TRANSFORMATION IN THE JUVENILE DETENTION CENTER

By Anna Golson

From the Satvatove Archive:

Antoine, one of the editors of this newsletter, has been bugging me for months to write an article about a powerfully transformational and deeply touching event I had the privilege to participate in. On the one hand I have been trying to explain to him that it is impossible for me to write about it. On the other hand I know how important it is to write about what I have seen and experienced. The world should know about the place I have been and should see what I have seen.

Usually writing flows pretty easily for me. But not this time. I start writing, but after about two or three sentences my pen just goes on a trip of its own, scribbling on the paper images that got etched in my memory. The images of the building, the guards, and especially the boys; their faces, their expressions, their eyes. The way they struggled to maintain some dignity in those orange prison jumpsuits.

These boys were the participants in a transformational event I helped Marie conduct at the Alachua Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Gainesville, FL. The course was a somewhat modified version of the Satvatove Foundational Life Skills / Personal Transformation Course, stretched out to six half-day sessions to fit the boys schedule. The course was emotionally extremely intense and demanding. Marie would say the same. I’m not sure if either of us has completely recovered from it yet.

So, as writing things out on paper didn’t work, I tried it on my computer: Those hard and noisy black keys! That shiny bright screen! They are so perfect, so efficient, so much shouting at me, “Okay, what’s the job? Let’s just get it done!” But where I have been, in that prison, it is a place where things are not so perfect and efficient. Where things are hidden away that we don’t want to see, and the answers are not easy. There, the rules to get the job done are different.

When people ask me about the prison program, I’m at a loss for words. There were only two persons I could really talk to about it. Both of them are recent graduates of the Gainesville courses, and both have experience working in the correctional/prison system. I felt that they understood me. I felt that they do know those gray walls, the echo of the slamming of those big iron doors, the banging, the yelling trailing through the hallways, the hopelessness, desparation, and frustration thick in the air. And that hollow feeling in the heart.

One of the recent graduates of the Gainesville courses told me that a good definition of communication is the transmission of one’s internal images to another person. The better my communication skills are, the more accurate the sent copy is. So, both the sender and the receiver are able to look at the same picture. That is the perfection of communication.

I have been thinking about this in regards to this article. That this is what I’m trying to do; to convey the same images, the same feelings, the same experiences that I had during that week in jail. But how? How do I do that? How can I put into words what I have seen? All I have is a bunch of disconnected but powerfully vivid images that grab my heart every time I think about them. Images of:

The BIG and MEAN guard who by the third day was taking part of the processes, and who organized a competition amongst the boys to copy the drawings on some of our signs for him because he liked them so much…

The kids who almost jumped at each other during mediation, and Marie quickly had to break them apart…

The boys taking off their canvas, rubber-soled shoes to use them as erasers (because real erasers were forbidden)…

The guards who volunteered to demonstrate in one of the processes how to break through personal obstacles…

The boy who left the seminar because he was not used to looking at people in the eyes…

The kid who stole some paper (and risked severe punishment) to make us flowers…

The boys who were sharing their life stories for the first time in their lives…

The genuine eagerness they had to participate in processes…

Their realizations, their bright moments, and their frustrations. All the ups and downs of the roller-coaster…

The moments we cried, the moments we laughed, the moments we cried and laughed at the same time…

And the moments we were afraid to connect with the emotions that filled the space because it was too much, too raw, too frightening…

The big party at the end, when these hard-faced little rejects of society turned into giggly kids, stuffing as many doughnuts into their mouths as they could…

And the very end, when we left and the boys remained in their orange jumpsuits, with hands behind their backs in that world of no hope, no light, and no future, lining up and counting out as they left the room; “One, Sir! Two, Sir! Three, Sir!”, a routine we saw them go through countless times during the six days.

So did this seminar make a difference? I’d like to think so. I think, if nothing else, it left a ray of hope. A ray that there is a world out there that is not a jungle. Where there is sanity, hope, intelligence and opportunity. Where humans are made after the image of God, not after the image of animals. A world where these boys are given a choice. As one of them wrote on his feedback form (and all other feedbacks echoed the same thought), “Your course gave me motivation of what I wanted in life. Otherwise I might have forgotten my skills. But you made me realize what I was put on the Earth for. I’m very appreciative. Thanks.”

I also want to share about Marie, and her lioness-like fierceness to protect the seminar and the participants from all the obstacles that kept coming up at practically every moment, and at the same time her passion never becoming personal and damaging to anyone, neither the guards nor the participants. She single-handedly transformed the atmosphere that was everything but conducive for a seminar of this nature. By the last three days we were pretty much in our own world, that sacred space where real transformation can take place.

After the course we all went to the beach. We were floating in our tubes and being splashed by the waves. We were talking, about nothing in particular and everything in general. At one point Marie thought she saw a shark! She completely freaked out, and headed for the shore! I saw her in a split second turn into a frightened little girl, running for her life! That was one shark (if it was), not more then two feet long. I reflected on how many much bigger and scarier sharks she faced the days before with such intense braveness. But that is Marie: a fascinating and very real person with all the contradictions of being human.

by Anna Golson

From the Satvatove Archive:

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