I've been working as a supervisor at a small juvenile detention center for the last 14 years. The state of Oklahoma cut its juvenile affairs budget and my center is a casualty. I basically spent most of my shift supervising and interacting with troubled youth who have committed all kinds of crimes from runaway all the way to murder and anything you can think of in between. I have broken up fights, been threatened to be shanked, called every name you can thank of, but also had some fun moments too. AMA.

Comments: 312 • Responses: 52  • Date: 

impendingwardrobe724 karma

I'm a teacher, and every so often I get kids in my class who have done time. Is there anything I should know about the experience of juvenile detention that will help me to be a better teacher and mentor to these students?

drewnobars442 karma

That is honestly a hard question to answer. The majority of kids who came through my facility dont have a bad experience in detention. Their home life is what is trouble for them. In detention they get 3 meals a day, thier own bed, a hot shower every day and someone to pay attention to them. Kids have often told me they would rather be in "jail" than at home. The one thing that I think helped me succeed at my job is the kids often told me that I was one of the few adults who treated them friendly not just as a criminal. But the flipside is, I also have many kids who loved to brag about getting kicked out of school and wont take any mentorship no matter what.

sethafuller46 karma

As a juvenile attorney, I use detention food as a bellwether. If they don't like it, I know they have a decent home life. If the love it, I know they have a shit life.

drewnobars11 karma

Kids always complain about gaining weight in detention and its usually due to them getting 3 full meals a day

Veldron44 karma

Out of curiosity, how does the facility you worked at handle behaviour? Rewards for behaving well or punishment for misbehaving? And how do they approach detention during the pandemic?

drewnobars28 karma

At my facility the kids are on a level system. The higher the level the more privileges they have. For example "c" level is the lowest level and they get one 5 min call a week, aren't allowed tv time, and bed time at 9pm. A+ level gets five 10 min calls a week, an extra snack, and bedtime at 1030 pm. If they are on a high level that also helps them when they go to court. As far as punishment for offenses like fighting they get room confinement where they are locked in their cells for more than an hour, but less than 24. Most the time in confinement they calm down and once they aren't a danger to anyone and have showed they will follow the rules they are let out of confinement. For smaller misbehaving they can lose other privileges such as TV time, outside freetime, and access to cards/board games. One reward I was personally doing is if a kid was on a+ I would let them play mario kart on mg switch.

_innominate_221 karma

I was in juvenile detention for most of teens, some of the staff were really great, better than my shit parents were. I'm sorry that you lost your job.

Do you think they'll ever return the funding?


Took us hiking regularly, set up a prom for kids who would never see one, with a limo and everything. 😁 It goes on. Wyoming Conference in Broome County NY, it was the one I stayed the longest at. I was in 36 or so total including foster care. (Stopped counting around then)

I was bad. ._. (a consummate runaway)

👍 Happy you did what you do.

drewnobars102 karma

I'm glad you seem to have survived the system...I've seen plenty of shit parents who should be in jail instead of their kids. Thank you for the condolences on my job, we have a court case pending to reopen us, so I'm just hoping for the best.

quadriplegicswimteam85 karma

Where do the kids go now that the center is closed?

drewnobars221 karma

My center is in the panhandle of Oklahoma, which is very rural, so now if a local kid is being locked up they will be sent 2 hours away to the nearest Detention center in woodward, ok and if beds aren't available there, they will be sent further down state..which puts them in larger, more dangerous centers, and makes it harder for low income families to visit.

black_rose_1 karma

Are any of the centers for-profit?

drewnobars5 karma

As far as I know no juvenile centers are for profit and are all state funded.

count___zero79 karma

Do you think it's possible to recover all the kids and help them to live a happy life after juvenile detention or are most of them going to spend the rest of their life as criminals no matter what you do?

