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ELINTORNAL Is Anybody Listening? ,m an expert in storytelling,” Steve Liss told me not long ago. “I’m not an expert in psychology or criminology.” Liss is a photographer for Time who came to Texas in the fall of 1998 to fly around the state with then-governor George Bush. Among their stops was a juvenile jail in Marlin, about 30 miles southeast of Waco. It was a military-type facility, essentially a boot camp that housed adolescent males who had been convicted of violent crimes. “The press was lined up against the wall of a gymnasium and the inmates were marched around. Hup, two, three, four,” Liss recalled. “They went through this whole business, and I thought to myself, This is awful, Why is he parading them around in front of the press?’ This was the most exploitative thing I had ever seen. What in the hell was he doing showing them off to us in the middle of a political campaign? It was a photo op from hell.” Liss took no pictures that day. But he began thinking about a long-term projectnot a photo op, not an exposebut something that would open a window onto the realities faced by kids at risk in America. In 2001 he was back in Texas and decided his project should be based in a border town, “the place where so many dreams in this country begin.” Eventually he found a home of sorts in the Webb County juvenile detention facility in Laredo, where he gained remarkable access to kids and parents, as well as to probation officers and others involved in the juvenile justice system. Some of the kids he talked to were accused of violent crimes; others had been caught shoplifting or skipping school too many times. Some were scarred by a complex web of family problems; some were high on anything from carburetor fluid to cocaine and were going through detox in a jail cell simply because there was no adolescent psych unit in Laredo. Some of them would be there for a night, others for months. All of them, he emphasizes, were in detention: They hadn’t been convicted of anything. Laredo would be his case study, but it was hardly the whole story. “What I found in Laredo,” Liss explains, “was a facility where people were, in general, quite compassionate. And yet you had a system that was intrinsically cruel because there weren’t enough options for kids.” The project that began years ago on a fall day in Marlin Texas, has now evolved into No Place for Children: Voices from Juvenile Detention, a remarkable collection of photographs and interviews that will be published this spring by the University of Texas Press. An excerpt appears on pages 8 13 of this issue of the Observer. In the foreword to the book, Marian Wright Edelman, director of the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, D.C., confronts us with a series of questions: “What sort of backward investment policy allows states to spend three times more per prisoner than they do per public-school pupil? What does it say about us that the only thing our nation will guarantee every child is a costly jail or detention cell, while refusing them a place in Head Start or after-school child care, summer jobs, and other needed support?” Which leads to one more question. Steve Liss is indeed an expert storyteller. But now comes the hard part: Is anybody listening? BB tt THE TEXAS OBSERVER I VOLUME 97, NO. 5 I A journal of Free Voices Since 1954 Founding Editor Ronnie Dugger Executive Editor Jake Bernstein Editor Barbara Belejack Associate Editor Dave Mann Publisher Charlotte McCann Associate Publisher Jim Ball Circulation Manager Lara George Art Direction Buds Design Kitchen Poetry Editor Naomi Shihab Nye Copy Editors Roxanne Bogucka, Laurie Baker Webmaster Adrian Quesada Editorial Interns Kris Bronstad, Megan Giller, Star Silva, Forrest Wilder lege Interns Elayne Mae Esterline, Monica Gutierrez, Chris Mahon, Lauren Reinlie, Rachna Sheth, Jonathan York Contributing Writers Nate Blakeslee, Gabriela Bocagrande, Robert Bryce, Michael Erard, James K. Galbraith, Dagoberto Gilb, Steven G. Kellman, Lucius Lomax, James McWilliams, Char Miller, Debbie Nathan, Karen Olsson, John Ross, Andrew Wheat Staff Photographers Alan Pogue, Jana Birchum Contributing Artists Sam Hurt, Kevin Kreneck, Michael Krone, Gary Oliver, Doug Potter, Penny Van Horn Editorial Advisory Board David Anderson, Chandler Davidson, Dave Denison, Sissy Farenthold, John Kenneth Galbraith, Lawrence Goodwyn, Jim Hightower, Kaye Northcott, Susan Reid Texas Democracy Foundation Board Lou Dubose, Molly Ivins, D’Ann Johnson, Jim Marston, Gilberto Ocafias, Bernard Rapoport, Geoffrey Rips, In Memoriam Bob Eckhardt, 1913-2001, Cliff Olofson,1931-1995 The Texas Observer \(ISSN 0040copyrighted 02005, is published biweekly except every three weeks during January and August \(24 issues dation, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, E-mail [email protected] World Wide Web DownHome page www.texasobserver.org . Periodicals Postage Paid at Austin, Texas. Subscriptions One year $32, two years $59, three years $84. Full-time students $18 per year; add $13 per year for foreign subs. Back issues $3 prepaid. Airmail, foreign, group, and bulk rates on request. Microfilm available from University Microfilms Intl., 300 N. Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Indexes The Texas Observer is indexed in Access: The Supplementary Index to Periodicals; Texas Index and, for the years 1954 through 1981, The Texas Observer Index. POSTMASTER Send address changes to: The Texas Observer, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. The Books & the Culture section is partially funded through grants from the City of Austin under the auspices of the Austin Arts Commission and the Writer’s League of Texas, both in cooperation with the Texas Commission on the Arts. MARCH 4, 2005 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3