Join us at City Lit Books as we welcome Mark Dostert to discuss his debut memoir, Up in Here: Jailing Kids on Chicago’s Other Side. He will be in conversation with Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here.
Raised in a comfortable Dallas suburb, Mark Dostert crossed cultural and socioeconomic boundaries as a college student by volunteering as a counselor at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, Chicago’s infamous 500-cell juvenile jail, known locally as the Audy Home. Inmates there had been indicted on first-degree murder, rape, and carjacking charges, yet some enthusiastically met with him for weekly Bible-based lessons and discussions. Dostert formed friendly relationships with his students and envisioned becoming an even closer mentor to the legally troubled boys when he became an employee there after graduating from college.
The juveniles’ attitudes toward Dostert change, however, once he begins working as a “Children’s Attendant” at the Audy Home, clocking in for eight hours every day to enforce rules and maintain order on the cellblocks. Despite wanting to help them feel human in such a dehumanizing environment, Dostert realizes he needs to make sure his kindness is not perceived as weakness. Dostert learns to march the juveniles through the facility to school, recreation activities, and chapel. He must strip-search them, interrupt their brawls, root through their cells for drugs and handcrafted weapons, and monitor group showers to thwart sexual extortion and the inscription of gang symbols in soap on walls and mirrors. Week after week and month after month, the job exposes hidden views not only of the juveniles and the “system” incarcerating them, but of Children’s Attendant Dostert himself.
From one man’s struggle to reconcile his humanitarian intentions with his actual job responsibilities in what, to him, is a strange new world, emerges a sincere effort to confront the realities of America’s persisting racial tensions and institutionalized poverty. Named one of the Top 20 Books of 2014 by the Houston Chronicle, Dostert’s story is an honest and unflinching journey from thinking he has many of the answers for how to change this world to discovering how little he really knows about the world he is trying to change.
Mark Dostert is a graduate of Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute and holds a Master of Arts in English from University of Houston. His nonfiction has appeared in Ascent, Cimarron Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review Online Content, and Southern Indiana Review, and been cited as Notable in The Best American Nonrequired Reading and The Best American Essays.
Alex Kotlowitz is the author of There Are No Children Here, The Other Side of the River, and Never a City So Real. He is co-producer of the Emmy-winning PBS Frontline documentary, "The Interrupters" and has taught at Northwestern University since 1999. His writing has appeared in Chicago Tribune, Granta, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, and The Washington Post among other publications. For more on Alex, click here: http://alexkotlowitz.com/author.