If you had all the money and support that you needed what would you do to help those kids?

drewnobars192 karma

I would say the success rate of kids continuing on successfully is sadly about 50/50. It also depends on the crimes...the kids who come in as "gangsters" usually tend to stay on the criminal path and end up in and out of prison... drugs are also a huge deal, many kids are on meth and usually end up in a rehab that they just bullshit their way through to get free.... in the recent years we have had an influx of school threats and those kids usually never get in trouble again.... the other 50% side is kids made a mistake and learn their lesson. If I had all the money and support I would give the kids some therapy, programs to give them some life skills to get a job because many kids either drop out of school or cant go back due to their crimes. And also counseling for the families would be great to, a lot of kids come from horrendous backgrounds.

Grudge70273 karma

What was the craziest thing you saw while working?

drewnobars176 karma

I've seen lots of crazy gross things. Our center was co-ed, so I've seen every bodily function of both genders, sometimes kids would pee or deficate in their rooms... one stand out is a female who would intentionally shit herself multiple times a week if she didnt get her way. We would make the kids who intentionally soil themselves scrub their underwear and jumpsuits with bleach water. I've also witnessed suicide attempts and self harm.

Vessix14 karma

In the treatment facility I work at we had a girl who saved her period blood in a cup and threw it on staff. Another who saturated towels with urine and would throw it on staff. Thankfully I do not work in that particular program.

drewnobars13 karma

I've seen more period blood than I could of ever imagined, I luckily never had any bodily fluids thrown at me.

zdro121662 karma

What was the funnest moment you had there?

drewnobars182 karma

I have had a ton of fun times working with the kids, we play board/card games, play basketball ball, if kids aren't too "hard" we talk shit to eachother, some kids cant take a joke. But fun times are always holidays and "special" days...... 4th of July I would let the kids stay up late and take them outside in the metal cage to let them see fireworks, always big meals on holidays, I'd hook up the snacks on super bowl Sunday. At the end of the day if the kids weren't being assholes it was a daycare with more rules.

zdro121647 karma

Is there anyway for outside organizations to do programming for them? For example, a coding class or learning how to do meditation?

drewnobars72 karma

If we were remaining open we would be open to such things, we were very open to more activities to engage and help the kids.

vamos2024 karma

Metal cage?

drewnobars18 karma

Haha at my facility we have an outdoor basketball court, to get to said court you exit a door into a fully covered metal fence cage with a door that let's you access the basketball court which is just a court surrounded by a 20 ft fence with mesh at the top so they cant climb it and escape..

flying_roomba2 karma

Were you paying for these (like Super Bowl snacks) out of pocket, or did you have a budget for fun activities?

drewnobars22 karma

No budget for fun activities, the facility did provide large home cooked meals on Thanksgiving, candy on Halloween, stockings with candy and snacks on Christmas and bake a cake on kids birthdays and they would buy card/board games... anything beyond that staff would pay for out of pocket. (I've bought more basketballs than any one person should in a lifetime.) We also would get donations of meals from local churches once in a while.

Thrazkh34 karma

What did an average work day look like from start to finish?

drewnobars83 karma

I worked 3-11 shift. So my average day with no incidents went as

245 - 330 show up for shift change and do my paper work and get their hygiene and clothing ready for shower time. Kids are locked down in their cells from 230 to 330 for shift change.

330-450 if weather permits go outside in caged area for exercise and basketball, if weather is bad stay inside and do exercises.

5 pm dinner

530-700 shower time/freetime . Each inmate takes an individual timed shower. Other inmates sit in front of tv..

700-730 snack time

730-830 phone call and letter time

Then rest of shift is just freetime till bedtime

Freetime is throughout the day when nothing is going on when they can watch tv or play games.

Kids are on a level system which determines their bedtimes

C -worst level, kid is a problem 830 bed

B 9 pm bed

A 10.pm bed

A+ level, extremely good for 12 days, extra snack b4 bedtime at 1030

1030-1045 I do my paper work and shift change then Leave

joeroganfolks32 karma

What kind of snack is the extra snack

drewnobars24 karma

The extra snack is usually some sort of little debbie snack... they get it when the other residents go to bed since they get to stay up longer.

