I have spent a great deal of time lately thinking about what we have accomplished as a company — the multitude of young people who have benefited from our storytelling and team-building process during the last 32, now going on 33, years.
Where are they now? It is a question you and others often ask. In November of last year, I was wondering about one of our first kids at the Detention Center, LaShaun Howard. He had also been wondering about me. Then he googled me and called the office.
LaShaun, who had been in the very first Temporary LockDown in 1990, is now in his early 40s, with seven children, and works as a truck driver for Dr. Pepper. Over coffee, he told me about his struggles growing up in the projects and how after being released from prison, he has always worked in spite of his upbringing and siblings living off welfare; he is the only one in his family who has ever held a job. He is also a DJ and volunteered to share that skill with our Changing Voices youth. His hair is gray now, but his eyes sparkle just like they did when he was 15.
On a Friday night in December, Terrence Golden came over to my house with his fiance Zenovia. Terrence was the star of LockDown 6 & 7 (1996 & 97) and was released last March after 20 years in prison. He and I were in touch the entire time. His Mom had passed away from cancer early on when he was incarcerated, so I became his surrogate Mom. In fact, he wrote her deathbed scene as the opening of a LockDown play. It was his way of making sure that his Mom could imagine his voice at her passing.
Terrence went on Facebook and showed me pictures of his LockDown ‘ensemble classmates’: Zebulon, Dori, Edmund, Nedra, Anthony, Niles. All of them out. All of them working, many having done substantial time first. No one re-incarcerated. We talked about having a reunion. 15 to 17 years old when I first knew them, they are all in their mid- to late 30s now, primed to become mentors to our Changing Voices Ensemble. This group includes Parise, who just passed his first pharmacy exam at Walgreens, where he is on track to become a store manager.
These young people were mostly tried as adults for gang-related crimes. They were very young when they were sent away to prison. The LockDown plays they did together created an enduring connection. Besides crime, court and incarceration, they also held on to memories of success and pride of accomplishment with each other. It made reconnecting a happy and positive experience.
None of them went back to their old neighborhoods upon release. For good reason. Zenovia told me the story of her panic when Terrence was suddenly paroled before his published out-date.
“So, his agent had not processed my house in Bartlett yet as his place of residence. They sent Terrence to a half-way house in his old south side neighborhood. Half-way to hell! Across the street was a whorehouse and a trap house. Unbelievable that you would send someone just out of prison there! Unless you want to put them right back in! I camped out for 2 days until I got his parole officer to approve my place.”
Zenovia and Terrence had met in the 4th grade. They reconnected while he was incarcerated. Terrence showed me a picture of himself building a snowman in front of her house with her two kids. His first snowman. In the picture, he is beaming.
It’s just like watching your own kids grow into adults – these are our Storycatchers kids. I know sometimes we worry – as parents of teenagers do – that they will never turn around, that the streets — guns and drugs — call too loudly. But looking at that group picture, I felt so proud of how this group has grown into adulthood and to have been part of it. I look forward to what all of us at Storycatchers will continue to accomplish together – and with help from our alumni.