As per my post “Getting my hands dirty” on April 10th, I’d like to share a few of my ‘total immersion’ experiences with you.
Welcome to jail.
Some of you may have seen a few articles about my time out at Juniperina Juvenile Detention Centre. If not, well, you can probably imagine the usual headlines.
I’ve always thought there’s a fine line between those behind bars and the rest of us. We’re all human and everyone makes mistakes… some mistakes are just illegal.
I spent several days on the inside over a few months teaching groups of young female inmates. Some were murderers, some were car thieves, but most were just confused and misguided kids.
I’m sure you’re wondering what the hell I was doing out there… and it’s a good question. Prior to my first visit I asked myself that exact question and my parents basically told me I was an idiot… love you mum.
I can’t remember why I first agreed to do it. Maybe it was to get an understanding of what it’s like to be incarcerated, or maybe to get inside the heads of criminals, or maybe simply to see if I had the balls to go through with it. Either way, I learned as much as I taught, met some inspirational young girls, and loved every minute of every visit.
When you arrive at a maximum-security prison you are instantly inducted into a world of protocol, rules, and systems. No sharp objects of any kind, this includes pens and rulers, no scarfs or ties as you could get strangled, no valuables, no phones, no belts, and the list goes on. Then it’s the series of security doors. Walk through one door, wait for it to close, open the next, wait for it to close, and so on. As each door closes behind you it becomes clear that you’re moving further and further away from your daily routine and deeper and deeper into theirs… in short, you’re ‘in the system’.
The girls had seen me coming from the moment I set foot in the place and they were looking me up and down to find my weakness… they were searching for my ‘tell’, or their way in to mess with my lesson plan.
I love working with young people and I’ve learned one thing over the years… you can’t give them an inch. So I walked across the courtyard and entered the room with jacked up confidence and vigour. Needless to say, they all had their best ‘Fuck you’ faces on. I knew I had to stay one step ahead of them so I kicked straight into teacher mode.
I started by introducing myself and talking about self-motivation. I wanted to share my theories on how I believe people achieve ‘successful lives’. In my mind, this seemed like useful information for a group of girls who’ve clearly fallen off the path to ‘success’.
To be honest I wasn’t connecting… I was bombing. It was like trying to sell a BMW to a push bike rider. They didn’t want to hear it and they didn’t believe they could apply anything I was saying to their own lives and circumstance… How do I know this? They told me loud and clear. No hands in the air, no “excuse me”, just high volume comments right in the middle of my flow.
I needed to change it up. I had to throw my presentation out the window and fast.
So I opened it up to the floor and low and behold, nobody wanted to get up and say anything in front of her peers… Ha! I had them. This is where the games began. One by one I had a discussion with them in front of the whole group. I had to tackle them individually to break through. Slowly but surely, it started to work. Some even helped each other answer my inconvenient questions. We were getting somewhere.
This turned out to be my first of many visits out at Juniperina with each visit getting more and more interesting. I’ve especially enjoyed meeting up with some of the girls after their release from prison but that’s another post altogether.
So what did I learn? Pretty simple actually:
- We’re all just people trying to figure life out
- A conversation can be priceless
- Everyone longs to be understood
- Never judge someone based on their current situation alone
- There are many things we don’t know we don’t know
If you made it to here then thanks for reading. As always, would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.