Art & Mindfulness at Juvie

Updated: May 26, 2020

At the end of this week’s class at Juvie, the four young men in attendance showed off their artwork. One had made a list of all the guns he had ever owned – a very long list. One had made a fairly accurate picture of the desk and trash can in his corner of the room. Another had made a picture of aliens, outer space, planets & stars. The fourth young man, new to this class, had drawn a “living breathing chocolate covered toilet,” that seemed to be melting, underwater, being eaten by fishes.

We started this week’s class with our usual check in – names, weather report, what’s been up this week. All four reported feeling cloudy this week, though for one of them, the clouds were filled with chocolate. One may be about to change facilities, and another was just sentenced with six years to serve and 25 years of probation. This particular young man is incredibly sweet, with a constant smile – he has found Jesus since he was locked up and prays twice daily. I can’t imagine what he did to get that kind of time, but as he said, all he can do is take it a day at a time.

The check-ins with this group can devolve pretty quickly into a gossip session, so after a few minutes of chatting, I steered them into a meditation, reviewing the straw breath technique. This simple practice of breathing in through the nose and out through pursed lips, as if through a straw, seems to hit home with this age group, and it is undoubtably effective at quickly shifting one’s physiology towards calm.

I like to give them the option when we meditate of either sitting up straight, finding length in the spine and alertness in the mind, or of putting their heads in their hands on the desk. While this second position isn’t exactly orthodox meditation posture, I think it is good for them to get to just rest sometimes, and when they do it, it signals a comfort and relaxation that is unusual for them.

After this first meditation I told them that I wanted to try doing some writing and drawing today. I was apprehensive of how this was going to go over, but to my relief everyone seemed interested. I explained the idea of a free-draw or free-write: start by looking at something in the room, and either begin drawing it or writing about it. From there, without letting your pen stop moving for the next five minutes, just let your mind go wherever it goes – freestyle –  and don’t hold anything back. First we meditated together for another five minute session, and then the four of them moved into the four corners of the room.

I have never seen these guys so focused and absorbed, in the months that we have been meditating together. I hoped that I could get them to stick with the activity for five minutes, but ten minutes later they were still scribbling fast, and I had to call them back together. They were excited to share their works, and I was impressed at how into it they had gotten.

I am not sure how engaging in this kind of quiet and creative activity stacks up against learning meditation techniques that can quickly and in the moment help these guys self-regulate and avoid conflict. I think that there may be something to introducing both side by side. The drawing is fun, and the meditation may not be right away, but they tend to see the usefulness of it before too long.

I would love hear from anyone who has read this far down this blog-post: Do you have any opinion on how creative, absorbing activity, could best be brought into a mindfulness class? And do you know any other good activities that can be done in 5-15 minutes? I am all ears.

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