I’ve Been to Jail … and I Would Go Again An SLP finds that earning trust is the key to working with incarcerated teens. First Person/Last Page
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First Person/Last Page  |   March 01, 2016
I’ve Been to Jail … and I Would Go Again
Author Notes
  • Debra Kerner, MS, CCC-SLP, provides home health care services in Texas to children and adults with autism, feeding difficulties, articulation disorders and other challenges. She previously worked as a school-based clinician in middle and high schools. debrakernerslp@gmail.com
    Debra Kerner, MS, CCC-SLP, provides home health care services in Texas to children and adults with autism, feeding difficulties, articulation disorders and other challenges. She previously worked as a school-based clinician in middle and high schools. debrakernerslp@gmail.com×
Article Information
Development / Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / School-Based Settings / Language Disorders / First Person/Last Page
First Person/Last Page   |   March 01, 2016
I’ve Been to Jail … and I Would Go Again
The ASHA Leader, March 2016, Vol. 21, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.21032016.72
The ASHA Leader, March 2016, Vol. 21, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.21032016.72
Debra Kerner (right) with her husband, Stephen, and 15-year-old daughter, Abigail.
I’ve been to jail and can honestly say I really liked it. To clarify: I provided treatment to incarcerated 14- to 17-year olds diagnosed with speech-language impairments while they served their sentences at the County Residential Center (CRC). The facility was part of the school district where I was fortunate to work as the speech-language pathologist. “Fortunate” because it was an opportunity that not many have—or would probably want.
I never knew why students were there unless they chose to tell me. They were in “long-term,” meaning they had been sentenced for up to a year. I had two sets of rules to follow—the IEPs from the local school district and the federal rules for CRC. I could not meet with students on lockdown, for example, even though their IEPs mandated treatment—federal rules trumped those of the school district.
In five years, I saw many students. One, diagnosed with apraxia, did not remember ever having received treatment. The officers and other inmates, who struggled to understand him, often teased him about his speech. I had to get special permission to bring a mirror to use with this student—and it was thoroughly inspected to ensure it couldn’t be used as a weapon. His intelligibility improved greatly after a few months and he was no longer afraid to talk with others. Even the officers noticed and helped him with his homework. I don’t know what happened to him after his release.

They made great strides in their communication skills, and having someone pay attention and care for them was a critical part of their success. In return, they worked diligently, trusted me and willingly completed their homework.

Another student with a significant articulation disorder was teased unmercifully. The officers often reported they couldn’t understand him and ask him to repeat himself. He was motivated to improve his speech and practiced endlessly. By the time he was released from CRC, he was more than 90 percent intelligible. With complete confidence, he promised me he would never see me again.
One young lady with whom I had formed a relationship returned less than three months after her release—and then again a third time. She told me she felt like she belonged at the CRC with officers who were more like family than her real family. It was heart-rending to see her receive more love and attention at the CRC than she did at home. While at CRC, she finished her coursework for graduation and expressed a desire to attend college. I don’t know what happened after her release at 18.
People always asked if I felt unsafe or thought it strange that I wanted to interact with inmates. My students were extremely motivated to work with me. Our sessions remained private, and students learned quickly they could speak their minds safely. They made great strides in their communication skills, and having someone pay attention and care for them was a critical part of their success. In return, they worked diligently, trusted me and willingly completed their homework.
Because I am no longer with the school system, I don’t work at the CRC. But if I had the chance to work there full time, my answer would be a resounding yes.
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FROM THIS ISSUE
March 2016
Volume 21, Issue 3