Great Stories – Part 2
I went back for the second meeting of the Great Stories Club at McCracken Regional Juvenile Detention Center today. Sometimes in nervous anticipation I wonder if I might not be able to carry on with ambitious plans. Even though I had committed to the program when applying for the ALA grant, I had a choice. And I chose to follow through. Yay me. Good girl. NOT.
The young men came back today too. Not like they had a choice however. They marched back from one locked room to another accompanied by a control officer. They truly are committed. Not to YALSA, not to me, but to the facility. Literally.My concentration level was high, my mind full of hopefully subtle insights I could share with the students. I was so engrossed on my drive to the center as to how I would guide them in their discussion today that I lost my way. I literally missed a turn on the highway and had to recollect and redirect myself.
Much like I did during the discussion. What I thought might be interesting aspects of this week’s book, Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman, seemed to mean little to them. The opinions I thought maybe we would share received little response. So recollect and redirect myself I once again did.
I suggested we think about labels. I wondered aloud about our perceptions and judgements of people. They voiced concern over being called criminal. It seemed many of them wanted to plead their cases, to explain themselves not in detail but in theory. They discussed they lives and how they were misunderstood, alone with no one to communicate with, how they missed the contact of their mothers and other family members.
One student shared his struggles with his own physical handicap. Another young man related how family members had stuggled with nervous disorders. They wanted to talk about themselves. And so we did.
They saw themselves in Shawn even if indirectly. They understood that they were “stuck in neutral,” as the teacher and Trueman suggested, of a different direction.
When we had begun our talk, the first student so eager to share his thoughts started with his opinion of the ending. “Not the ending!” I had thought. My mind raced as to how to redirect him and not stifle his enthusiasm. “Lets talk about the beginning first,” I had suggested as a couple of students nodded in agreement.
But they reminded me of something very important today. You can’t go back to the beginning when you are starting over. Maybe the best way to approach life is to realize where you are at the moment and move onward the best way you can. Hopefully with a little help from someone who will just listen. Sometimes it just helps to hear yourself say it, admit it, share the facts of whatever owns you so you yourself can confront it.
Extraordinary hope and understanding I heard today. So I will listen again next week and see where their thoughts from Angela Johnson’s The First Part Last take us. Because surely after their reading they will already be there ahead of me.
The Great Stories Club, a reading and discussion series, is a grant initiative of the American Library Association’s Public Programs Office (PPO) and Young Adult Library Service Association (YALSA).