A 2015 study showed that 1 in 3 “youth offenders” in Los Angeles County were re-arrested within a year of release. Incarceration can be a revolving door that, in the eyes of many youth, lacks a clear exit strategy. It is heart wrenching to reunite with our youth in such circumstances, knowing the harsh realities they faced on the outside. But this knowledge further commits us to serving as a support system and providing avenues for empowerment and healing through creativity.
"Looking Within" is currently participating in Million Little’s juvenile detention program for the third time. She is an amazing young woman, responsible for inspiring countless girls to learn new skills and reach for new heights. She had the dedication to master sewing when we were still able to offer our program in person, and through this served as an example to each and every girl at Camp that there is power in persistence. She is also a beautiful writer who balances her own self-reflection with the possibilities of who can become. In one of our talks, she shared that she hoped to join the track team when she returned to high school. Not only could she run fast, she acknowledged her ability to keep going and going.
When she returned to the camp, we offered her a special writing prompt in her notebook. We asked her to imagine a character, “the girl who runs” and explore her backstory.
“Maybe the girl is you, maybe she’s someone you’ve made up. Maybe she runs in the Olympic. Maybe she runs away from home. It’s up to you to decide.”
Looking Within took some time with the prompt, before returning a beautiful and powerful poem. She shared the story of a girl who tries to forget her past by running from it. But it is through alcohol that she finally finds a reprieve from her trauma.
We shared this poem with a local filmmaker as part of our new Collaborative Art Project. Through this project, we aim to facilitate moments of healing, understanding, and connection. We recognize the transformative effects of feeling truly seen and heard, as well as the possibilities that creativity unlock. Inviting local artists to reimagine and respond to our students’ work allows them to recognize the power of their words and ideas to inspire. This short film is what came of this powerful collaboration.
Alcoholism and addiction carry an immense stigma, particularly among youth who use these vices to cope with their experiences. And yet, our volunteer artist read the poem through a lens of pure kindness and empathy. And she reinterpreted the bottle of alcohol, as a cool water that could douse a brain on fire. She saw not the labels afforded to our program participant, but her emotional core.She also truly embodied the collaborative spirit of this project by gathering her friends to create this moving tribute.
In a letter to our youth, she wrote:
“I was very moved by your poem. To me, it spoke to universal truths about trying to survive through trauma, which feels especially relevant considering the past few months…
I’ve been dealing with my own heavy thoughts and anxieties, and wanted to use this project as a way to move through those thoughts and begin to process them… The past few months have been some of the most intense of my life. And a lot of the time it felt like the running you wrote about: out-of-control, overwhelming, exhausting.
Thank you, Looking Within, for sharing this beautiful piece with me. Your words are powerful and insightful, and they were an endless source of inspiration and collaboration. I was grateful I was able to (indirectly) make something together with you."
Writer Zora Neale Hurtson once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” This project offered two people an opportunity to release their story and the emotional turmoil that accompanied its repression. It shows the importance of non-judgmental, active listening and the validation that can occur on the deepest level when we bare our souls. So many of our youth experience life as if they’re a nondescript statistic, caught in a cycle of poverty and incarceration with no regard to their individuality or humanity. Art offers us a chance to break away from those barriers and reimagine our life and future. We are not condemned to continue patterns that do not serve us. We are not sentenced to being overlooked and misunderstood. There is a space where we can meet one another and build a new way, a better way.