New Stages: Arts Empowerment for Juvenile Offenders is a program for teens in the Travis County Juvenile Probation Department residential program. The goal of the program is to help those incarcerated develop social support, interpersonal communication, and self-efficacy skills by writing and performing a show based on their life experience.
In just four months, we have worked with 30 teens. I had the privilege of working with the young women of the facility. Our work began slowly as we learned to trust one another through theatre games and writing exercises. As their trust and self-confidence grew, they then decided on a theme for their play: “Just because someone makes a mistake, doesn’t mean that they can’t still achieve their dreams.”
The final play loosely followed the journey from childhood to womanhood, and all the trials and celebrations in between. Through their monologues and poems, they revealed that they are, at this point in their lives, both girls and women. The play revealed stories of family love and strife, friendship, abuse, need, dreams and hope. The performance gave the audience some insight into the true girl/woman — not just the person who was there, at that moment, locked up.
While I have overwhelming pride in the girls for their performance, I am most amazed by their growth throughout the entire process. I watched in awe as they moved from, “I can’t do it”, or “I won’t do it”, to “I can’t wait to do it!” I am grateful to have been a small part of these girls’ journeys into a positive womanhood.
Author: Amanda Hashagen-Middle and High School Program Director
I had the opportunity to work with the young men’s group for the New Stages Program. When we began, theater games weren’t working. It was a struggle for us to find a starting place.
In our third session, we had a breakthrough when I posed the questions: “What comes to mind when you hear the word BOY? What comes to mind when you hear the word MAN?” The room shifted, a lively discussion ensued, and soon we found ourselves imagining a character called Little Brother and writing letters to him. Little Brother was our younger brothers, sisters, or cousins. Little Brother was our younger self.
For the performance, we heard the content of the letters, advice about helping mom, stories about dealing with teenage pregnancy from the young father’s point of view, and an older brother telling the Little Brother some truths about their dad.
It took a tremendous amount of courage for the men to perform. One of my guys turned to me right before he went on and said, “Mr. D, my legs feel like they’re jelly. Never felt this before.” But after he finished, he was glowing. It was a wonderful process, and I’m thrilled to have spent a few hours each week working with a group of young men who are in the middle of grappling with that transition from boyhood to manhood.
Author: Andrew Dolan, TAP Teaching Artist