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Up in Here

Jailing Kids on Chicago's Other Side

Mark Dostert

Publication Year: 2014

Raised in a comfortable Dallas suburb, Mark Dostert crossed cultural and socioeconomic boundaries as a college student by volunteering as a counselor at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, Chicago’s infamous 500-cell juvenile jail, known locally as the Audy Home. Inmates there had been indicted on first-degree murder, rape, and carjacking charges, yet some enthusiastically met with him for weekly Bible-based lessons and discussions. Dostert formed friendly relationships with his students and envisioned becoming an even closer mentor to the legally troubled boys when he became an employee there after graduating from college.

The juveniles’ attitudes toward Dostert change, however, once he begins working as a “Children’s Attendant” at the Audy Home, clocking in for eight hours every day to enforce rules and maintain order on the cellblocks. His colorblind, altruistic volunteer world fractures into a full-time, emotionally charged reality of white and black and brown. When the boys change, he must change too. Despite wanting to help them feel human in such a dehumanizing environment, Dostert realizes he needs to make sure his kindness is not perceived as weakness. Dostert learns to march the juveniles through the facility to school, recreation activities, and chapel. He must strip-search them, interrupt their brawls, root through their cells for drugs and handcrafted weapons, and monitor group showers to thwart sexual extortion and the inscription of gang symbols in soap on walls and mirrors. Week after week and month after month, the job exposes hidden views not only of the juveniles and the “system” incarcerating them, but of Children’s Attendant Dostert himself.

From one man’s struggle to reconcile his humanitarian intentions with his actual job responsibilities in what, to him, is a strange new world, emerges a sincere effort to confront the realities of America’s persisting racial tensions and institutionalized poverty. Dostert’s story is an honest and unflinching journey from thinking he has many of the answers for how to change this world to discovering how little he really knows about the world he is trying to change.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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Note on Names and Methods

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pp. ix-x

My job is to let Ruben out of his cell. Through the door of steel-framed Plexiglas, I watch the shirtless, brown-haired boy gathering soap and shampoo from the scant personal effects off his blue fiberglass desk. I open the door. When his five shower minutes...

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Chapter 1

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pp. 1-14

Five years before meeting Ruben and his scars, I climb into a minivan with several other students at a Moody Bible Institute parking lot. I’m a senior. We’ve spent a cloistered day at our cramped campus, mere blocks from the...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 15-25

Monday morning I steer my Toyota Tercel off Joe and Beth’s gravel driveway onto a double-lane road splitting cornfields and dairy farms. Knowing that I won’t see this landscape again this afternoon or tomorrow or the next day...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 26-32

“Line up!” Attendant Walton hollers from the console. Breakfast is over, and the boys have done the four-by- four again scraping and then bathroom area visits. Twenty-two androids stand up from their TV area seats, plod...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 33-42

Attendant Walton leads me down two stair flights to the basement. With a regular key, he unlocks a metal door and heaves it back. Over the whoosh of soggy subterranean air, I hear them before I see them—basketballs jackhammering...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 43-55

For week three, Martha or a supervisor extends me on 3G, but switches my shift from 8–4 to 2–10. On Monday, another 2–10 attendant shows up to be Attendant Walton’s actual relief. With the 8–4 attendant, there are indeed three of...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 56-61

On Monday, supervisors place me on 3F instead. So no more discussions about the meaning of nigger and God and Israel being Africa. Now I must meet new Children Attendants on a new cellblock and decide on their methods. Juveniles...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 62-70

“Dostert, 4K,” Supervisor Maywood says at the time clock on Tuesday, my week’s lone day shift, my first day as a real children’s attendant. Supervisors should start me on the third floor, not in the Ghetto. Supervisor Maywood adds...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 71-86

A different supervisor assigns me to 3F on the 4–12 shift for my second day as a real children’s attendant. Word about 4K must be fodder for the whole building. But yesterday’s meltdown is Supervisor Maywood’s fault. No white guy...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 87-92

From my apartment parking lot I turn north onto Brainard Avenue and cruise past well-kept Georgian and Ranch-style homes, bright flowerbeds nestled in their tidy yards. Also close is a forest preserve and picnic-tabled clearing...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 93-105

“Dostert, 3D,” the time clock supervisor says on the Friday before Labor Day. “Two to four there and then four to ten on Medical.” Since becoming a 2–10, I’ve been floating, filling in for attendants taking vacation, personal days, or...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 106-114

It’s Labor Day. Supervisor Taftmont directs me back to 3D as if I’ve been running this beast of a cellblock like General Patton for years. This guy isn’t smarmy like Supervisor Maywood, who put me on 4K, but like I did after 4K...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 115-120

“You must like being in that room, if you keep actin’ up,” I overhear a woman. She is seated at a visitation table near me. I’m sitting at the console. The chastisement is for her son, Timothy, “Tiny Timmy” as many attendants dub the...

