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How Class Teaches Itself at Juvie

Updated: May 26, 2020

Walking from the parking lot, soaked in seconds by the sheets of rain, into the cold grey of the juvenile jail, I didn’t have high hopes for laughing harder than I have all week, and getting a smile stuck on my face for the rest of the day. But that is what happened & I am thanking my lucky stars that I get to be a part of these young men’s lives.

Francesca started class this week by asking if any of our longtime participants would like to lead a meditation. Everyone in class pointed to a very shy and quiet but seemingly well-liked young man who has been coming to the group for ages, but pretty much keeps his thoughts to himself. He embarrassedly deflected, and our charismatic class leader/benevolent bully stepped up and volunteered to lead us in a meditation.

He rang the bell and asked everyone to sit up with a good posture. Two of his friends in the class started cracking up almost immediately – it was so wierd and funny to hear their contemporary talking like one of the teachers – but he kept astoundingly cool, continuing onward – “take a deep breath, relax. Feel your feet on the ground, your ankles, your legs against the chair . . .” He proceeded to lead us through a body scan, as the laughter settled down, and we felt into our bodies. I was amazed at how much he had absorbed and remembered from his weeks in class, and gave him big props after the meditation, with Francesca heaping on some extra praise. After we had both complimented him thoroughly, he thanked us, turned to the rest of the group, and demanded: “Now could I get a little bit of positive feedback from my peers?!”

We let him run with the rest of class, delighted by how engaged everyone was. So he asked the other guys, “What do you want to do next?” and the resounding reply was “Yoga!” So our leader took us into a solid mountain pose, notably commenting on the connection between movement and breath. He then brought us into a tree pose. When everyone was stably balanced, eye gazes fixed on the floor, he shouted out, “Now breath of fire!” and started taking fast, loud, short breaths. Francesca stepped in at this point, letting the group know that breath of fire should only go with certain poses, and tree pose has a different purpose, so the two really shouldn’t go together.

We sat down, partly serious, partly laughing, and talked about anxiety for a bit. We asked them how they like to deal with anxiety, and the answers were overall pretty impressive – talk to a friend, take a shower, work out, smoke a blunt, go for a walk, MEDITATE. We set the smoking one aside and focused on all the other positive ways that we can focus on working with our natural, normal anxiety. These guys know the right answers, and I can only hope that the meditation skills and the care we are offering them will help them apply those answers to make a better life for themselves.

We closed on another meditation, with our new leader again impressing us with his adeptness, & left the jail smiling into a grey October day.

p.s. If you are interested in working with youth, please join our online community. We are working on building resources together to help us all learn more about this difficult and rewarding project.

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