On Monday, March 14, 2016, members of three Storycatchers Theatre programs for court-involved youth performed in chambers for the Supreme Court of Illinois. Participants in the Fabulous Females, Firewriters, and Changing Voices programs presented scenes and songs from recent productions in the Courtroom of the Supreme Court building in Springfield. According to Artistic Director Meade Palidofsky, “Our friends in the Court told us that this was the first time such a performance took place in the Courtroom. We made history!”
“Storycatchers’ youth and staff were extremely honored to perform their work for the Supreme Court Justices,” Palidofsky continued. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our youth. They were in awe of the building and overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the justices and invited audience. It gave our youth a sense that their stories are important, and gave them hope that their experiences in the justice system will help others.”
The performance, which reflected the perspectives of youth who are currently or formerly incarcerated, was moving and enlightening, according to the justices present. “As judges, we often hear cases involving juvenile offenders and juvenile victims. It is important that we be reminded, from time to time, that our decisions have far-reaching consequences for the lives of real people– especially young people,” Chief Justice Rita B. Garman said. “I truly appreciate all of the hard work and commitment that went in to preparing these programs, and I want to thank everyone involved.”
In a question-and-answer session after the performance, some of the young performers explained how Storycatchers has helped them. They shared their future plans with the justices and dozens of guests, including officials and staff from the court and juvenile justice systems in Illinois.
One young man said Storycatchers has given him “a different perspective” on life and that he plans to go back to school and repair family relationships when he is released from the juvenile center. Another performer said he is so busy writing for Storycatchers that he doesn’t have time to get in trouble. A young woman who has been a part of the Changing Voices post-release employment program since 2014 saw her former probation officers in the audience and said to them, “I have changed.”
Greg Holmes told the audience that he joined the first Changing Voices program cycle following his 2014 release from prison. Although hesitant at first, Greg said he quickly learned that everyone faces problems and saw how sharing stories of struggles can help people relate to each other. Now an apprentice teaching artist and program-manager-in-training for Storycatchers, Greg said he feels like a role model: “Just because someone does a crime doesn’t mean you should label them as a criminal for the rest of their life,” he added. Greg emphasized that if people look beyond the backgrounds and past crimes of juvenile offenders, they will see “a lot of good kids.”
Candice Jones, Director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, attended Monday’s performance at the Supreme Court and praised the work of Storycatchers, saying it has made her job easier. “What the youth are doing with these performances is changing the dialogue about justice-involved youth in Illinois,” Director Jones said. “This work is so critically important because it shows that when we make even a minimal investment in our youth, it pays dividends.”