Thrazkh17 karma

Thanks! Was there any kind of schooling happening before your shift? If so, how would educating children of different ages and and abilities be possible seeing as it was a rather small facility? Or, alternatively, was there in any way shape or form some kind of plan to get these kids to be normal functioning teenagers/adults after their time is up e.g. by providing education in one trade skill or another?

drewnobars29 karma

On the morning shift 7-3 the kids (up to 6 kids, would wouldn't always be full capacity) would attend school together with 1 teacher contracted through the local high school, and they would try to cater lesson plans to each individual depending on age and grade level. No school in the summer. Our facility doesnt offer any programs for a skill or trade, we are meant to be a short stay facility with most residential staying a week or two.. on rare occasions we would hold kids for months at a time while they were waiting for an open bed at a juvenile prison, group home, or rehab.

Strudelh0use3 karma

Each inmate takes an individual timed shower.

With the infamous Bob Barker shampoo/body wash, in the tiny little cup like you get with cough syrup?

God I hated that.

drewnobars3 karma

Haha oh yeah bob Barker everything...fortunately about 5 years ago we stopped buying bob Barker. So now they get SUAVE in the plastic shot glasses.

zaynthelegend32 karma

Fav ice cream flavour?

drewnobars85 karma

I'd have to say butter pecan, yes I'm overweight.

SFLoridan3 karma

And what's the favorite ice-cream flavor among the kids?

drewnobars6 karma

The kids all have of different favorites , but no matter the flavor they were almost always very happy about having ice cream on the occasions we would give it to them for snack time, excluding the lactose intolerant.

Saltyorange2432 karma

Hello, thank you for doing this. What will be your further course of action? Genuinely want to know how others deal with it. It's unfortunate that it happened. Been dealing with lack of work myself thanks to covid.

drewnobars74 karma

As of right now there is a lawsuit awaiting a court date to reopen our facility because according to the law we should be excluded from a potential shutdown due to our regional location. There is also a court date this Tuesday that could force the state to fund us until the major court hearing occurs. Personally I am going on unemployment and hoping there is a positive court outcome, and of not I will have to find a new career in a rural area with minimal career opportunities.

Saltyorange2423 karma

I hope things work out in your favor!

drewnobars21 karma

Thank you

Orcwin2 karma

Would you prefer to change careers to stay in that location, rather than move to keep doing what you do?

drewnobars2 karma

If we dont reopen I plan on finding a different career, what that is, I dont know yet, but I wouldn't move for a similar job because the pay really wasnt great in this field.

daerrm22 karma

Saddest moment of career and happiest/most hopeful?

drewnobars107 karma

I dont have one exact sad moment of my career, but I have known a few kids who I spent a lot of time with commit suicide or spend most of their lives in prison. Last year a kid I really did not like, who constantly talked about how he was a gangsta and wanted to die in the streets led the cops on a high speed chase and was ultimately shot and killed... happy stuff is seeing kids turn their lives around, which is kind of rare. I sometimes get Facebook friend requests from former inmates who are now leading productful lives and starting families.

GyreNGimbleNDaWabe15 karma

Do you know of a fellow staff member that was accused of sexually assaulting a minor in custody or have you over heard or had the feeling that fellow staff members were sexually involved with detainees? What are your personal feelings on the subject and what reforms could be made?

drewnobars38 karma

My detention center is very small. We hold max of 6 residents at a time and the whole building is under constant video surveillance. No staff member has ever been accused of any sexual things since I started working there in 2006, or before to my knowledge and I have never felt like any coworkers were ever inappropriate. But in 2006 when I first started working there, inmates who had been their previous times before I worked there told me stories of a female staff member who no longer worked there that would flash them her breasts and let them smoke cigarettes. As weird as it is, I have unfortunately had males and females expose their genitalia to me. As far as sexual assaults, I do know it happened in larger facilities that are more like juvenile prisons.

pick-axis22 karma

6 residents at a time? That sounds like a house, not a prison.

drewnobars5 karma

Basically it is a living room and 6 bedrooms with doors that lock from the outside.

cuttysark971214 karma

You say "committed all kinds of crimes from runaway..." Is running away from home a crime in Oklahoma?

drewnobars16 karma

Running away itself isn't a crime, but it is a probation violation, so they can be put in detention for that. Runaways also can be put in detention for safety. Once in a while we would get kids who have ran away from other states and get picked up in Oklahoma. So those individuals are put in detention until arrangements can be made for a kid to be sent back to their own state, I live in Oklahoma and once had a female runaway that lived in Oregon.

