I want to start out this blog post by saying that I am in no way an expert. I have never said I am an expert nor believe that I know everything about what I'm writing. What I saw...what I learned...what I noticed...is just my own perspective. It is what I took away or gathered from a small amount of time with my experience.
I've written stories my entire life. From the time I was a little girl, I would daydream and imagine characters and the lives they led. I have numerous books that I started over the years and never finished (but the stories are still locked away in my mind and sitting unfinished on my computer). I hear something or meet someone and POOF! an entire story pops into my head. Well, that happened many, many years ago and that’s how Sweet Destruction came about.
I was in my last semester of college with only a few months left until I walked across the stage to receive my Bachelor's degree. What was my major? Criminology. Yep, that's right. Crime. I wanted to either a) work with juveniles in the criminal justice system, or b) work in law. (I ended up taking the second route - law. According to my father, it was a much safer route and he wanted his daughter safe.) But before I could graduate there was one thing my professor wanted my classmates and me to do - interview juvenile detention inmates for a study. Thirty inmates per student were required. Male. Between the ages of 12 and 17. Now, we weren't just going to ask them simple questions like, "What are you serving time for?" or "Are both of your parents living in the home?" No. We had to ask the hard questions. "Were you sexually abused?" "Is your mother or father an alcoholic or an addict?” "Did you have a home to go to every night?" Pages and pages of questions for each inmate. The point of the interview and the study was to see if there was a correlation between upbringing/family life and a life of crime. Does a terrible home environment determine if a child turns to criminal activity? Does society and a child's surrounding shape the morals of a child and the ability to choose a path of crime or is it ingrained? Learned? A part of some people’s DNA? In a nutshell, it was a nature vs. nurture question. Were these inmates in juvie because that's how they grew up and that's all they knew or was it more of a choice? That’s what we were there to learn.
I remember walking through the numerous layers of security while hulky juvenile detention guards stood watching. A few times I walked down hallways lined with inmates, each wearing white prison garb, usually on their way to the dining hall or some other activity. I was placed in a room, just a twenty-two year old blonde girl and a male inmate, sometimes in jail for a major crime such as rape (but usually for theft with a deadly weapon, assault, or possession with an intent to sale and almost always it involved a gang). I had to sit by the person and ask intimate questions, just the two of us alone while a guard stood outside watching through a small glass window set in the door. So I asked my questions, refusing to be afraid of these hardened, young criminals. I figured if I showed them respect, they would show me respect and that’s what happened, surprisingly every time.
They answered my questions. Poverty. Hunger. Domestic violence. Drug usage. Everything was covered. They told me what I wanted to know and I LISTENED to them, something not many people in their lives had done. It was a wakening for me. I had never known hunger. Or violence. Or the need to do anything to survive. I was just a normal college student who came from an upper middle class family. I listened as they told me stories. Gang members raised them, not their parents. Many didn’t have food or adequate clothing growing up. Teachers tried to help sometimes but these boys turned to a life of crime, most following in their older siblings footsteps or even their parents.
Sometime after I graduated from college, those kids were still in my head. That’s when a storyline begin to grow. I’ve always been fascinated with the hardships of life and how people deal with them so it seemed normal for a story to develop out of that experience. The story of Sweet Destruction slowly started taking place in my mind. I jotted it down about a year after I interviewed the inmates, their stories still lingering in my head. After I published Promise Me Light, I start writing Cash’s story, but Sweet Destruction kept calling me. Walker and Sam wanted their story told. They are not based on any particularly person that I met at that juvenile detention center; they are based on the idea, on the impression that I walked away with – there are kids out there living from day to day, hour to hour, suffering and being the victims of their environment. Sweet Destruction is fiction but at its basis is truth.