Giving voice to vulnerable youth.
Here, you will find the life stories of young individuals who are currently incarcerated for various crimes. The focus is not on the crime itself, but rather, the significant moments, people, and experiences that shaped their identities, choices and lives.
'The one.' began as an awareness project though it has had many positive unintended outcomes.
The idea for this project came about as I was working with youth (in Alberta) who had been referred to me for substance use counselling through Juvenile Justice. We implemented a program called Seven Challenges, which was developed in Arizona, by Dr. Robert Schwebel, and is now used across the US with similar populations (you can find it online at 'sevenchallenges.com').
It involves a structured journaling component that works through 7 stages. Building Trust, talking about the benefits, talking about the harm, talking about shared responsibility, thinking about the future, making thoughtful decisions and maintaining changes. I saw some incredible things occur in my clients when they were able to share things in writing by answering guided questions and receiving supportive feedback from myself.
Around that time, I also had been following news stories in Chicago (which is where I had been living, going to school and working for three years prior). I came across dozens of stories of children being arrested for gang related shootings, etc. And, one in particular where a young man was sentenced to life for murder.
It was then that I had the idea of writing to these young people in prison and allowing them to share, in their own words, the stories of their lives before they were arrested, through "journaling," back and forth between them and myself.
When I had this idea, I really wasn't sure whether anyone would be responsive to it or not. I sent out an initial letter to 10 individuals, who were under 24 and had sentences longer than 10 years, describing who I was, what I was asking of them, and a few questions that they could answer if they wished to participate.
My goal was really simple initially, to give these individuals a voice and to empower them to share their stories with other people. I aimed to create a safe space where they may be open and honest and receive supportive and reflective feedback.
I wanted to send the message that they are not just a number or a statistic but they are unique and valuable individuals. Their lives have meaning and purpose and they can have a positive impact on the world even from behind bars. Through their courage and willingness to be vulnerable they could develop genuine connections and the strength to become the people they were meant to be. They could become 'the one.'
I have a strong background in understanding and treating trauma (a common experience among justice involved youth) so safety and self-determination are key elements in every interaction that I have with these individuals and I continually inform them that they are in control of this process. That means our website is continually being updated with new 'posts' from our participants as they work through this process at their own pace.
In order to maintain the element of 'human connection,' you will see photos of the actual letters sent to me by the participants in their handwriting and you are likely to find "typos," in the posts. I transcribed the letters to make them more accessible to readers, though I maintained all punctuation, spelling and human errors as a method of connecting readers to the writers themselves in their truest form. As well, you may find that identifying information has been removed. This is to protect the safety and privacy of the participants involved and their loved ones.
In addition to their stories, you may read my thoughts about the experience and development of ‘the one.’, and personal take on related research, news and events, in 'the blog.'
Thank you to those that take the time to read and share the stories you find here. To listen is to give these young people a voice.
Check back for continual updates and additions to the stories.
'the one.' is what defines us as individuals and connects us as humans. - Dallis Westin, Founder