To Awaken Soulfulness in the Human Voice
THE INSTITUTE FOR
When I write I escape the world
Because it eases my mind.
To me it’s a second world;
It has no time.
—Bennie, 16 years. Participant in The Word Project
IPM Partner: Jacinta White
Guilford County Juvenile Detention Center
Jacinta V. White is the founder and director of The Word Project, an organization committed to engaging and assisting persons on their journey of self-discovery, expression, and healing though poetry writing. Jacinta, a published writer and poet who received the 2008 First Place in the Press 53 Open Poetry Contest, works with organizations such as the Greensboro Public Library (where she is the co-director for "LifeVerse"); Brenner's Children Hospital in Winston-Salem, NC; the Women's Resource Center in Greensboro, NC; the Carolina Center for Hospice and End of Life Care; and the Adult Center for Enrichment. She holds a BA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a MPA from Georgia State University in Atlanta. Jacinta is currently working on her certification in the field of poetry therapy through the National Association of Poetry Therapy.
Jacinta and the Word Project publish Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing -- a quarterly online journal --launched in January 2015 with the vision and commitment of expanding the conversation on art and healing. The journal publishes novice, emerging and established writers, and features poetry, creative nonfiction and photography. To find out more, visit www.snapdragonjournal.com
The Word Project Overview
Our mission at The Word Project (TWP) is to engage and support persons in the process of self-discovery, expression, and healing through creative engagement with the arts. We believe in individuals and communities having a safe space and a platform to create a portrait of their experiences and hopes so that they may find the peace and the healing balm authentic sharing provides. With this, we grow in our respect, appreciation and love of ourselves and one another.
Children and youths, ages 8-17.
Purpose and Goals
The Guilford County Juvenile Detention Center works with children and youths, ages 8-17, in a maximum security facility, who have been charged with crimes from truancy to murder.
Poetry Partner Jacinta White, worked with eight males, ages 13-17, for eight consecutive weeks, believing that these are the ones in most need of this program at the moment. Her long-term goal is to involve the community through collaboration with other artists and organizations.
I began with a brief introduction of myself and shared with them why I was there: to guide them through thinking about, discussing and writing poetry.
I asked them to introduce themselves by giving their name and a color that best describes them, and why. I also asked how many write poetry. Three of them said they write music (rap). I asked what their definition of poetry was and recorded their responses on flip chart paper. I also asked them to compare and contrast poetry with hip hop and rap. Again, I placed the responses on the flip chart. I told them our focus would be on poetry but that the relationship between the three was undeniable and would overlap in our time as it does in general culture.
I gave them each a copy of the guidelines of the workshop—what I expect of them, what they can expect from me. I read each item, asked for questions or remarks (there were none) and had them to sign and hand in the copy.
After that, I asked them to complete a questionnaire about their interests and relationship to poetry. As they were completing the survey, the guard said he had never seen the boys concentrate that much, which I took as a good sign.
After taking care of the business portion, I passed out a copy of the book of poetry by Rap artist, Tupac Shakur, The Rose that Grew through Concrete. The boys know him for his graphic and hard core rap lyrics but not as a respected literary figure (no profanity, glorification of drugs, etc. in his poetry). I had made copies of a couple of the poems from the book (one page has the poems handwritten by Tupac, the other side, typed), which we read and discussed.
From there we talked briefly about metaphors and colors. I placed the colors they shared earlier that they felt described them and asked them to think of feelings, senses, emotions that go with that color. Then we read Taught Me (color)” and I asked them to think of someone who taught them something—whether good or not—and give that lesson a color. They began to write but we ran out of time for them to finish their own color poem. I asked if anyone wanted to share what they had written to that point. Each did. I told them they were each off to a great start and asked them to continue to work on their poems during the week and bring it back.
What was planned and arranged?
It was planned that I would meet with a group of eight males, as selected by the director/supervision staff, 1.5 hours on a weekly basis for eight consecutive weeks. Each workshop session was to consist of pre-selected poems/materials which would be discussed as well as used as a springboard for guided individual writing and reflection exercises. There would be time for sharing of the individual pieces and reflections, and an appropriate review/closing to each session
I discussed in the proposal stage, with the director, the possibility of having the participants' poems copied for an anthology and a closing ceremony for them.
