Eight youth in our Youth Assistance Program (YAP) recently went to area prisons to hear from inmates and witness the restrictive settings for themselves. The male youth visited the Detroit Reentry Center. The female youth visited Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility near Ypsilanti.
“I learned that prison life is no joke and your freedom is gone,” said Juliana, a YAP participant who is 15. “The inmates told us their stories, and their attitudes started the same way that ours did, getting into trouble when things could have been handled differently. For me that means thinking about other options besides fighting when I have a conflict with someone.”
The youth participating in YAP are referred to the program by the court or by community partners, such as counselors working with the youth. The program is six months. It teaches life skills and anger management, and also motivates and monitors the youth to accomplish a personalized treatment plan that includes improvements in school performance, decision-making, and social interactions.
Even though Juliana finished the six-month program, she will be returning for the next cycle because both she and her mother believe the program will continue to benefit her. Juliana has formulated plans for her future. She wants to join the army after high school, and then go to college for nursing. If she graduates from college, she will be the first in her family to do so. Ultimately, she’d like to become a doctor.
“YAP is a second chance to keep my record clean so I can reach my goals,” Juliana said.
Jontae is also a YAP participant. During his visit to the Detroit Reentry Center, he not only listened intently to the inmates’ remarks, but also told his own story of close relatives who were sent to prison, his own brush with the law, and difficult experiences that have shaped him.
“It was sad to be in the prison and it definitely showed me that I never want to be sent there,” Jontae said.
The prison visit initiative for at-risk youth is a deterrence effort organized by the Michigan Department of Corrections. YAP incorporates the initiative into its program because of the powerful effect it has on the youth.
“There’s no question that it’s impactful and thought-provoking for the youth who go,” said Anthony Graham, Prevention Coordinator at Southwest Solutions. “It can cause them to re-assess things in their own lives, including how they make choices and the friends they associate with. It’s not easy to change negative behaviors, but YAP strives to provide the tools and knowledge for youth to do so.”