Book Review: Up in Here: Jailing Kids on Chicago‚Äôs Other Side
Wednesday, July 5, 2017 at 11:20AM
Windy City Reviews

Up in Here: Jailing Kids on Chicago’s Other Side. Mark Dostert. University of Iowa Press, September 1, 2014, Trade Paperback and E-Book, 254 pages.

Reviewed by Marcie Hill.

It was a pleasure to review Up in Here: Jailing Kids on Chicago’s Other Side by Mark Dostert. His first-person account as a children’s attendant at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, also known as the Audy Home, was truly enlightening. This book is a mixture of truth, humor, sarcasm and irony.

I don’t feel the title Up in Here tells us what the book is about, but the subtitle Jailing Kids on Chicago’s Other Side and the cover photo speak volumes. Up in Here is a statement made by inmates to describe their confinement. I’m assuming Chicago’s Other Side refers to the south and west sides of the city, homes to mostly black and brown residents that make up the majority of the inmate population.

Poor Mark. He thought working as a children’s attendant would be similar to being a ministry volunteer. This well-meaning white male from a Texas suburb really wanted to make a difference in the lives of the tough black and brown children from the streets of Chicago at the Audy Home. He wanted to “humanize and attend to the inmates’ social and emotional needs . . .” He also wanted to “. . . be their remedy, to cheer them up and rebuild their humanity.” He tried his best to maintain his and the inmates’ dignity as best he could but that was not to be.

Nothing could have prepared Mark for his one-year journey at the Audy Home: not the job description, the new employee “training,” or help from his co-workers. Being new, white, and humanitarian in a facility where “7 out of 10 inmates are black” and most of the staff was black or Hispanic made him a minority on many levels.

Mark used vivid words to describe people, places, and events, allowing the reader to share the experience visually, mentally, and emotionally. From these descriptions, he details the names, features, and mannerisms of his co-workers and the young men with which he interacted. Although he encountered many staff members and members at the Audy Home, he only mentioned a few. I assumed these people had the greatest impact on him.

He provides insight into the inner workings of the system, things only staff and administration would know. For instance, he describes the bird shirts inmates wore, how shifts were assigned, written and unwritten rules, and how different attendants disciplined the children.

Here’s what I enjoyed most about Up in Here: Mark’s honesty about his naiveté, insecurities, pride, ignorance, and lack of confidence throughout the book. He admitted not knowing about dysfunctional urban youth, about feeling like “a worthless humiliated failure,” and doubting his manhood.

I appreciated the statistics and facts he shared, especially the history of the Audy Home. In the early days of the facility, cells and cellblocks were called beds and bunkrooms. There was only one cellblock for ATs (automatic transfers). Today, all cellblocks hold ATs except one. At one time, the Audy home housed fewer than 350 inmates; when Dostert worked there, the facility housed up to 700 inmates.

With each instance of disrespect, humiliation, and rejection, Mark wanted to quit, but his pride and desire to make a difference in the inmates’ lives would not allow him to leave before he reached one year of service. However, his feelings did change the closer he got to that one-year mark. He started to hate the people he wanted to help. 

After his resignation and move back to Texas, Mark kept tabs on the troubled youth in Chicago. Although they are jailed and sometimes forgotten by their families, the communities, and people that never have personal contact with them, Mark will never forget Kids On Chicago’s Other Side.

 

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