Four boys were chosen for the program by the director based on the offenders' high risk charges (rape, armed robbery, murder) and most need for a creative yet structured outlet. I meet with the boys weekly for eight consecutive weeks for 1.5 hours. Each session, I brought in poems that we read, discussed; and I provided writing prompts with each poem.
Class time was devoted to writing and sharing the poems. During the first session, when I asked the boys what they wanted to learn, one said, “more words.” So, at the beginning of each session, I would hand out a sheet with five words with the definitions and usage in a sentence. We would discuss the words and I would challenge them to use a word in their poem.
Though I would come in with pre-selected poems and an outline, our conversations were based on what was going on in their life at that moment. What was the week like? What happened? What discoveries had they made? This brought up things such as their experience with a “pod mate” being moved from the JDC to an adult correctional facility and the feeling of loss and grief, or their experience before the judge that week. I wanted to provide a safe space for them as well as give them the real-time experience of using poetry to express themselves and their questions/uncertainties.
Yes, we used poetry as a reflective tool but also to capture their current thoughts and emotions.
The last session (session 8), was a reading (session 7 they were given a draft of the anthology of their poems to edit/approve; and they choose and rehearsed the poems they were going to share during the closing reading). Two of the four participants read their work to the staff and other youth (two had left the facility before reaching the end of the program).
During the final ceremony, they received an anthology The 100 Best African American Poems, edited by Nikki Giovanni; their anthology Hear Me Now; a journal; and a certificate of completion signed by me and the center's director.
What further "outcomes" were there, what "generality" occurred once the program ended?
Outcomes included an anthology of their poetry. Also, there was interest among those not in the workshop around poetry. Teachers and staff also told me how the poetry workshop helped them see the boys in a different and more positive light. They were able to see aspects of the boys they hadn’t before, which helped in their interaction with them. I felt a lot of satisfaction that the poetry could shift perspectives like this.
Were there tangible changes in attitude and behavior that could be noted?
Changes in attitude included the participants being more confident. They showed this confidence by reading their work at the ceremony culminating the series attended by their peers, family, and Juvenile Detention Center staff. The workshop participants had not had the opportunity to read their poems to an audience before. Their vocabulary and comfort with writing also increased. One participant said his mother took notice that his letter writing changed (his letters were longer and he was sharing more), and his response was it was because of the poetry workshop series. In addition, some of the staff shared that their opinion of the participants changed. Staff was able to see "a different side" of those who participated thereby increasing the respect and compassion level.
What did the officials at Guilford say?
Here's an excerpt from a letter, describing the program, written by Doug Logan, the Director of the Guilford Co. Juvenile Detention Center, who served as my main contact at the center:
"As a facilitator, she [Jacinta] was always on time and her inviting personality encouraged the youth to explore their inner feelings -- she utilized her talents in assisting, over a 8 week period, them with putting these feelings on paper.
What Jacinta provided is a ministry--a safe place for self-exploration and expression--which created faith and hope for the youth who needed it most. The youth grew their vocabulary, knowledge of poetry and their feelings, and their self-esteem. This was because of the comprehensive poetry curriculum Jacinta crafted and her engaging facilitation skills. And through the youth's poetry and sharing, they inspired other youth who weren't in the program to want to know more about poetry."
Basic facts about the program
Two of the four participants completed the 8 weeks. Two left the center mid-way through the program due to judge's ruling and were sent to another facility (without advance notice). The anthology The 100 Best African American Poems, edited by Nikki Giovanni; the boys' anthology, Hear Me Now; a certificate for participating; and journal were sent to them by the JDC officials.
This was one of the most moving experiences for me as a poet and facilitator. I was moved by these boys' stories and their eagerness to share and learn. They were attentive at every session, though I know they came in with pressing issues on their mind. My time with them and at the center was a weekly reminder of those who we don't often see who need to be heard and who need a creative outlet. This grant from IPM and the challenge to work in a population different than what I normally do was what I needed to open my eyes not only to the pain of young people "in the system," but to the path and promise of healing and forgiveness they too must wrestle with.
There were learning moments in working in a secured facility. I had to get used to the guards and automatically locked doors. I also knew at a greater level the importance of listening to the participants and asking questions to help them dig deeper. Poetry is a wonderful catalyst to aha moments and to peeling off layers that weigh us down. My hope and belief are that these boys left the program with tools that will help them, on their journey, better identify their feelings (such as anger and hopelessness) and transform them through the pen to be their and others "poetic medicine."
© 2006-2016 The Institute for Poetic Medicine and John Fox