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Tuesday, October 26, 2021


by Katie Kemple

Illustration by Chelsea Charles for The Washington Post

Product of flesh, moldable 

robot, we blank out

your name, hide your limbs 

in a cross, until your head 

can’t hold itself up anymore. 

You fucked-up. That’s why 

we come for you at 3am, 

tell you to get dressed, 

handcuff your spoiled wrists, 

escort you to our car. 

Your parents watch. 

They hired us. In America, 

our tax dollars fund it.

Through the rear-view

mirror, I see you trying 

to memorize the route. 

Don’t bother. The place 

we’re going, you won’t 

get out. We strip you naked, 

yell: “cough!” You do it. 

We probe the secrets 

of your body. No drugs 

in your cavities. Prepare to rot, 

bitch. Now get going, 

I say: “git!” Your walls 

are concrete. The women 

have pressed the white sheets 

of the last girl. The one 

who turned herself into 

a scarecrow. Yours now, 

sleep. Rest your eyelid 

on the stain of her 

slutty-blue mascara. 

Author's Note: This poem is in response to Rachel Aviv’s New Yorker article “The Shadow Penal System For Struggling Kids” (October 18) and Paris Hilton’s Washington Post op-ed “America’s ‘troubled teen industry’ needs reform so kids can avoid the abuse I endured” (October 18). Both articles detail toxic, cult-like organizations that trap unsuspecting youth into a shadow penal system. Once surrendered by their parents, it’s nearly impossible for victims to escape. These companies come for children at night, subject them to strip searches, and inflict psychologically damaging treatments under the guise of "tough love". There are no laws to protect minors in the custody of these groups. In fact, they receive state and federal funds for their services. 

Katie Kemple (she/her) is a poet, parent, and consultant  in San Diego, CA. Her poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Atlanta Review, Longleaf Review, Matter, Lunch Ticket (Amuse-Bouche), and Anti-Heroin Chic.