I had the honor of doing one of my workshops (“An Introduction to Balance”) recently to a group of 21 teenage boys who were incarcerated at a youth correctional facility. The beauty of my workshops are that they are a bit different each time because of their interactive nature and the flow of the different participants that come through. What I witnessed that day while presenting to these young men will stick with me for a very long time. I had no idea what to expect or what kind of reaction I would get from them and basically was a bit nervous that there wouldn’t be very much interaction. What happened totally blew me away….
Instead of having a lot of silence and looks of “why am I here” from the youth, I found many very intelligent young men who couldn’t wait to speak and share their experiences, their regrets and their dreams. The depth of some of the youth was quite amazing to behold. Some talked of already having forgiven their peers who played a part in having them incarcerated in the first place. Many talked about how they wanted to go to college and how they were going to make it happen. Some talked about wanting to raise healthy families even though it wasn’t something that was modeled for them while they grew up. Others talked about forgiving themselves for the crimes that they committed so that they could move forward. A few made mention that they had separated themselves from their mothers or fathers, brothers or sisters, and friends to get away from their past of violence, crime, abuse and gang interaction.
I even had one teen tell me how he wanted to eventually be a youth counselor so he could help others like himself break free of their pasts and lead healthy futures. He told me that although he had no credits toward his high school degree when he was incarcerated, in two years he had almost completed his high school degree and would be able to start taking some college level classes. He then went on to tell me some of the pressures he is facing to make that dream happen. Apparently a friend of his and member of the gang he used to be a part of was recently shot by a rival gang member. The rival gang member was caught by the police and may possibly be sent to the same facility where the teen is incarcerated. The teen has received letters from the leader of his gang telling him he needs to take care of or avenge his friends shooting when the rival gang member arrives. He shared with me that he is really feeling a lot of pressure internally to honor his gang’s wishes. But for him to keep his “eye on the prize” of helping others and getting his college degree he needs to look the other way. I can only imagine how difficult it is for him. His mom is even hoping that he doesn’t go “soft” and takes care of his gang business. All I can say is wow…. Children normally look to their parents for guidance, love and good advice. Can you imagine having your parents tell you something that in your heart you know is wrong and that it could effect your life forever? I certainly can’t. Here’s to hoping that he does that right thing.
I left that facility after the workshop feeling blessed in many different ways. Blessed that I had a healthy and happy childhood. Blessed that I didn’t have as many obstacles to face to reach my goals and dreams as many of these young men do. Blessed that I had the opportunity to hopefully play a small role in helping these teens learn a bit more about themselves and give them some hope for their future. And blessed that I had the humbling opportunity to learn from them and realize what a gift freedom and choice is; something that they currently don’t have.
Here’s to hoping that all of these teens are able to turn their lives around and lead happy, productive lives when they get out. Unfortunately the odds don’t support my hopes. However after listening to many of them yesterday and feeling their energy and spirit rise in their voices; I am confident that some will. If a troubled youth from a violent and abusive past can make their dreams and goals come true…why can’t those of us who haven’t had the setbacks that they have make our goals and dreams come true? Something to think about…..