Ones_Fate12 karma

My brother was sent to juvenile hall for a month because he wouldn't accept my mothers "charges" which were a lie. She wouldn't drop them and he being a good man wouldn't lie but someone decided it was a good idea to leave a child in there for a month? Not only that but my mother was fucking insane. She used an institution to institute abuse on him and the institution let him go right back to her. A year or so later she would be in jail and the man they kept for a month was on his own at 17. He now almost has his masters in engineering. My mom is now dead from suicide. Which one became a productive member of society? Im sure my brother has trauma from that month but he doesnt talk about it. My question is why? Why was he treated so? Why wasnt my mother looked into for abuse? Why was his rights deferred to my mother?

drewnobars9 karma

That sounds like a complete mess. As a juvenile detention worker we have no say on anything to do with courts or charges. We just take in who a judge tells us to. So I really dont have any answers for you except the juvenile system can be a complete shitshow..I am happy your brother is doing good now.

Mrbigdong221b11 karma

Do most of the children understand their mistakes and try to be a responsible citizen after spending their time in the detention center?

drewnobars20 karma

In my own experience some kids have no interest in being a responsible citizen. Way too many kids use detention as a bragging right. They brag about how many times and how long they have been locked up to show how street they are. I have seen quite a few kids go from 13 to 18 and be in and out of lock up that whole time until they go to adult jail. But it's not all bad, plenty of kids just made 1 dumb mistake and they come to juvie once and after that they dont mess up again.

funkyboofer7 karma


First, what lead you to this career path?

Second, do you have children? Does your job make

A) family life more difficult or easier, or

B) you feel relieved for not having children?

drewnobars11 karma

I really never had any interest In juvenile corrections but I live in a very small town where there isnt a lot of job openings, I was 21 and a college dropout out just looking for a job until I could figure out when I wanted to do with my life. A job opening became available at the detention center and I got it. Fast forward 14 years later and I really enjoyed it.. dont get me wrong, some of the worst days of my life have been working there but generally it has been a nice calm job. However I did not know at the time, the reason there was a job opening was because an older female staff member was almost beat to death and could no longer work...

I have no children of my own and in not opposed to having kids, but I do think it would be kind of scary raising teens haha I only have to deal with them 40 hours a week.

DaPino5 karma

I worked in a similar work environment for 2 years and the only qiestion I have is: "How do you manage to keep going?"

After roughly 2 years, I was spent. I was one step away from a depression and/or burn-out simply because I put in so much effort with little to no return at all.
I had to go to a psychologist and went through a social program to find what job suits you simply to get convinced I wasn't going to be miserable forbthe rest of my working life.

drewnobars3 karma

Oh there where times when I would walk out after work and swear I would never return. It can totally be frustrating and heartbreaking.... but as the years went by I'd start getting friend requests from former inmates who are working and have families... so that is cool.....I also get friend requests from former inmate who are still doing the same in and out of jail stuff as an adult..... but the success stories keep me going....when we get a kid from another facility who was a problem and then at our facility they aren't a problem at all that make feel like I'm doing a good job.

fuzzymcdoogle5 karma

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this AMA! Critics of the US justice system are always talking about how our systems should focus more on rehabilitation than punishment, citing successes by other countries. Do you feel like centers like yours would find more successful outcomes by implementing more of these types of services? Or are the environments that these individuals live in simply not amenable to positive individual change? What service or system do you think could be put in place to have a positive impact in this regard?

drewnobars5 karma

Our center really doesnt have rehabilitation programs.. we are designed to be a short term facility until court dates or their next destination with residents generally being there less that 2 weeks.

donkeyrider884 karma

Do you restrain facedown with weight on their back for an extended period?

