Every day is a series of beginnings. Waking up is a beginning: the beginning of a new day.
There are two days that I feel have been the most profound and eye-opening days since I began teaching in juvenile justice.
The first day is when I walked through the gates of the facility to begin teaching, and the second is a recent evening when I was leaving the facility through those same gates.
I like to face new experiences head-on. Of course, there is some nervousness, trepidation, and anticipation. That is completely normal.
Take a deep breath and make the first step. “Go with the flow”, be as non-attached to the outcome as possible. Understand that the lesson plan is a guideline.
Some days you are going to have to throw it all out of the window and make a new plan on the spot. You sift through your cerebral database of exercises. You also may need to draw on past experiences of student's behavior, reactions, responses and occasional stonewalling.
Think fast on your feet, don’t give yourself a hard time, don’t judge yourself, take a deep breath and grin when it all goes down the toilet.
Teens are some of the most responsive, open, accessible, forgiving and accepting groups to teach. THEN some days they aren’t. Add incarceration, to the mix and you realize: flexible, firm and friendly" becomes your mantra. BUT not too friendly especially in the beginning. They can smell vulnerable or too softhearted and that is the crack in the veneer they use to manipulate the situation. When that happens you have lost control before you started and you have to go backward to go forward.
The first time anyone is buzzed through the monolithic gate, attached to a 20 foot fence, topped with barbed wire, I imagine the gravity of it is pretty inescapable. It certainly was for me.
I am a free person. I have never been incarcerated. None of my family members (that I know of) have ever been incarcerated. I have worked with formerly incarcerated adults outside of the criminal justice system and this is altogether different.
Walking down the sidewalk to the lobby, surrounded on every side by fences with no way of exiting except by the way you entered is, well, sobering.
You enter the lobby, sign in and wait for your escort. You are taken through a series of hallways. Some contain as many as 4 doors in or out. You are constantly monitored by video cameras. Practically your every move is observed.
The staff carries large round key rings that jangle and clink every time a key is placed in an enormous round lock. You cannot enter or exit any of these hallways without a staff member with a set of keys reminiscent of those for an English castle. OR you are buzzed in and out via the video surveillance.
Naturally, my classroom is monitored. I always feel very good about that. Things happen and a swift response is imperative.
By “things happen”, I mean, not only could a resident have a "moment", but many of them have health issues.
The beautiful thing is that I have not experienced one moment of fear or distrust while in the facility - with my students or while in the hallways.
This facility is run like clockwork.
That being said, I am not so naive to I think that things don’t happen. They do.
These are young teenaged men. Many of them have been incarcerated before.
Through it all, this is one of the most well-behaved facilities, with minimal incidences, in not only the county but in the state. A true testament to the private organization that operates the facility.
Only one time did I feel a twinge of claustrophobia.
I was escorted into a hallway to wait for the facility director. I was alone in the hallway outside of the classroom where he was speaking. I could not get in or out of any room. I was incarcerated for those few moments. I briefly felt the gravity of the situation.
These days it is typically routine. I feel zero trepidation being in the locked down hallways or classrooms. I trust the staff and I trust my students. They have earned my trust and they have let me know that I have earned their trust, too. (More on that is a subsequent post.)
So, what was the second eye-opening day?
Fast forward six months.
I had finished teaching a class and was being buzzed from hallway to corridor to hallway, back into the lobby.
I said goodnight to the staff and breezed out feeling positive about the success of the classes that night. There was a sense of normalcy to it all. Students and teacher.
Just as I exited the final door two sheriffs entered the building. I held the door for them. No smiles, no thank you's, let's just say serious game faces. They were not there for a social call. They were on a mission and it involved one of the residents. I was hoping it wasn’t one of my students. (It wasn’t.)
Reality paid me a visit. I was still teaching in a high-security juvenile justice facility.
I walked out, into the crisp night air, a free woman. I reminded myself to be grateful for the decisions I had made in my life and to be grateful for the decisions my son has made in his life.
Freedom must never be taken for granted.
For that brief time, the teacher was the student.
Thanks very much for reading.
If you would like to contact me with input, questions, ideas or to introduce Moving Meditation to your facility please contact me:
KaZ Cruse Akers is a Master Moving Meditation Instructor. She has developed a unique brand of moving meditation based on breath, energy, Qigong, Kundalini yoga and modern dance movement. Twenty three years in the making! She has taught in person in North America and online worldwide. Moving Meditation with KaZ is fun, relaxing, stimulating and almost anyone can do it!