Finding Freedom in Jail

Finding Freedom & Hope Behind Locked Doors & Steel Bars

By Julie Driskill

This next week I have the privilege of finishing up a six week Path Curriculum Program at two nearby county juvenile detention centers here in southern Ohio. It has been quite a ride! In fact, I think this has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding teaching experiences I have ever experienced. Helping young people, especially the most troubled youth, is always a thrill, but these sessions have been especially rewarding. I love the famous saying, “There are two great days in a person’s life; the day you were born and the day you discover why.” Encouraging kids to dream again and attempting to convince them of their inherent value and potential is tricky. That task has been even more daunting as these students have found themselves in the throes of juvenile detention. The Path program has been our guide as each young person has attempted to detach from mistakes of their past and envision brighter futures that will help them to succeed in a complex world.

This past week our topic was The Path lesson on personal vision. Building upon previous lessons, vision statements were created giving us pictures of what their future ideal landscapes could look like if they could move themselves to action and grow to their full potential. By leaving the past behind, looking beyond present situations, and gazing towards better futures, energy was created through their compelling visions that acted as gravity pulling us forward toward greater horizons. This is called conscious creating and we witnessed it this week. The excitement and power in the room was perceivable. Here are some excerpts from the youth as they used the Path Curriculum to create their vision statements and share them during class:

“I will start my own non-profit civil rights law firm. I want to help renewed felons to get a job and stay off the streets. Roses can grow from concrete and I want to be the first.”

“I want to start a shelter for addicts, so they don’t have to live like animals and starve. It will be a huge house in the country where they can start a new life and get help. I want the best group home for kids so that young girls with babies could have everything they need to survive.”

“I will find love and happiness that I might help the homeless and old people. Old people need help doing stuff and I will go and talk to them and be their friend.”

“I would feed the homeless and buy them homes. I would start with my mom and sister. I would buy them a car. There are mothers in abusive relationships and too many people living on the streets with no one to help them. I know this because I’ve been a homeless child with my mom and grew up watching her get abused. I want a world where women, men, and their kids are living in a safe place.”

Please stop what you are doing and go back and read their words again. These students have been afraid to hope and are now finding courage to dream again. That surely deserve a second glance. Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote, “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” These students are moving again! While too much of the world has told them to give up, their newly found hope is encouraging them to rise and take action.

Hopelessness seems to be killing the human race in a slow and painful death. The Path Curriculum has become a tour guide the past five weeks to help navigate these students from hopeless to hopeful. Their journeys are often ugly, raw, and messy riddled with consequences, human emotions, and unresolved issues littering their paths thus far, yet, they are hoping again. Because we know that hope is key, but not a strategy, we find our work incomplete in a mere six weeks. Upon successful completion of the written Path curriculum the students will have reached a benchmark that invites them to welcome a mentor into their lives once a week for the next year. This mentor will listen, advise, and demonstrate what action steps they need to take to fulfill their missions in life. Mentors will walk their mentees thru these tested Eight Action Steps of the Path: 1) Get the facts. 2) Get a goal. 3) Examine, educate, and enlist your resources. 4) Use your past to build your future. 5) Give them something tangible to remember you by. 6) Break ranks and be bold. 7) Get visible. 8) Saturate everything you do with meditation and positive thinking. Once the students complete the mentoring process they will be introduced to opportunities where they can be gainfully employed in work that aligns with their gifts, talents, interests, and mission, propelling them to greater understanding and success.

Helen Keller wrote, “Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.”  It is time despite disillusionment, disappointment, and doubt that we demand more for ourselves and our young people to see the invisible, feel the intangible and achieve the impossible. Let’s resurrect hope again and enlist an army to fight for what truly matters. I know my personal marching orders. My mission is to tap, encourage, and celebrate compassionate creativity that speaks for the silent and stands for the broken. What’s yours?

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