June 1, 2012 - 5:28 PM
I haven't gotten a chance to blog about the re-entry group as much as I would like. In fact, I've just scanned back through this term and I haven't mentioned it at all. How has this slipped past me?
This term, we have piloted a new alumni project working with youth offenders who are re-entering the community. This idea arose from a conversation I had with a community leader after one of the Sister Helen events. The woman's name is Elaine and she was interested in the idea of Inside-Out and the fact that there were UO students interested in restorative justice and engaging in dialogue with people who are or have been incarcerated. She works with counceling and services for youth recovering from trauma, including youth who have been incarcerated. She invited me to get in touch and to possibly design some kind of project with her. Of course I said yes.
That discussion has evolved into something truly incredible over the past several months. Elaine and her organization, the Trauma Healing Project, designed a support and skill-building group designed to engage youth who are on parole in Lane County. The idea would be to provide them a safe space to talk about issues of re-entry, and to also discuss some specific skills to help them feel comfortable and adjust to life post-incarceration.
Where I come in is the idea that a group like this could benefit from having a number of other young adults in the dialogue. And so this re-entry group was born. In its ideal form there will be 6-8 youth meeting weekly with two group facilitators and 6-8 UO Inside-Out alumni, who will all engage in discussion of certain ideas and struggles associated with re-entry.
I love this idea.
In practice, it has been different and in some ways better than I had hoped. We have met all of spring term, and have built a true sense of community working together with our two facilitators. Because it is a new program and due to several other circumstances, we have only had one consistent participate from the Oregon Youth Authority. Despite the low turnout on the youth side of things, the group has become a high point of my week, and I've both learned a lot and had a place to talk through some things I might not have otherwise. We've discussed communication styles, delayed gratification, anger management, conflict resolution, and issues when sharing a home with family or roommates. One of the best things about the group is how relevant that list is: we all need a bit of work in communication styles, do we not?
This week we each had ten minutes to tell important stories of our lives and who we are. We talked about our childhoods, our triumphs, our challenges. We took time to ask questions of each other, and to offer support.
I believe this project will continue over the summer and on into the next school year. I hope that it might become a permanent fixture of the Inside-Out alumni group, and that future groups will include a balanced number of youth and UO students, who can come together and really discuss things, the way we have. It matters to have a space where you can be open and honest, and where you can talk through some of the struggles in your life.
It matters for people coming out of jail or prison to have a safe space like that. And as a college student with lots of friends and family support, with a well-adjusted life and secure home, with everything going for me and a bright future ahead... having a space like this matters to me as well.