Managing anger, addictions,and mental health in youth correctional facilities.

Week intensive at Toronto’s Roy McMurtry Centre

This program builds on the experience and identified needs from our work in the Calgary Young Offenders Center.

It is an intense 5-day program where up to 80 youth learn to dance, while also discovering themselves and their own culture. When they are tired from the physical activities they are engaged with discussions around managing their own anger and recognizing where it comes from, and the triggers that cause them to rage and harm themselves, others, or make bad decisions. These discussions are progressive and linked every day, as new positive techniques are explored that build self esteem and encourage building resiliency. A harm reduction approach is explored in looking at additions and the most current information about the latest drugs on the street is examined. There are also discussions around the need to belong, gang life, how to forgive and how to trust again. Threaded throughout the week are daily themes that seek to address and talk about the many complex issues going on in young peoples lives. The negative images of HipHop shown on TV are challenged as we move youth away from Gangsta images and those of disrespecting women .

It is hoped that at the end of the week the youth will have internalized a new hope for their life which involves a lifelong path that involves healing oneself from the trauma they have previously experienced. As in all our programming, facility teachers, counsellors, and corrections staff are encouraged to actively participate as this experience is seen as strong professional development on the most modern and current youth outreach techniques. By creating opportunities for adults to become more closely aligned with the youth they work with, teachers, principals, social workers, police, public health officials and elders are strongly encouraged to humble themselves and participate side by side with the youth whenever possible. Adult participants often describe this week as the most powerful professional development they have ever experienced and as a result, it directly impacts in a positive way on their relationships with the youth they work with.

Given the high proportion of First Nation youth incarcerated we will also discuss and integrate cultural activities that explore ways of celebrating and bringing their own voice into the modern world as well as those from other cultures. We will explore traditional drumming, traditional dances and songs and use this as a window to discuss tolerance in the world. We will also engage community elders with the youth and create opportunities to re-build trust and communication between them, founded on exploring concepts of respect and empathy. An elder trying their hand at Dj scratching is a great example of sharing a human moment. There will be a final evening celebration to showcase what the youth have learned and experienced this week on the Friday night, where parents, probation officers, police, social workers, teachers, and government officials will be invited. We would like to acknowledge Tara Wilson who runs Pulse studios in Calgary for first introducing us to this work.

Some very positive evaluations done by the Calgary young Offender Center are available upon request, as well as many poems, letters, and youth comments . Here are a few direct examples of what the youth feel they have learned. In answer to the question – do the youth feel proud of what they achieved – 94% agreed or strongly agreed. Sample comments include :

That we can take control of addiction and anger using a positive activity and that confidence is key to life.

Being able to find another way to express myself. The talks were the best because they can open up peoples eyes to things they didnt realize . I developed a new way to use my anger positively and feel stronger about myself.

Learning new skills and have a week that we all can come together and have no beef. I feel some people got close to others too.

Getting to know people on the deeper level. We had deep conversations that made me think. At the end, at the battle, everyone was so supportive of each other. It was the first time I had happy tears.

It was super fun, there was an amazing amount of positive energy, all the kids were getting along and blue print staff was awesome teachers!  The words of wisdom from Buddha clicked for a lot of us. It would be nice if we could do that sort of thing every week.

I liked all the Blueprint staff, they were cool and fun to be around. I enjoyed learning how to break and I enjoyed how everybody got along with each other. For a while I felt kind of normal and was happy.

Hip-hop is a thing I love and now I know theres positive ways I can deal with anger and alcohol.

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