That’s the thing about a human life-there’s no control group, no way to ever know how any of us would have turned out if any variables had been changed.

-Elizabeth Gilbert

21 years ago today it was a very foggy morning in Duluth, MN and I had no idea if I would get to go home after being in juvenile detention for 23 days. It was my release day and upon waking up staff informed me that the fog was really bad and if it didn’t lift by the time we had to leave to meet my parents in Hinkley, MN that I would not be going home that day.

All of the laws I broke as a teenager were little things, but it turns out when you do enough little things they add up and result in being sent to juvenile detention. I was sentenced to a 21/30 program in Duluth, MN. Which means that I would serve no less than 21 days and not more than 30 days. I ended up staying for 23.5 days.

February 1st my parents drove me to Hinkley, it was the drop off location. I was dreading every mile we drove. I didn’t know what to expect, I was filled with fear. I knew sooner or later we would arrive in Hinkley and I would have to leave my comfort zone, my life; that terrified me. This would be the longest I had ever been away from home, family, friends. There was nothing I could do to change anything at this point. The wrongs had been done, there was no going back. I had no choice but to do this. It was even out of my parents control. This was happening and there was no escape.

We arrived in Hinkley. To be honest, I don’t remember much of the trip from Hinkley to Duluth. I don’t even remember getting out of the van and going into this massive house. Was I so filled with fear and anxiety that I didn’t even allow it to ever be a memory or has 21 years of other life happenings wiped it away? I don’t know.

This is the house I stayed in:


What I do remember is crying myself to sleep the first week. I made promises to myself to change my path, to behave and not end up in another place like this or worse. Every night I would sing “Ooh Child Things Are Gonna Get Easier” to myself with tears rolling off my face on to my pillow.

Side of house:




I shared a room with 2 other girls. My bed was in the corner by the two windows. There was a pretty great view of Lake Superior from the back window. Visiting time was on Sunday afternoons. My parents came every Sunday, and my sister and now brother in-law both made the trip once or twice too. We would hangout in my room for those 4 (I think) hrs. Dad would always look out the window and talk about the chimneys that were billowing smoke. In the winter Duluth smells like a giant wood burning stove/fireplace. I have no idea what it smells like in other seasons, as I’ve only been there in February.

On weekdays we went to the Main Campus, Woodland Hills. We would go to school there, eat there, and work there (saw foot long pieces of wood off 5 ft long logs, split the wood, and shovel snow). We would also go there on Sunday mornings for chapel, but that was optional. I went every Sunday morning, I figured it certainly couldn’t hurt and it helped pass time until my family got there for visitation. The others that didn’t want to go to chapel stayed back at the house and had free time. They played games mostly.


There was a lot more to the campus, but this is all Google had imagery of.

The work we did was hard work. We would saw logs and split wood for hours.

They have a barn on campus and just behind that barn they have a fenced in pasture. One day, early on in my stay, they had us shovel the snow out of the pasture. They had us start by clearing a path all the way around the inside of the fence. Once we had that done, they let a Llama out of the barn and he got to run around the path we cleared while we shoveled the rest of his play area out. It was a lot of work, but it was pretty cool to have the Llama out there with us.

Another day they took us in to do community work. We shoveled out some driveways and sidewalks for a neighborhood in Duluth. I remember one of the residents of the city asked our counselor if she could give us a piece of candy (we weren’t allowed to have candy), an exception was made that day and we each got a piece. It’s funny how much we take for granted. We never seem to know the true value of something until we can no longer have it. Something as small as a piece of candy. Maybe that one piece of candy had more value than any other piece of candy I had every eaten or would ever eat again. This elderly woman had a driveway full of juvenile delinquents and instead of staying in her house where it was warm and observing from the window she bundled up and came outside just to offer us a piece of candy. We were criminals in her eyes, we weren’t seen as a threat to her, she didn’t look down at us; instead she saw us as kids. Kids who wandered off the path and got lost. She didn’t care what our backgrounds were, she saw us as people. Back then I didn’t realize the all of what that piece of candy meant, but I did know that it felt special. Special enough that I remember receiving that one piece of candy yet I have absolutely no recollection of arriving on my first day. It really is about the little things.

I hated being there, I absolutely hated it! Prior to going there I spent very little time with my family. I was too wrapped up in getting high, drinking, and doing whatever the hell I wanted. I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit that I would’ve given up weed, drinking, and hanging out with my friends if I could’ve just gone home to my family.

And 21 years ago today, I went home to my family.

Although I did get into a couple more pickles after I got out of Juvie, I can honestly say that it changed me. I found a strength in me that I had no idea existed. My eyes were opened to my behaviors that led me to that place. I knew I needed to get off of that path, I knew I would need to let my friends go. I knew I would need to completely change my life. I knew it was not going to be easy. Could I be as strong in my world as I was inside the program? Would I fall back into the same old behaviors? I didn’t know, but I knew when I got out I was going to try like hell to switch paths.

To my surprise, 21 years ago when I got released, I cried. As happy as I was to be leaving and as much as I hated being there, I was sad to be leaving. I was a better version of me in there. I liked the person I had become there.

Here I am 21 years later working as a chemical dependency technician. I have plans to become a Licensed Professional Counselor within the next 5 years as well as becoming a Life Coach within the next 18 months. It’s not been any easy journey but no one ever said it would be. Here’s to what the next 21 years will bring!


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