When I started Mark Dostert’s Up in Here: Jailing Kids on Chicago’s Other Side, I confessed my skepticism of the book’s subject matter to my editor. I’m generally leery of these ersatz ethnographies, wherein the difficulties that a people or culture encounter are glimpsed through the prism of (usually white) privilege. The less offensive iterations are of the “white savior” variety (see Kathryn Stockett’s The Help), but then there are the outright racist publications such as the 1959 Golden Book Encyclopedia, which intended to teach (again, white) children about “the Negro” in what was, at the time, presumed to be a post-racial America.
Moving forward with my reading, and my bias, I initially placed Dostert’s memoir in the former category after reading his introduction. While an undergrad at the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, he volunteers as a Bible study instructor at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, which is the nation’s largest such facility. It was best known as the “Audy Home,” referring to the Arthur J. Audy Home of the early 20th century, which itself was once the largest juvenile jail in the country. After completing a graduate degree in his home state of Texas, Dostert returns to Audy Home as a “Children’s Attendant” in an attempt to minister to the incarcerated (mostly African-American) children and teens. Continue reading