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Chapter 13

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pp. 121-128

To my relief, Supervisor Mitchell keeps me on his fifth floor and returns me to its G cellblock. The regular 2–10 attendant there just acquired his certification as an electrician and is burning through sick days before resigning. Everyone...

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Chapter 14

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pp. 129-140

“Three mo’ niggas to wash they ass!” I hear behind me. Donnell is shouting over my shoulder and stepping out of a shower cubicle a few feet from my roller chair positioned at the mouth of 5D’s bathroom area. I’m on shower duty. This...

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Chapter 15

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pp. 141-147

Today, I’m working the 3E console with Attendant Hammonds, who works 4–12 on 3E every shift. The regular 2–10 attendant is on vacation, so I’m here, still floating. Since my flameout on 3D, if someone like Edison, Otis, or...

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Chapter 16

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pp. 148-156

In fourteen weeks of Attending Children, only two days—4K and then 3D with Jensen—register as utter throwaways when I wanted to apologize to the juveniles, to my superiors, and to the taxpayers who fund my salary. The two...

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Chapter 17

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pp. 157-162

Halfway between Halloween and Thanksgiving, I land on 5G. I’m confident from piloting the hushed evening here in September with Attendant Jensen—the hushed evening witnessed by Supervisor Mitchell. I’m even more confident...

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Chapter 18

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pp. 163-173

The time clock supervisor sends me to Medical. Word must be out that Dostert is worthless, worthless even on 5G. Only Supervisor Mitchell knows about my smash-success shift there with Jensen and the smooth 5D shift with...

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Chapter 19

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pp. 174-179

“Now they pissed me off!” Attendant Littleton turns to me at the 3J console. I move my head but do nothing nor say anything. Littleton is permanently assigned here and I’m still floating. To our left down the 3J cell row near the bathroom...

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Chapter 20

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pp. 180-186

Attendant Bradley expects a sluggish response from DCFS inquisitors regarding Timmy’s rape accusations. The Illinois child abuse hotline averages over a thousand daily calls. This government agency whose decrees result in suspensions...

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Chapter 21

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pp. 187-202

The leniency of Tiny Timmy’s judge is corrupting our caseworkers. They have pared down Confinement sentences since Timmy’s departure for Placement. Possessing lethal contraband, cursing out staff, and brawling with each...

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Chapter 22

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pp. 203-210

Whenever I work 3G, Attendant Edison directs me to perform the strip inspections after Sunday visitation. I’m proud that Edison doesn’t have to run the entire show. Such disrobings go down in the bathroom area, given its seclusion...

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Chapter 23

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pp. 211-218

Back in Bible college, before and after my first volunteer evening with blind Chaplain Rick at the Audy Home, Chicago’s flagship news radio station often woke me with how many Chicagoans had been stabbed, bludgeoned, gunned...

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Chapter 24

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pp. 219-223

The night Attendant O’Neal filled in for Attendant Edison on 3G wasn’t Edison’s only call-off. He’s phoned in sick now for multiple consecutive shifts. I don’t know why. Neither does Supervisor Wilkins, but Wilkins and other supervisors...

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Chapter 25

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pp. 224-229

To have someone like Edison backing me during the six hours our shifts overlap is a lifeline. The third-floor floor manager just summoned me to her office. The fiftyish black woman informed me that an unnamed 3G inmate has informed...

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Chapter 26

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pp. 230-232

After Attendant Edison’s lecture on zoo lions, Africa’s lions, narcotics, gangs, concentration camps, and welfare, someone wins the shift bid for 3G’s 2–10. I’m floating again. I miss the rap sessions with Edison, his provocative questions...

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Chapter 27

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pp. 233-236

I submit another quitting notice a few days after staring Lafredrick into his cell. This one takes me to a full year of attending children at the Audy Home. I relocate to my native Texas and apply to Houston’s equivalent of Teachers...

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pp. 237-238

Critique and encouragement from readers at various stages enabled this book. The professionals—Jon Billman, Sarah Burnes, Jennifer Carlson, Chris Parris-Lamb, and Sandi Wisenberg. Those as helpful as the professionals—Scott Dakin, Nate Dickerson, Robert Edwards, Beth...


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pp. 239-242

E-ISBN-13: 9781609382889
E-ISBN-10: 1609382889
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609382704
Print-ISBN-10: 1609382706

Page Count: 252
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: paper