Writing program gives juvenile offenders a voice

first_imgDespite several interruptions throughout the 11/2-hour class from visitors and center staff, Bliss managed to teach all the girls some fundamentals of playwriting. “What we’re doing right now is dialogue,” Bliss announced to the class, as she made her way around the table talking to each student about the characters and stories in their plays. She asked them to describe their characters’ backgrounds and pushed them to write more. “That took me a lot,” said one student, looking down at a lined piece of paper covered in her writing. “I know,” said Bliss. “Just keep going a little more.” A half-hour into the class, the room was quiet, and all of the students were writing furiously. One student wrote a play about the afternoon her uncle was gunned down by rival gang members. She described how one of her characters – who she said was based on herself – held him as he died. Another student wrote about a girl who confronted her cheating boyfriend about his infidelity. Personal expression is one of several goals program staff and probation officials believe the classes teach. “We’re trying to increase literacy by promoting writing,” said Jeannette Aguirre, public information officer for the county Probation Department. “Many minors here have difficulty reading, so a program like this introduces them to phonics and literacy activities.” Gibson said critical thinking is the most important skill her students learn. “They can learn to do something because it’s right or wrong, not just because they’re following someone else,” Gibson said. One 16-year-old girl who attended Saturday’s class said she has always liked writing, and jumped at the chance to join the class when she entered the facility 11 months ago. At the time, she said she was struggling with anger toward “everything, the world.” Now, she said learning how to better express herself through writing has helped her change her attitude. “All my feelings get all boiled up,” she said. “When I write, I write off the top of my head.” “I didn’t think I could write a play before this,” said the student. “But I did it.” [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3026160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! DOWNEY – None of teacher Jesse Bliss’ creative writing students can walk outside unsupervised or keep pens or pencils in their rooms. Bliss, a playwright and performance artist, teaches a creative writing class at Los Padrinos Juvenile Court as part of the InsideOUT Writers program. The nonprofit organization has offered voluntary creative writing classes to inmates at the county’s three juvenile halls for six years. Last month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved another year of funding for the program, as well as an option for four more years of funding, at $183,000 per year. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe joys and headaches of holiday travel: John PhillipsOn Saturday morning, 10 teenage girls wearing yellow and blue jail jumpsuits and sweat suits attended the class. The lesson was about how to write a play. Classes offered by InsideOUT Writers are outside any high school curriculum. Students learn to write essays, plays and poetry in the classes. But, teachers say they gain much more from the lessons. “The first thing is to help them think for themselves, to organize their thoughts,” said Sandy Gibson, program director of InsideOUT Writers. “Every kid here has a horror story – one student had to eat out of a dog dish growing up. Here, they can express themselves.” The students in Bliss’s Saturday morning class reveled in her attention. last_img