Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Shawshank Redemption?

Last night at Juvi I was almost brought to tears by a young mans hope and voice... that's right... his voice, I was serenaded with Micheal Jackson's, "Will you be there." (Some of you may know it as the Free Willy song....) For whatever reason that song brings chills to me anyways buuut, this boy just started singing it and I was about 2 seconds from tears (p.s. tears don't come easily to me.) Last night was different than other nights in Juvi. We usually start with the girls units then work our way up to the 4th floor or Omega units. But, we stopped by the medic unit where we ran across two very interesting and respectful young men. I got into a pretty awesome conversation with a drug addict 18 year old boy. He was brought in on parole violation and had just recently started using Heroin. He is a new Heroin user, so his addiction isn't as strong (but I mean it doesn't take much to be addicted to that stuff). It was so great talking to him though. He finally hit the wall, he found himself and wants more. He wants more out of his life and actually wants to live it. He has a list of goals and ideas. He wants so much... everything he was saying he was just so energetic and happy, with a smile on his face. He wants to live now...... Totally Legit night... So thankful to be present at that moment, and able to sit and listen to such a strong and willful testimony.....

Today I visited the women's prison in Dwight, Illinois with Sister Donna. Donna has been in contact with an inmate there for the past year or so. This women is asking/petitioning for clemency. (A new word in my vocabulary now haha) Before going there of course I was prepped with the story. Long story short, she was abused till her teens. As a young child she was used for drug trafficking by her father (her father sending his 5/6 year old to deliver drugs). As a teen she joined a gang and she killed two young men from another gang, 20 years ago. (As you may be reading this right now.... you probably think I'm crazy or, you may think I am by the end of this post.... I wouldn't blame ya) Before meeting her... I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that she had killed two young men and now she was petitioning for clemency (she was given life without parole, tried as an adult at the age of 15). By the end of a two hour visit, dang.... they would be stupid to keep her IN prison. She has grown up and become such and amazing, inspirational women. Her story could save so many youth before its to late. This women has accepted her crime and consequences. She has been in prison for the past 20 years. She has become a mentor for many women in prison and even youth, even though she resides behind locked doors. She has made something of herself, gained respect, learned life skills, has faith so strong. Who am I to say that she should stay in her cell the rest of her life? She sat, talked and accepted me as if I were an old friend, sharing with me whatever I wanted to know. I don't really know how to explain it....

This is where I struggle. In this ministry, prison ministry. I struggle with "what people deserve." I realize a crime is a crime and people need there time to sit and think about what they have done. Consequences should be paid. But.... in this women's case, tried as an adult at the age of 15, and given life without parole... I don't know about that. I don't know about a lot of things. I honestly struggle with prisons and juvenile detention centers. I wish there were something else, a different way, other than locking children up in brick rooms for hours on hours. I struggle with the conversations that I have where a child talks about how he/she wants to change but doesn't know how, or gives up. I struggle with what I CAN do.... who am I to give advice right? I've never been in there shoes right?

Sometimes... all they need is someone to listen, someone to cheer for them. Even if they leave juvi, then come back a month later. They still want that cheerleader, that positive conversation. They want someone to listen to them. And guess what.... I can do that. The power of presence is so ridiculously cool.

And as I re-read this post... I realize that none of this really makes any sense at all.... but... alas this is what is on my mind... my crazy girl, ridiculous, most of the time clueless, still figuring myself out... me. But I like her....

Friday, January 6, 2012

2012... Bring it on

As the new year has set in, I cannot help but think where I was exactly a year ago.... Literally in a different world. I would have never DREAMED I would be sitting in Chicago, on a Friday morning enjoying a latte after a busy 3 days of circle training. 2011 was a year of ehhhhh confusion and roller coasters. This time last year, I was gearing up for my last semester of college, plowing through all nighters to finish nasty capstone papers, getting myself out of stupid trouble and making memories with best friends I was blessed with in college. I miss those people every day. During that last semester I was stressing about my summer and year to come. Was I going to be out of the country for two years? It was a waiting period that drove me caaarazy! Slowly but surely I accepted a sweet internship with Youth Volunteer Corps as a summer coordinator working with youth and volunteering at various non-profits throughout Kansas City. Then the possibility of being a full time volunteer with Precious Blood Volunteers became real and eventually I made my way to the Windy City! As I have always had this itch to live in the city of Chicago I made it! I got out of Kearney, Mo! I was on my own adventure to Chicago! As much as I thought everything would be awesome, I didn't prepare myself for the past months. At all..... but how could I? And from there my blog begins at the beginning, no need for me to repeat myself ;) As I sit and reflect how the past has impacted where I am today, I don't regret anything. I am so happy for where I am now..... Cheers to 2012 and the possibilities in the future... wherever that will take me!

