What It's Like To Volunteer At A Juvenile Correctional Center

What It's Like To Volunteer At A Juvenile Correctional Center

Some deserve a second chance
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Last semester, I volunteered at Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center in Bon Air, Virginia, near Richmond. It's a coed facility serving both young men and women that range from ages 14 to 20. These residents have been committed by the juvenile court and convicted of an assortment of crimes, from small misdemeanors to serious felonies. The facility offers them educational, vocational, mental health, and rehabilitative counseling services, as well as academic and vocational training. They may also be placed in specialized treatment programs for substance abuse, aggression management, sex offenses, and intensive therapeutic programming. Residents are able to earn a high school diploma or general equivalency degree while at the facility. Recreational, religious and volunteer programming is also available to residents. Communication with family members by mail and phone calls is encouraged. However, family members are only able to visit the facility once a week.

I specifically worked with the Pathways Program at Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center. Pathways is a private, non-profit community development corporation that works to rebuild and strengthen the city of Richmond and, more importantly, its young men and women in need of help and guidance. It strives to be a neighborhood partner that effectively builds pathways to employment, good health, and a revitalized community. Pathways’ vision for Richmond is to create a community that offers a quality of life for all to live, work, learn and thrive. The program believes that the city has the ability to become a commercial community with good schools, a strong housing market, safe streets, and public and recreational services for everyone. In order to make this vision a success, Pathways must continue to stand as a catalyst for the spiritual, social, and economic revitalization of Richmond while still awakening hope.

The social issue that Bon Air’s Pathways Program addresses is delinquency among youth. Some of the crimes committed range from minor offenses to major felonies. The majority of the causes behind these acts include poverty, gangs, drugs, neglect, abuse, or simply the neighborhood that children are raised in.

One key element of the strategy for addressing the problem of delinquency employed by Pathways is to treat the residents as what they are: human beings. Ashley Williams, Pathways’ Retention Coordinator, led the sessions that I attended with the group. The boys adored “Miss Ashley,” and the volunteers idolized her just as much. On the first day of volunteering, one of the first things that Ashley told the other volunteers was that this was a peer mentorship. We are not just teaching the residents, they are teaching us as well. This idea was one that stuck with me throughout my time with Pathways this semester.

Every evening that we meet with our Pathways group, we sat in a circle and checked-in with the residents by asking how their weeks had been going. Check-in was followed by a listening activity in which each volunteer was paired with one resident. The activity began with Ashley reading out a question that one partner had to answer while the other would listen. Afterward, Ashley asked the room if partners found any similarities in answers or what people thought of each other’s answers. The session typically ended with a group activity, such as crossword puzzle competitions or recreational sports, and volunteers and residents had the opportunity to mingle with one another. And, of course, every activity was accompanied with a delicious snack.

One evening, one of the residents asked me if I played any sports in high school. I told him that I loved playing basketball, even though I wasn't that good. The resident immediately stood up from out of his chair and screamed, "Miss Ashley? Can you arrange a basketball game for us next week? We got to get Colby out on the court." Ashley did just that.

We first participated in some drills to get us warmed up for the game. I was surprisingly draining all of my baskets, and teased the other residents for not being "as good as me." When it was time to play the game, all of the residents wanted me on their team, so Ashley picked the teams to make them fair. I ended up on the team with the young man that requested an evening of basketball. It was tie-game for the majority of the time until I happened to make the winning basket. The residents on my team got on their knees and started bowing down, saying "All hail Colby!"

I believe that casually spending time with the Pathways boys and not drawing attention to the fact that they are all there for a reason is the best possible strategy to address delinquent behavior. During a separate session, Ashley asked residents to name their favorite day of the week. The boy I was partnered with smiled and answered "Mondays," the same day volunteers came to visit. He proceeded to explain that, after being locked up with the same people all week, he had Monday nights to look forward to because a group of people willingly decided to come in and spend time with him and his fellow inmates.

The Pathways Program can be improved in a number of ways, from assisting residents in preparing for interviews to sharing common practices in the workplace for when they are able to leave the facility. On my last night of volunteering, one of the young men had filled me in on his potential plans for the future. He said that the following day one of his supervisors was going to bring him a list of smaller, private schools that he had a chance of getting into once he was released. He also told me that he was expected to have a shorter sentence than planned. If this were the case, he would attend community college in his area and search for a job to get him back on his feet. He said he was very nervous because, if interviews were involved, he was not confident that he would be able to present himself well, and that his not-so-clean record would be an issue. Therefore, I believe that providing counselors or other types of resources that inform residents of what to expect when working for their first job or how to confidently prepare for an interview would be very beneficial.

I had a very good experience working as a volunteer for the Pathways Program at Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center. My experience was so pleasant that I hope to find time in my schedule next semester to return and continue working with the residents.