drewnobars2 karma

We used to restrain kids but the longer I worked there the more the rules changed on the dos and donts... now we only touch the kids if we are protecting ourselves. We dont actively restrain them. Last time I restrained someone was prob 2014. Now if an inmate needs to be physically restrained we call the cops, and the kid usually settles down once the police shows up .(small town, take about 3 minutes for an officer to show up)... but if the kid is still hostile we take bedding and books out of their room and the police will force the kid to their room. Luckily I've been pretty successful deescalting situations before they get to that point... and yes I have seen an office put a kid facedown with weight but not for an extended period of time.

donkeyrider882 karma

Thanks for answering, I’m sorry you lost your job. That really sucks.

drewnobars1 karma

No.prob, thanks

karmachameleo3 karma

FYI I read your post title and thought you were a juvenile worker aged 14 and newly unemployed. Why did they not furlough you instead?

drewnobars2 karma

Haha my title could of been a little cleaner... but I AM furloughed, I just dont have the greatest expectations on the pending court date to keep us open.

Rootsinsky3 karma

How much abuse exists at your facility? It seems like these jobs attract a large percentage of pedophiles.

drewnobars3 karma

I luckily never witnessed any abuse that I can think of. My facility is very small and the whole building is on constant video surveillance. And there is always one staff with the kids and 1 staff in the control room watching everything. Staff are not allowed in the kids room if there is a kid in it. When not in the day room kids are locked in their own individual rooms. We also have to do visual checks through their door window every 15 minutes, which the state checks the cameras to make sure we are doing the 15 min checks.......the one guy who gave me creepy vibes when I first started working there ended up getting fired and that's how I moved up to shift supervisor. I have heard some horrible stories about the bigger juvenile prisons though.

gloomyblue3 karma

My husband also works for DJJ. He’s in the only level five in our state. This is frightening to me as I always thought his job was secure.

What level was your facility and were you given any notice of what was happening?

drewnobars3 karma

We didnt get but 2 days notice we where being shut down, but it got dragged out for months.... my state is Oklahoma and 3 center's total were shut down..all small 6 bed facilities. The rest of the center's were unaffected.

K1ng_N0thing3 karma

What is the funniest/most unique name you've been called?

drewnobars15 karma

Most kids stay with the classics of bitch, pussy, and racial and homophobic slurs.

I have a beard and I'm slightly tan from being half Mexican, so I would get called a terrorist a lot or fat jesus... one time a kid told me I dont got no bitches cuz i look like i have a dirty ass couch lol.

pitcrewfan693 karma

How does it feel being an active part of the school to prison pipeline?

drewnobars10 karma

When I was getting a paycheck it didnt feel too bad, I just tried to be a positive influence and keep them safe.

ptp77003 karma

What kind of crimes do most of the kids get busted for?

drewnobars6 karma

Drugs and stealing are the most common...but all kinds of crimes... once had a kid locked up who through firecrackers and his grandma in her house.

JadziNara2 karma

I'm looking at applying for an administrative role at our local centre. What are some things you wished the administrators / HR personnel understood better?

drewnobars1 karma

That all kids are different. No cases are the same. And you dont have to be mean or yell at kids to get them to cooperate, many just want to be treated as a kid and not a criminal. What works with one kid may not work on the next one.

ThatOneCereal2 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA. How did you get into this line of work and your detention center specifically?

drewnobars3 karma

I just needed a job as I had just dropped out of college, not many opportunities where I live so my options at them time where a pig processing plant or food industry...my mom called me and told me about the detention center hiring and I got it. Turned out I worked really well with the kids and ended up making it my career. So just fell into it and loved it.

sadisticfreak2 karma

Was this place owned by GEO group?

drewnobars4 karma

No it was county owned and state funded.

Gun-nut05081 karma

What are some of the most common crimes that got kids sent to Juvy?

Also, how similar is juvy to regular prison?

drewnobars2 karma

In the past 6 years or so meth has become a big problem. The most common crimes I see are drugs or things done on drugs, domestic abuse, stealing, robbery.... sexual crimes are common and d in the last few years a lot more charges of threats to schools, planning school shootings, online threats.

