Thirty Minutes

"Why are you here?"

"Oh man, it was stupid - I jumped the turnstile at the subway, and there was a cop right there. I'm 19 years old and have been in foster care since I was 11. Now I'm living in a group home. I'm not in school and the last grade I finished was 8th grade. I had a job at Kmart, but I lost it. The judge gave me one day of social service and one day of community service."

"I got caught with two bags of marijuana. I use pot to deal with my seizures, which I got from a bad car accident, and my depression. I can't work anymore, and I'm alone when I'm not with my son, who I take care of every other week. The judge gave me a break - he said if I finish three days of social service and stay out of trouble for a year, the case will be sealed, like it never happened."

"I'm 16, and I got arrested with a bunch of my friends. It was a drug sweep, but I wasn't doing anything. I don't hang out with those friends anymore. I'm supposed to do one day of community service - can I do it on the weekend? I'm in summer school and have class every day."

In just a half hour of conducting intakes, I've dealt with a range of issues - everything from foster care to mental health, drug abuse to school dropouts. The complexity of their lives and personal stories isn't apparent from the paperwork they bring from court, which is just a string of numbers describing what crime they pled guilty to - in these cases, 165.15 (theft of services, or jumping the turnstile), 221.10 (possession of marijuana) and 140.15 (trespass).

Their stories sometimes have to be coaxed out of them. Once you ask, though, they're eager to tell their side.

The challenge is making something of the limited time they have with Bronx Community Solutions. Though I'm realistic enough to know that not every client will turn their life around in a few days, I'm pretty happy with what I've been able to do with these three. I schedule the 19-year old to a social service class on Monday taught by a representative of FEGS in the hopes that he'll agree to participate in their job training program for 19-21 year olds.

For the father, I catch a lucky break: Charles, a psychiatrist who works for a partner agency, TASC, walks into the intake office after co-teaching a class on mental health with one of our staff members. Charles agrees to see the father for a one-on-one session on Monday.

Finally, I schedule the 16-year old to clean up a park in the neighborhood where he was arrested. At first, he's reluctant - it's on a weekend (the next day, Saturday), and as he notes, "we used to make fun of those people [cleaning the parks]" - but eventually he agrees.

Hopefully it's the start of something positive. For now, though, it's time for another intake.

"Why are you here?"

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