to read the book.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 2:33 PM on February 6, 2008

Money. (Never mind Inspector.Gadget- that's the jail's job to figure out, not yours.) And your phone number with a note he can call you collect whenever he wants, if that's how jails work.

Long and short of it: call the facility and ask them for their list of dos and don'ts. It'll give you an idea of what to send, even if doesn't tell you specifically. You could also mail him a letter and ask him what he needs.

Here's a list for San Quentin prison. Not exactly relevant but it's all I know :) and anyway it's interesting.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:04 PM on February 6, 2008

I WOULD put a few bucks on his commissary account. Sometimes the only thing you have to look forward to is the one day of the week that they hand out the Snickers bars, and if you don't have the means to buy yourself some candy and snacks, you might be tempted to try to...appropriate them through other means. Like gambling or extortion or theft. The people inside who don't have money in their commissary accounts are viewed as unloved and unimportant -- don't make him into That Guy.

Photos are a great idea. Especially photos that aren't fraught with layers of mixed messages -- so maybe not a pic of mom and dad, but a pic of his dog, his favorite outdoor spots, the sunset, a hiking trail, whatever.

If you send a letter, do not include anything in it that would humiliate him if it were taken from him and read aloud.

Chess by mail is a great idea. Also books of crossword puzzles, as suggested.

And take heart -- a friend of mine spent almost two years bouncing in and out of the juvenile justice system, to the point of being thrown in isolation for weeks for fighting with the staff. He's now got multiple post-graduate degrees, a great job, and a bright future. Kids fuck up, but then they grow up.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:05 PM on February 6, 2008

Call the facility and see if there are restrictions on what you can send. You don't want to send something great and have it confiscated before it ever reaches him.
posted by 45moore45 at 3:24 PM on February 6, 2008

What about a sketchbook or notebook? Is he the sort?
posted by loiseau at 3:43 PM on February 6, 2008

Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver
Notes from the Underground by Dostoevsky
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
posted by klangklangston at 3:59 PM on February 6, 2008


...and not music you like, music he likes.

Have any of you ever been to juvie, or know anyone who has? If anyone I knew from juvie had gotten a copy of "A Thousand Names for Joy", it would be toilet paper and spitballs within a week. Not to mention, other kids are going to laugh their asses off.

Books are a good idea, but much closer to klangklangston than fandango_matt.
posted by Jairus at 4:35 PM on February 6, 2008

A friend who had been in grown-up prison told me that having money was the only thing that kept him from being raped or beaten. Everyone knew he could afford to have someone killed, so he was left alone. So go ahead and send him some money.
posted by popechunk at 6:23 PM on February 6, 2008

I had a cousin who everyone in my family thought was a waste of time, a troublemaker, never gonna amount to nothin', etc. He killed himself at 29.

I'd get your cousin something that reminds him of his worth as a person. What has he done well in his short life? What dreams has he had - however outlandish and unrealistic? Playing pro sports? Music? Moving to New York? Send him something that ties into those interests - even if it's just a poster. Show him that you believe in him. Even if you don't, fake it.
posted by desjardins at 6:33 PM on February 6, 2008

Send him a letter and find out what kind of things he likes, then go from there, depending on what he's actually allowed to receive. One of my exes, now a responsible and all-around fantastic person, spent a year in a juvenile correction facility for robbery and said that he always looked forward to letters from friends and family. Years ago I had several prison pen pals and they really dug any letters or magazines I could send them.

I would think your cousin would be glad that someone took the time to find out what he liked and paid him some attention.
posted by medeine at 9:22 PM on February 6, 2008

When I was in juvie, 13 years ago, there were no good books or magazines, and we weren't allowed to have magazines with staples. Another thing: the staff read ALL our mail, both ingoing and outgoing. They read this thoroughly, in front of us. If mail contained anything staff found inappropriate, we did not get our mail. Also, we did not have a commissary account. Some institutions require pre-approval before he can receive your mail: he has to put you on a list. The juvenile system is weird and probably varies from state to state and institution to institution, so find out the rules before you do anything.

I would say that the Malcolm X/Eldridge Cleaver/Dostoyevsky stuff is fine, but c'mon. Is the kid a political prisoner or a member of some oppressed minority? If not, how about sending him some nice escape literature. Maybe a book that has nothing to do with prison at all? They probably have the Malcolm X book anyway. When I was locked up there were Muslims on the staff who made sure that was hanging around . As for Cleaver, I think its content will probably ensure it gets censored and the kid never sees it. I think I ended up reading a ton of Michael Crichton books and similar airport size paperbacks as well as the Bible. Nothing wrong with that.

I second the suggestions of writing him a letter asking if there is anything he needs and especially contacting the institution for rules. In the end, the gesture will matter more than the content of whatever you send him. Sending letters consistently for a year would be much better than just sending one big care package of books.
posted by pablocham at 10:57 PM on February 6, 2008

I just remembered, we weren't allowed any newspapers or news magazines, so I recall really wanting to know what was going on in the world and asking my parents for Time, Newsweek, etc. That seems really odd in retrospect. The staples had to be removed before sending.

Good luck.
posted by pablocham at 11:04 PM on February 6, 2008

My Dad had a gianormous praying mantis. It ate the cockroaches. He seemed to think that was pretty good... Things are probably a bit different now though.

I would say paper. All different kinds. And pens?? and pencils, smudgy erasers (Send the paper as 'letters' if the screws want to be jerks about it.) Scribble some blah blah lightly on the back. Technically that's two presents :) Something to read and something to do.((Don't fold them! Bits of cardboard to ensure they stay flat would be good!! Something in there you didn't want crushed - whatever?)) If he is pleasant start including the odd couple of sheets of thick and wondrous stuff. Artists are well paid for their services!! If he doesn't want it someone else will. It's almost like freakin gold. Without being pre-rolled cigs or porn ect.

Include something about how if he thinks they're crap, that's cool trade them for something else. Refer above :) Figured it would be a safe plan B at any rate? Feel free to use some of it to send you suggestions? :) Ask if he wants photos of anything in particular?

If he doesn't reply keep sending him notes (like clockwork) just simple pleasant blah blah. ie. Was thinking about getting new roses. Couldn't decide between the pink or red? What do you think? (Include a pic of said roses) Blah blah blah. Just ho hum everyday stuff, like you see him at the dinner table each night. (Rather than we went on a wicked holiday, shame you missed it! Never include these pics!!)

I promise you he'll have a shitty day in there and a letter that re-creates a warm oasis with someone who cares (and isn't trying to manipulate him - I would have trouble resisting the urge :) and purely the reason I thought to mention it) would be well received by even the most bad-ass...

If nothing else it sure is nicer to be pulling the wool over families' eyes than to be watchin' your back!

OH!! AND GET A GIRL TO WRITE TO HIM!! If he deserves it...? (And be warned, I was this girl, some time ago now...
This is an improvement! I only wanted to write two paragraphs tops. And look at it all!! Everything is a damn essay!) Your welcome to copy/paste any chunks of my copious ramblings if you get stuck for some filller. It's just going to waste otherwise. B)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 11:45 AM on February 7, 2008

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