So, a little catch up/rewind. The past three days our center held a circle training for youth from our local neighborhood public schools. I was one of the, "circle keepers." (Actually I didn't have to many responsibilities.... which is good because I got a refresher and picked up so much more this time around.) The ultimate goal of this idea was to give power and knowledge to these youth, the knowledge of circles. By training them we hope that they take circles back to their schools. Just thinking of the possibilities of how they can use these techniques in their school could be HUGE!

Reminder: Circles can be used for an array of things. You could have a circle to honor someone, confront a family problem, conflict/resolution, (I'm totally blanking on the right word) crime resolution ect. The possibilities are truly endless. Circles give everyone a chance to share what they are, what they are thinking, it gives someone a voice in an environment in which they feel safe to share in. (Again I could go on so much longer on what circles are and do.... call me, I'm not going to bore you with jib jabberin on here about it. Lets get to the good stuff.)

As the last day came, we asked that the kids group off and create a circle in which they could actually take back to their school. What would the problem be, what questions would be asked, ect. So..... time OUT... ask yourself what kind of problems you had in high school.... ummmm mayyyyybe bullying, not getting enough playing time on the field in your sport of choice, bad lunch room food blah blah blah. Here were their problems/questions/thoughts and comments on questions: I wouldn't send my child to that school because its to dangerous, people pull the fire alarm to start a fight in the hallways, if you get through the hallway without getting yelled at/confronted its a miracle, the security guards are gang banging sometimes, the security guards are no help, there aren't enough security guards, just because there is a metal detector doesn't mean there aren't any weapons in the school (hellooo combination lock with a shoe lace tied to it... ouch), kids getting on the bus, kids getting off the bus to violence because a certain bus stop = a certain "gang stop," sometimes there is peace in the school, but the minute you walk out the door of the school, kids turn on each other because they are in different gangs. I could go on..... but I won't. The point I guess I am trying to get to is not, they have so much more to worry about at their age than I ever did when I was their age (which is true), but the point is, they have no escape. THAT is there life, THAT is there education. How do you put a stop to any of those things. One person shared that even 5 years ago, gangs were just like clubs, people were just a part of them... it wasn't as bad as it is now. I mean yeah back 5 years people were killed ect. But NOW, everything is worse, people are more desperate and way more violent.

The training taught me a lot, and got me to think about things on a different level. As these kids got more comfortable and shared more, I was able to listen and learn from them. I was able to see their struggles, make a picture, see the looks on their faces when describing a scary run in with gang members, just because they were laughing while they were talking, they stared at the floor the whole time, trying not to make eye contact with anyone. 18 years old. I could sit here and feel sorry for the youth, but that's just a waste of time. By meeting and listening to the 12 youth who made it to the training, it gives me hope. Just with these 12 I saw courage and strength. I saw hope. There are kids out there who are looking for a way out, are even making there way out. But have a hard time completely getting out, because they care and want to help those they are leaving behind. By giving them the tool of, "Circle training," just maybe, they will use it, they will call back to our center and ask us for help or tell us about a successful circle? The possibilities are endless and I love that feeling.

The past three days have been an eye opener and closure for me all at the same time. Instead of living two lives, like I felt I was for the past while, with that gap slowly closing to make it one, the past three days may have just closed it indefinitely. I feel as if all is one. My experience here is definitely one of a kind, but its mine. As my two lives have finally become one, I can move forward a lot stronger. Just like the kiddos and their possibilities being endless..... so are mine.

So.... here's to 2012; taking chances, speaking out a little bit more and making a difference (oh and actually maybe exercising a bit more haha) Bring it on 2012.....