MR. JONATHAN WILSON
We'll head up to Laurel, Maryland now, to meet a group of people who are trying to gain a bit of wisdom from their experiences on the streets of D.C. And they're sharing those experiences on camera, from inside the high security correctional facility in which they currently live. Lauren Landau went through the metal detectors and behind the scenes to find out more.
MR. TOM WORKMAN
I need you to be serious this time, though, okay?
MS. LAUREN LANDAU
Tom Workman is the Director of the Life Stories Program at New Beginnings Youth Development Center, D.C.'s correctional facility for male juvenile offenders in Laurel, Maryland. Since early October, Workman has been coming to the New Horizons unit once a week to help residents write a screenplay based on their own experiences.
After you all negotiate, then sticker board, you know, don't come here because you worry with it, okay? So we're the basic, you know, double cross.
The two residents acting in this scene, a drug deal gone awry, discuss their plan while rearranging play money and bags filled with powdered soap.
Life Stories is organized by The Theater Lab School of the Dramatic Arts, and serves various marginalized populations, including seniors living in nursing homes, homeless women struggling with substance abuse and at risk youth. Most of the guys at New Beginnings have never acted on stage or on camera before, but Tom Workman says that out on the streets, many of them adopt a persona in order to survive.
I try to dig beneath the surface and find out like where a lot of this sort of comes from , but if you dig long enough, you see that they're still really kids, and still trying to find direction.
All of the young people interviewed for this story asked to be identified by their initials. One of them is 17-year old S.W., who's in for attempted murder and carjacking charges. He says the program has taught him how to channel his anger.
When I first came here, I ain't like never want to like communicate with others. Like, when I was angry, I let it all build up in me, so now, since I've been working with (unintelligible) like now, I express myself more.
18-year old M.W. says that for him, the fun part is the adrenaline he gets from mimicking real life situations. Even though he says that excitement isn't worth the long stint in prison, New Horizons Unit Manager Kim Jackson says it is disconcerting for residents to enjoy the rush of recreating a crime. But, at least they're being honest.
MS. KIM JACKSON
It means that you need to take more time with this young man and work on those core issues. Why is this such a rush, still, at this time, for you? And what other outlet or what other thing can we put into place where you can get that same rush, and it's something positive?
Jackson also says recreating everyday challenges helps prepare the guys for their return to the real world.
Now they're able to respond in a different way. You know, and see, OK, if I'm back in this situation, this is what I can do.
One of her residents is 19-year old, E.K. He helped write the screenplay, and plays one of the main characters.
E.K. came to New Beginnings about a year ago on an armed robbery charge. He says the script isn't a carbon copy of his life, but it does include some key similarities.
The drugs, the money, the gambling. My younger brother, I got two younger brothers that look up to me. They ain't never really get into the selling drugs, 'cause I always try my best to keep them away from it. But, in this, in this story, we put them into the game, selling the drugs, getting the money.
A fairly private person, E.K. says Life Stories gives him a way to express himself and get his story out without putting his business on display.
In a way, it's therapeutic, because I hold things inside. I don't really talk about my past. I don't really talk about things that I've been through, that happened to me. You know, I don't really, I don't really express myself at all. So, this helps me.
A large chalkboard consumes the left wall of E.K.'s room. It's covered in motivational quotes and words of wisdom that the teenager says he reads every day.
I like all of them. Wolves don't lose sleep over the opinions of sheep. And I got, if there's food for thought, then I'm guilty of greed. Money is like air, you can't live without it, but you can die trying to get it. I like this one a lot too, though. Sacrifice what you are for what you will become.
He's had to deal with some pretty difficult circumstances. But E.K. says he's trying his best to get on track.
I've been through some things at a very young age, so I'm learning it now to cope with them, how to deal with them. How to react to certain situations better, controlling my anger. So, words of wisdom I got is push on. Move forward. Don't let your past hold you back. Like this quote right here, when you hold onto your past, you do it at the expense of your future. Let it go.
He says he'll never forget the pain, but you can learn how to live with it. I'm Lauren Landau.
We've got more about Theater Lab New Beginnings and the Life Stories Program on our website, metroconnection.org.
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