Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Juvenile Detention writing again

I thought that I'd be writing blog entries all the time, once most of my performances and workshops were done for the summer. Huh.

Just after the last post, I gave a four-day writing workshop under the aegis of the public library at the Juvenile Detention Center, the second I've done. The first was in March 2005. Once again, it was intense. This time, instead of having one small group meet for two hours a day, I had two big groups for not quite an hour each day. In these workshops, I read poetry aloud, and we wrote and read our writing aloud. I also told a couple of stories.

Once again I was reminded about the energy of space. I met with the boys in the Commons area, where we all felt exposed. The boys sat at tables which had the seats attached, so they couldn't all face me comfortably. I did my best, but we didn't get to the place where most of them felt safe enough to write what they really felt. Another reason for this was that there wasn't a good ringleader to show that this was a "cool" activity. There was one boy who just wasn't interested, and his attitude shifted some of the boys who started out well. Another challenge with the boys was that the group changed slightly each day.

The energy of the girls' sessions was very different. They were in a classroom, which, though crowded (some days there were 19 girls), felt protected. Most of the girls were there for all four days. The first girl to read aloud set the tone by writing something incredibly honest and wonderful. All four days, the girls wrote courageously.

We used some of Natalie Goldberg's rules for writing practice, from the book Wild Mind:
Keep your hand moving.
Don't think.
Be specific.
You're free to write the worst junk in America.

On the first day, one girl said, "If I was a adult, I wouldn't go into no Juvenile Detention. I'd be afraid to." I said to her, "Hmm, should I be afraid?" She just laughed, because I was so clearly not afraid. Later in the workshop, I asked the kids to write on the topic of "I remember/I don't remember". The kids' writing on this topic was strong, both girls and boys. Because of that girl's comment, I wrote about the first time I went to the JDC. I was apprehensive. Would the kids be disrespectful? Would they like what I was doing? Would they care? I found that the kids just looked like any other kids, that they had just made bad choices or they'd been in bad situations, or both.

We wrote on topics that were neutral, like candy, or topics that were more charged, like the letter of advice I asked them to write. Some of the guards even wrote and read aloud. I'm hoping that some of the kids' writing (with permission and without last names, of course) will be published in the Johnson County Library Teen Journal, Elementia

I like hanging out with these young adults and hearing what they have to say. My guess is that most of them are in the JDC because they either used their imaginations too much, or not enough. It was good to give them an alternate outlet for their creativity.