The state of Alabama does some things to rehabilitate juvenile offenders. There is treatment for addictions and mental health issues, as well as coaching and mentoring. It’s a story of stories. The point is who the writers are and what the experience might mean to them.
“Life after death. I say when you die your soul rises. It flies above the clouds. Above the clouds you hear the angels sing aloud. As the angels sing welcome to heaven , open doors are a blessing. God’s open arms mean no harm. Now, on your daybed, you lay your head. You forever. Rest in peace, Father,” KW wrote. That’s what he wants to be called for this story. He’s a poet and a juvenile delinquent.
Writing Our Stories is a ten-week pilot class set up by Strickland Youth Center and POINTE Academy. He introduces nearly forty college and high school students to creative writing.
Edmund Naman is the president of the Mobile County Juvenile Court. But, today, he is both literary coach and writing critic. He is reading a poem by another young writer who will be called JO
“I dream of a world where there is no more war”, reads the judge. “I dream of a world where I can see to understand the man I will become. To see what the universe has for me. I pray that this world will show my family peace. I dream that the whole world sees peace.
“If you have a crime, it won’t stop you from getting a good job,” Judge Naman continued. “Food and gasoline prices are lower. It won’t be that hard to get out of detention. You shouldn’t be judged by your past. The good news for JO is that anything you dream of here is achievable. You are not transferred or treated as an adult, and what you do as a minor is nobody’s business. A crime committed as a minor will not prevent you from getting a good job.
Writing Our Stories began in 1997 with the Alabama Writers Forum. It is a partnership program between the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the Youth Services Departments of Montgomery, Birmingham, and Shelby County. It pairs established writers with students in educational settings or the juvenile justice system. It’s about helping them express their emotions and find their voice. Judge Naman has tried for years to bring the program to Mobile to help children who come through his court. It finally happened.
Each poem in the Writing Our Stories course begins with a central message. This theme includes family, feelings and childhood memories. One of the poems of these young writers is polished and ready for the public, they include humor, dreams and pain.
“Sister One: Why didn’t you call? Are you OK? Have you been to school? What do your grades look like? You don’t think I’m worried? Why don’t you answer? Did you see mom calling? Did you eat? Do you care to scare me? Does it really worry you? Can’t you see I’m not well? Why do you keep calling? Can’t you say I don’t want to be bothered? Tell mom I’m fine, okay? Why don’t you leave me alone? Do you really care. You don’t have to lie, okay? I’m fine, can’t you see? Why do you care so much?
By “BJ” Her poem “Sister/Sister” is about a conversation she would have with one of her sisters if she ever tried to run away.
“I want to read this out loud. It means something,” exclaimed Judge Naman. “Why didn’t you call?” Are you OK? Have you been to school?
Judge Naman can’t let this poem pass. It keeps the message of the story alive for all to hear.
“What do your grades look like? You don’t think I’m worried? Doesn’t that sound like what I would tell you in court? Why don’t you answer me? Did you see mom calling? Did you eat? Do you care to scare me? I think this is a question many parents and people who love you often ask. Do you care to scare me?
“I am a superhero. I save people from burning buildings,” read Kathleen Duthu of another young writer. She is a former prosecutor for delinquency, child abuse, and child neglect cases in southern Mississippi. “I fly around town, putting out fires.”
“The program has been so enthusiastically received at POINTE Academy that we hope it will be funded again and we can continue in the fall,” said Jeanie Thompson. She is the executive director of the Alabama Writers Forum. She hopes to secure the necessary funding to create an ongoing partnership between the Writers Forum of Alabama and the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Alabama and continue the program.
“We see creative writing as a way for them to learn a language through which they can express themselves and discover who they are,” she said.
The By the bay An anthology of 50 poems written by the students will soon be available on the Alabama Writers Forum website.