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Updated: May 26, 2020

Fleet and I spent some time with just three guys in our juvie class this week, as the key staff member who rounds folks up to come to our class was on vacation. This underscores just how tenuous our position in these facilities are, and how important it is to keep on building good relationships with staff members. The staff are all basically good human beings, with a tougher job than I would ever care to take on. In addition to that, they have a lot of behind the scenes power to either help or hinder our programs. We are lucky at this facility, where we were asked to come in and do this program, that we have the support of a key person who is able to make things happen.

Two of our three guys this week walked in and slumped their heads onto their desks straight away. One had just received an unwelcome sentence: no chance of release until he turns 19 (he’s 17 now), and the threat of transfer to the adult prison upon any infraction. The other guys just looked tired. I led with a brief meditation and encouraged everyone to sit up straight and tall, “even if it is not what you feel like doing – just do it, and see if it helps.” We were sitting in a tight circle, and with just three of our more experienced participants, Fleet, and me, the room settled into stillness fairly quickly.

Fleet then zipped us through a high energy presentation of the drama triangle. At a certain point I wasn’t sure if even Fleet’s dynamic performance of the drama triangle would hold the attention of this sad, tired group; but with plenty of questions and answers flying back and forth, and discussion of war, cops, fights, Jerry Springer, and sports, everyone seemed to get more and more engaged as the class went on. Near the end of our time together Fleet asked the group: “what are our basic needs as humans?” Food, water, oxygen, and family were the first four responses that the guys rattled off. I was blown away, and it seems to me that this couldn’t be more true. That is life in its most basic terms: breathing, eating, drinking, loving and being loved, caring about each other. Life pared down to its fundamental elements.

As Fleet has been reminding me, these guys are starving for care, friendship, and attention. They might have a million different ways of expressing it – but the need to be seen, respected, and cared about is the same. These are needs we all share, but for these young guys, locked up and so often rejected by their families, schools, and peers for whatever destructive behavior got them got them there, the need is profound. This is an incredibly sad state of affairs, but when seen in terms of basic human needs, it is an invitation to truly connect and experience life honestly. It reminds me of a favorite poem from Hafiz:

Admit something.

Everyone you see, you say to them “Love me.”

Of course you do not do this out loud: Otherwise, Someone would call the cops.

Still, though, think about this, This great pull in us to connect.

Why not become the one Who lives with a full moon in each eye That is always saying,

With that sweet moon Language

What every other eye in this world Is dying to Hear?

So I’ll keep working on my full moon eyes, hoping that they will help me see what is really going for the folks I’m working with, reflecting back – big, round and shiny – the Goodness they have in themselves.


p.s. I really appreciate the messages and comments folks have been leaving on these blogs. Please feel free to be in touch. If you are signed up on the community site (it is easy to join) I would also like to invite you to jump in on a lively conversation (link) about the importance of the language we use in talking about the young people we work with who we sometimes call “at risk” “in crisis” or “troubled.”

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