Justice-involved Youth Capable, Compassionate Enough to Help Peers Outside Their Walls [JJIE.org]

 

“Tell me about a time you made a mistake.”

Every young person has been asked this question in a job interview. After all, what better way to assess someone’s work ethic, perseverance and self-reflection than hearing how they learn from failure or just life’s challenges?

Ask any seasoned academic, entrepreneur or parent and they will tell you mistakes were invaluable to their personal development and ultimate success. Yet, despite our society’s theoretical value of resilience, when it comes to justice-involved youth, we undervalue the growth and insight that result from overcoming adversity.

Approximately 30 teenagers are housed at the St. Louis Juvenile Detention Center at any given time. And whether it was in my role as a volunteer there for four years, or now as an AmeriCorps VISTA with ServiceWorks STL, every session I spend at the center continues to leave me surprised and humbled by the young men’s underappreciated assets and abilities. I’ve seen firsthand just how ambitious, intelligent and compassionate they can be.



[For more of this story, written by Lisa Cohn, go to http://jjie.org/2016/12/05/jus...outside-their-walls/]

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When I was accepted into VISTA, the first time, I was still in Prison as a "youthful offender" [reportedly "no Criminal Record"], but I'd passed the FBI NCIC background check, according to the state Program Director for VISTA in N.Y.S., who 'visited' me at the prison to tell me the 'good news'. I'd never met him, before that day. I also had a temporary job as an investigator with an OEO [poverty] Legal Services project, while I waited for the VISTA annual cycle to begin at that VISTA project (45+ national pool and locally recruited volunteers with an 'Umbrella Agency'--I was initially assigned to a Welfare Rights organization in the community where the 'Umbrella agency was located )--in order to get reoriented to the community. I had written: "The Prisoner's Employment Assistance Brochure-for NYS"-which listed agencies in each county that helped prisoners locate suitable employment in order to be eligible for parole, while I was still incarcerated. I was able to 'publish' it, after showing it to one of the attorneys who 'supervised' me, and sent it into Attica prison as 'legal papers' to an inmate requesting it, who worked in the prison print shop. Apparently, the warden at Attica showed it to other NYS prison wardens, at a conference. The warden at another NYS prison wrote me requesting my permission to reprint it for the use of prisoners in his prison also. I gratefully gave him permission for its reprinting at Comstock Correctional Facility. ....

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