Smiling a hello, Javier Stauring, 51, sits at the table next to Dave, a skinny boy with black-rimmed glasses and rosary beads hanging around his neck half-way down a baggy gray sweatshirt. The boy’s head is lowered, eyes focusing on something unseen, while a middle-aged volunteer old enough to be his grandmother is trying to engage him in conversation. With his uncreased face and crew-cut hair, Dave looks like he should be in a sixth-grade classroom at a Southern California parochial school — not Los Angeles County’s Central Juvenile Hall. Even more unsettling is that 45 minutes ago during Mass in the nearby chapel, the 14-year-old altar server was also up at the lectern reading a four-paragraph speech he composed.“As a little boy, I never expected to see myself locked up,” he’d said in a barely audible voice. “I remember the first day I came. Everything felt like a dream. The first morning here I thought I was asleep in my house and when I woke up, I was surrounded by brick walls. Then, reality kicked in.”Dave went on to say that during his year at “Central” he had stayed strong, not for himself but for his mother, because she had never lost hope for her son. He even praised the staff — many of whom stood along the aisles, intimidatingly facing the detained boys and girls filling the wood pews — for giving him advice on how to get out and live his life.“But I didn’t listen,” he admitted flatly, not daring to look up. “Now I’m getting sentenced tomorrow to Y.A. [the often-maligned California Youth Authority, officially renamed the Division of Juvenile Justice, which houses hardcore gang members, sex offenders and other violent youths and young adults, ages 14-25]. It’s time for me to face reality.”That stark reality at the next-day sentencing hearing will probably result in Dave being locked up for as long as 10 more years, Stauring, director of the Office of Restorative Justice’s juvenile division, knows. The former chaplain at Central Juvenile Hall also senses how scared this boy at the table really is, a lot more than when he saw him a couple weeks ago. So like he has done hundreds of times, he’s trying to come up with comforting words to offer in this terribly despairing situation. To make matters worse, the boy tells him because he’s the only male in his family, he feels guilty about leaving his three sisters and mom. And he confides how his stay at Central has been a “bumpy ride,” with the implication things could soon get a lot worse.“At Sylmar [Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall] they’ll be processing your paper work for probably a couple months. So you want to get involved as soon as you can in programs you like, like the great writing program they have. And you want to try to connect with the good guys and stay away from the ‘knuckleheads,’” Stauring says, emphasizing the last word. The volunteer nods.Dave does, too, but with the same deer-caught-in-the-headlights gaze he had at the lectern. “But I think up in Sylmar — and I’ll tell Father Mike Kennedy and the other chaplains you’re coming — you’re going to do OK,” Stauring says softly but assuredly, leaning toward Dave. The boy himself makes the only veiled reference to the violent incident that put him in this surreal situation. He says the worst thing will be his mother only being able to visit once a month “up north” in a juvenile state facility, where he’ll serve out his term. Stauring quickly points out that the visits, however, can be longer. Still, the boy’s face remains a pensive image of despondency. So with his elbows on the table, eyes locked on the juvenile, the national juvenile justice leader tries a different tactic.“It’s hard when you’re in the middle of something like this,” he offers. “But you know the saying, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.’ So you can learn from this. You’re patient, smart, forgiving. Now you can practice these things at very high levels most people don’t get to have. And you will discover things about yourself.“When you sit in court, envision that Jesus is right there standing by you with his hand on your back.” After a pause, he repeats with even more empathy, “So I think you will be OK.”For the first time, the hint of a grin comes across Dave’s boyish face when he says a girl he knows has been writing to him. “That’s good,” Stauring shoots back, before kidding him about having a new girlfriend. Then he says he has to visit a girl named Barbara here at Central, too, but promises to see him at Sylmar. “So let’s pray,” he declares. Being ‘with them’In an interview a couple weeks before the August Sunday morning at Central Juvenile Hall, Stauring talked about how his mother — Consuelo, who had become a detention ministry volunteer — kept bugging her young adult son, a certified gemologist, to also take up this apostolic work.“It didn’t just make much sense to me,” he told The Tidings. “You know, give up my Sundays to go to jail when I could be at the beach or watching football.” Moreover, he wondered if he’d have to watch his back all the time with locked-up gang members who didn’t think twice about killing innocent folks during a drive-by. At least that’s how these kids were portrayed on the five o’clock news. But in 1989 when he was 26, Stauring’s curiosity about the special ministry finally got the better of him. He was at the beach reading the newspaper and came across a story on Father Greg Boyle. This Jesuit priest worked with hardcore gangbangers even after they were convicted and sentenced to a juvenile hall or prison.“So I went, and it was almost an immediate connection for me,” he recalled, sitting in front of his desk in his second-story office in a gritty industrial area south of downtown. He had his legs crossed and, like at Central Juvenile Hall, was soft-spoken but articulate. “For years and years, I would just say, ‘I don’t know why my mom insisted and I ended up there and I just got hooked.’ But I think that it was identifying with kids who felt like outsiders.” He was born in South Los Angeles near Gardena, but at the age of nine his family moved back to Monterrey, Mexico. Because young Javier didn’t speak Spanish all that well, he felt different. He was the American kid, the gringo. And when his father died a few months later, his outsider status solidified because the few friends he’d made all had dads at home. As a teenager, the eldest of five children fell in with older boys who would go to parties just to fight and prove how tough they were. Things stayed that way until his family returned to the states when he was 19. And then the tables turned — now he was a Mexican living in America. “When I sat down with these kids and started to hear their stories, it really struck me how they were not that much different than my own nieces and nephews, or from the kind of kid that I was and the struggles I had growing up,” he explained. “I mean, many of them were born with two strikes against them. You know, very few opportunities and poverty; and a lot of times poverty brings dysfunction in the home. And like Dave, they had fallen into a system where they were not given many opportunities to better themselves, either.” The Catholic chaplain at Central Juvenile Hall, Union of Sister of the Presentation Janet Harris, encouraged him, especially when she learned how on his own he was meeting with families of incarcerated youths. And four years later, Sister Harris recommended that he replace her at the downtown facility. At the same time, it was becoming really difficult for Stauring to juggle his high-end job as a traveling jewelry rep with his detention ministry. During the week at shows around the nation, he’d have dinner with other jewelry dealers who would complain about not making the million-dollar mark in sales. On Sundays, he would be at Central talking to a 14-year-old who was going to spend the rest of his life in prison. “I just felt called to this ministry type of work,” he said. In 1996, Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Suzanne Jabro, then-director of the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s Detention Ministry, which would become the Office of Restorative Justice, hired him. “She asked me, ‘Well, how do you feel about traveling to Sacramento and getting involved in systemic reform of the juvenile justice system?’ And that really resonated with me, again, after hearing the stories of the kids and you saw just all the obstacles that they had to overcome in a system that’s very unforgiving.”And advocate Stauring has done. In June 2003, he along with Father Boyle were banned from visiting Men’s Central Jail with its juvenile module. It happened after two boys there attempted suicide and he organized a press conference outside the jail to protest conditions inside, which he called a “sin.” As many as 44 young inmates were spending up to 23¬Ω hours a day in very small cells most days of the week with little education and fresh air. The priest soon was allowed back, but the lay chaplain wound up suing Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca for violating his First Amendment right of free speech. The lawsuit dragged on for two years before Stauring’s jail credentials were restored. The headline in the Los Angeles Times proclaimed: “Chaplain Gets His Wish: He’s Back in an L.A. Jail.” Almost all but the most dangerous youths were removed from Central, while those remaining had to be awaiting transfer to a juvenile facility. Eventually, the juvenile module was completely shut down. More recently, as policy director for Faith Communities for Families and Children, Stauring has helped arrange dozens of visits by religious leaders to juvenile halls to meet with youths sentenced to die in prison. The interfaith coalition’s efforts — along with those of the California Catholic Conference and community-based organizations — resulted last year in the passage of Senate Bill 9. The new law still lets judges sentence juveniles to life without parole, but allows these inmates to request a judicial review after serving 25 years.For these efforts, the father of three children ages eight to 12 has been awarded literally boxes of accolades over the years. Human Rights Watch praised Stuaring in 2003 for his “great courage” in publically protesting the horrendous living conditions for juvenile offenders housed in Men’s Central Jail. Ten years later, he was honored by the County of Los Angeles, Loyola Law School and Death Penalty Focus — the last for his steadfast organizing efforts to do away with the death penalty in California.‘An image of God’After two hours of answering queries, Javier Stauring stood up in his office, pointing to a framed photo of 19 youths wearing orange jump suits. He’s in the back with his arms around two of them. The occasion is the first day-long retreat he gave as chaplain of Central Juvenile Hall 17 years ago. All of the juveniles had been sentenced to life without parole. To date, only one has made it out of prison. Thanks to a pro-bono legal team that proved he was falsely accused and convicted, Mario only served 10 years.The juvenile justice worker sat down again. He wanted to make clear what the Office of Restorative Justice’s work with locked up youths — just one of its hands-on and advocacy’s efforts — was all about. Even with all his current administrative responsibilities, it’s this direct ministry of visiting locked-up juveniles that still fuels his passion, along with working with “incredible” paid and volunteer chaplains. “Many of these kids commit horrible violent acts, and then the response from the system is horrible and violent,” pointed out Stauring.“Our ministry is a ministry of presence. So although we have instructional and sacramental preparation classes, the base of our ministry is really to enter into a relationship with the young incarcerated people. We’re to be an image of God of unconditional love, of understanding, of forgiveness.” The first name of the 14-year-old Javier Stauring visited in Central Juvenile Hall has been changed. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0913/stauring/{/gallery}