~ The names have been withheld or changed to protect all parties in this situation. The storyteller is one of the professionals at this particular juvenile detention center.
Jaime had been in the mental health unit of the juvenile hall more than a dozen times—where our most challenging kids stay and also attend school. He would often get set off by other kids or counselors and get punished for shouting and name-calling. I gave him a copy of your book, and by the time he’d read some of it, he was able to slow down, reflect, and not be so reactive.
During a meeting with his probation counselor, the counselor called him a “dumb ass,” and instead of getting angry, he said,
“When you get frustrated with me and call me insulting words like dumb ass, I get angry and want to hit you. In the future, when you get frustrated with me, I’d appreciate it if you could tell me without calling me a dumb ass.”
The counselor took what he said as a verbal challenge and punished him by telling him to “take it down” in his room for a time out.
Jaime told me he responded by “dropping the tone” in his voice and saying, “I’m going to take your advice and take it down now and go to my room.”
Thirty minutes later the probation counselor pulled him out of his room, apologized and asked how he learned how to do that because he didn’t used to respond that way. He shared your book and recommended that they get a copy.
When he talked about it he smiled, he was so proud because he didn’t take the hook. He said he felt like he made the choice to go to his room instead of feeling controlled and punished and it made him feel free.
Many people didn’t think it was even possible for Jaime to get control of his anger. And I don’t think Jaime thought it was possible either. I think he was surprised that he could have such anger deep down inside for good reason and still respond and feel so differently. He became the leader in the unit, helping other kids to take control of their own reactions.
When Jaime was released, he went home in time to watch the birth of his first child. He told me he couldn’t believe how much he has changed and how better prepared he was to raise his baby.