Cover Image Credit: 123rf

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3 Reasons Why Step Dads Are Super Dads

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I often hear a lot of people complaining about their step-parents and wondering why they think that they have any authority over them. Although I know that everyone has different situations, I will be the first to admit that I am beyond blessed to have a step dad. Yep, I said it. My life wouldn't be the same that it is not without him in it. Let me tell you why I think step dads are the greatest things since sliced bread.

1. They will do anything for you, literally.

My stepdad has done any and every thing for me. From when I was little until now. He was and still is my go-to. If I was hungry, he would get me food. If something was broken, he would fix it. If I wanted something, he would normally always find a way to get it. He didn't spoil me (just sometimes), but he would make sure that I was always taken care of.

SEE ALSO: The Thank You That Step-Parents Deserve

2. Life lessons.

Yup, the tough one. My stepdad has taught me things that I would have never figured out on my own. He has stood beside me through every mistake. He has been there to pick me up when I am down. My stepdad is like the book of knowledge: crazy hormonal teenage edition. Boy problems? He would probably make me feel better. He just always seemed to know what to say. I think that the most important lesson that I have learned from my stepdad is: to never give up. My stepdad has been through three cycles of leukemia. He is now in remission, yay!! But, I never heard him complain. I never heard him worry and I never saw him feeling sorry for himself. Through you, I found strength.

3. He loved me as his own.

The big one, the one that may seem impossible to some step parents. My stepdad is not actually my stepdad, but rather my dad. I will never have enough words to explain how grateful I am for this man, which is why I am attempting to write this right now. It takes a special kind of human to love another as if they are their own. There had never been times where I didn't think that my dad wouldn't be there for me. It was like I always knew he would be. He introduces me as his daughter, and he is my dad. I wouldn't have it any other way. You were able to show me what family is.

So, dad... thanks. Thanks for being you. Thanks for being awesome. Thanks for being strong. Thanks for loving me. Thanks for loving my mom. Thanks for giving me a wonderful little sister. Thanks for being someone that I can count on. Thanks for being my dad.

I love you!

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Dear Nancy Pelosi, 16-Year-Olds Should Not Be Able To Vote

Because I'm sure every sixteen year old wants to be rushing to the voting booth on their birthday instead of the BMV, anyways.

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Recent politicians such as Nancy Pelosi have put the voting age on the political agenda in the past few weeks. In doing so, some are advocating for the voting age in the United States to be lowered from eighteen to sixteen- Here's why it is ludicrous.

According to a study done by "Circle" regarding voter turnout in the 2018 midterms, 31% of eligible people between the ages of 18 and 29 voted. Thus, nowhere near half of the eligible voters between 18 and 29 actually voted. To anyone who thinks the voting age should be lowered to sixteen, in relevance to the data, it is pointless. If the combination of people who can vote from the legal voting age of eighteen to eleven years later is solely 31%, it is doubtful that many sixteen-year-olds would exercise their right to vote. To go through such a tedious process of amending the Constitution to change the voting age by two years when the evidence doesn't support that many sixteen-year-olds would make use of the new change (assuming it would pass) to vote is idiotic.

The argument can be made that if someone can operate heavy machinery (I.e. drive a car) at sixteen, they should be able to vote. Just because a sixteen-year-old can (in most places) now drive a car and work at a job, does not mean that they should be able to vote. At the age of sixteen, many students have not had fundamental classes such as government or economics to fully understand the political world. Sadly, going into these classes there are students that had mere knowledge of simple political knowledge such as the number of branches of government. Well, there are people above the age of eighteen who are uneducated but they can still vote, so what does it matter if sixteen-year-olds don't know everything about politics and still vote? At least they're voting. Although this is true, it's highly doubtful that someone who is past the age of eighteen, is uninformed about politics, and has to work on election day will care that much to make it to the booths. In contrast, sixteen-year-olds may be excited since it's the first time they can vote, and likely don't have too much of a tight schedule on election day, so they still may vote. The United States does not need people to vote if their votes are going to be uneducated.

But there are some sixteen-year-olds who are educated on issues and want to vote, so that's unfair to them. Well, there are other ways to participate in government besides voting. If a sixteen-year-old feels passionate about something on the political agenda but can't vote, there are other ways of getting involved. They can canvas for politicians whom they agree with, or become active in the notorious "Get Out The Vote" campaign to increase registered voter participation or help register those who already aren't. Best yet, they can politically socialize their peers with political information so that when the time comes for all of them to be eighteen and vote, more eighteen-year-olds will be educated and likely to vote.

If you're a sixteen-year-old and feel hopeless, you're not. As the 2016 election cycle approached, I was seventeen and felt useless because I had no vote. Although voting is arguably one of the easiest ways to participate in politics, it's not the only one. Since the majority of the current young adult population don't exercise their right to vote, helping inform them of how to stay informed and why voting is important, in my eyes is as essential as voting.

Sorry, Speaker Pelosi and all the others who think the voting age should be lowered. I'd rather not have to pay a plethora of taxes in my later years because in 2020 sixteen-year-olds act like sheep and blindly vote for people like Bernie Sanders who support the free college.

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