Following a brief meditation session led by MBA instructor Syra Smith, we gave the youth the opportunity to check in with themselves and describe any highs or lows they were experiencing. Going around the group, Shawn said, “I don’t have any high points…because I’m here.” Jimmy seated next to him quietly uttered, “I don’t have any lows.” I wasn’t sure if I had heard Jimmy correctly, but what followed his response deeply amazed and touched me:
“Actually my high is that I am alive another day,” Shawn corrected himself.
Serving the youth detained in juvenile hall, I acknowledged my position of privilege since the day I began training to enter the halls. I acknowledged the fact that the youth and I were coming from two very different positions.
However, a thought that kept resonating with me was that despite our many differences, there were also similarities that connected us to one another.
Being far away from family and loved ones for extended periods of time is one of them, and missing the feeling of “home” is another.
Going around the group, when my turn came to check-in, I decided to be honest and skillfully disclose that I missed my family and wasn’t sure when I was going to see them next. I felt weak as I revealed my innermost feelings, but I felt supported and connected when Shawn looked at me and nodded in agreement.
As humans, we all make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes get out of hand and sometimes they don’t; sometimes you get caught and sometimes you don’t.
I realized that my purpose as a volunteer instructor was not to change them or judge these youth for what brought them to the juvenile hall, my purpose was to simply be there to make a human connection.
That is all. My conversations with the youth gave me a brief peek into their strengths and vulnerabilities that made me realize that they are very similar to myself, and to all of us.
By Jasmine Punihani, Volunteer Instructor at Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center