I've never been to prison but at my juvy the goal is to have the residents out of their cell as much as we can, I let them choose movies to watch, only 6 kids so usually not too much drama between inmates.... pretty laid back and easy of the kids are doing as told.

[deleted]1 karma


drewnobars2 karma

Somebody's gonna do it, might as well be me and I'd like to think I've helped change a few lives for the better along the way. But tbh I never wanted to or inspired to work in this field, just came.across it by desperation of needing to be able pay rent in an area with very few good job opportunities

lillith_luna1 karma

What happened to all the kids in your center when it closed?

drewnobars3 karma

Yesterday 8/20 we only had 2 inmates. They both had court and since we closed they both were sent home I believe, one was forced to move to a different city where 1 of his parents lived due to safety concerns about returning to his original town, he was being threatened with gun violence.

selo11 karma

Are black kids over represented in the detention center ?

drewnobars2 karma

Not in mine.. the area of Oklahoma I live in doesn't have a large black population, mainly white and Hispanics. But we do take kids from all over the state when other bigger facilities dont have open beds, I've never felt that black kids where over represented, but I have no clue about the centers near the bigger cities.

bahaw10241 karma

Have you ever met a juvenile who you believed could not be reformed? Like a lost cause?

drewnobars5 karma

Yes unfortunately I have met a couple individuals who I knew were a lost cause. One I think I mentioned in another post. But he always talked about how he didnt give a fuck and didn't care if he died in the streets...he was a gangsta and he would shoot anyone at any time.....shortly after he left our facility he ended up in a high speed chase that ended with him being shot and killed by an officer. And unfortunately there are young kids like 13-14 involved with shootings and gang activity that sometimes like the "respect" of their "ogs" than their freedom

bahaw10241 karma

Since you worked in the industry for so long, what do you think is a good solution in your opinion go combat this? Do you think there will always be , “bad seeds” , or do you think society can be reformed to better prevent “lost cause” kids. What I mean is, do you think kinds that are a lost cause are a lost cause of environment? Financial status? Would we still have bad seeds if in a perfect world for juveniles?

drewnobars2 karma

All those things can be a factor for a kid being a lost cause.. imo lost cause are rare, some kids just take longer for it to click that this isn't the life they want... the real lost causes are the kids who live for their reputations... they want to be know as a "shooter" always running with adult gang members who use the juveniles for crimes cuz they won't do time like an adult...as far fetched as thos sounds just this past week a kid I considered a lost cause came by my job to visit me... he had just got out of prison in ks and was locked up with one of my good friends and he showed me his bullet hole scar on his ankle like a badge of honor...still a lost cause it seems.

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drewnobars20 karma

I sent proof in and was verified...dont want to make proof public because even though I am no longer employed, working with juveniles I had to sign strict confidentiality contracts to not disclose information about underage individuals

gloomyblue1 karma

We live in rural KY and his is a fairly large facility. Residents and detention kids, 8-10 units with 3-5 kids on a unit. I suppose I do feel a bit better knowing he’s at the only level 5 in the state but that’s still really shitty of them to do to you. Were you offered a position at another facility or anything at all? I’m sorry that happened to you.

drewnobars1 karma

Thank you... but no offers as the next closest facility is 2 hours a way. The reason there is a lawsuit pending to re open us is by closing our facility 3 local counties will have to take kids down state to be put in detention, which takes officers away from their regular job to transport, and a lot of these rural small towns only have 1 officers. So fingers crossed that the state listened to our areas needs.

TheD1v1s1on5-5 karma

Do you blame Trump?

drewnobars34 karma

No I dont blame trump, I only blame the state of Oklahoma, the region of Oklahoma I live in is ignored by the big city part of Oklahoma

The_Hunster-1 karma

Do you think Covid 19 played any part?

drewnobars1 karma

Yes covid played a large part. In march we where temporarily closed for a month. Then once we opened up again not many kids where out getting in trouble so we stayed pretty empty so I'm sure that help anything.