Troubled teens turn to playwriting for creative outlet

November 24, 2009 7:15:45 PM PST
A San Mateo County-based mentoring program goes into juvenile detention facilities to help incarcerated teenagers in a very different way. The Each One, Reach One program gives the teens a crash course in how to write a play about their lives.

Girls in the program met with professional actors, performers and teaching artists for two hours a night for two weeks to learn how to write a two character play, using their life experiences as the backdrop.

Robin Sohnen founded Each One, Reach One in 1997 to help incarcerated young people.

"They write them in metaphor, so the character is an animal or an object or an emotion; it allows them to really write auto-biographical material with a bit of a protective mask over them, to talk about some of their deepest thoughts, hurts, fears, concerns," Sohnen said. "At the end of 10 days, on a Saturday, we bring in a troupe of professional actors who then rehearse the plays, the young person gets to direct that with their actors."

Stuart Forrest, the chief of probation for San Mateo County Juvenile Hall, says mentoring programs like Each One, Reach One are not for entertainment; they are pro-social activities.

"If a kid in this environment gets interested in playwriting, writing, period and being creative and feels rewarded about it, when they go home, they're more likely to find something that rewards them in a positive way," Forrest said.

"We have kids who come and sit in this court every day who are on the detention calendar, they are brought in and there is nobody here for them, not a mom or dad," San Mateo Juvenile Court Judge Marta Diaz said. "I'm talking about 13-year-olds, 14-year-olds, all alone in a courthouse, scared to death and not one person here to try to comfort them, or to say, 'I want my kid home.'"

Diaz gave ABC7 permission to come inside the new hall, which opened in 2006. It was designed to include space for community groups to come in to help kids, while providing security.

"When those kids find somebody from the community, like the Each One, Reach One program or our CASA program, the court appointed special advocates, or our mentors, they are shocked," Diaz said.

"The important thing is here is a stranger who is taking their time, not to judge them, not to put them down, who doesn't care what they've done," Forrest said.

When the kids come to the program, they are told not to think of themselves as detained youth, but to think of themselves as artists and they are expected to act like artists.

"It lets me get out my emotions and tell what I've been through in life," Tiana, one of the participants, said. "My play is about a daughter who wants to be with her mother."

"It's different because in our room, we don't have pencils, so we don't get to write or do anything on our own free time," Jazmine, another participant, said.

"You see the walls slowly crack, and then when it crumbles, you see a whole other type of person; they're smiling, not frowning, even their posture is different, they believe, for the first time in their lives," teaching artist Javier Reyes said.


Load Comments