When I was 23, I was involved in a civil service project with some colleagues out of the University of Texas Pan-American. Every Friday evening for two hours through the summer months of June and July, a handful of us volunteered to enter the Juvenile Detention Center in Edinburg, TX and tutor poetry and prose to the ‘youthful offenders,’ all of which were young men.
On our first session, we waited for our students to enter our make shift classroom, which was a wide, concrete gray room lit by over looming florescent lights. It was their cafeteria during the day, and also where ‘graduation’ ceremonies were held when the youth had completed their sentence. The students entered their classroom, sat down, and each of the volunteers began our first poetry session. Many were bored and resistant, but many more were intrigued, arching forward and coloring the white sheets of paper we gave them with imagery and narratives that intertwined with the occasional symbol or sketch to convey what words couldn’t paint.
Every Friday that summer, this small group of us did that, and it was one of the most rewarding, eye opening, and fruitful experiences I’ve ever had. It opened my eyes to grossly dark realms of false perceptions I held for ‘juvenile offenders’. It also opened my eyes to how many of these young men, kids, were in there on such petty little crimes. Given, this was a detention center that focused on rehabilitation, and many were presumably ‘reciprocating’ these services. But how many of the ‘more well-behaved’ in there actually needed to be there? The question lingered, overwhelmed, and hovered in my mind that summer. I entered with questions, and left with more, more of which dealt with the very nature of our law system and how civil projects such as the poetry tutoring service I was involved with helped ease the experience of those in the system.
The memories are cherished, and I often find myself wanting to go back and do it again. But to be totally honest, the iceberg tip of this experience presented here only resurfaced when I began to meditate on the nature of the U.S. prison complex last nite at 1:20 in the morning, when I read an interview with Jes Aurelius, the guitarist for Destruction Unit and founder of Arizona’s Ascetic House. His interview appeared on fvckthemedia, and discusses how Aurelius is a civilly conscious, cultural force who branches out his time here on earth not only with writing music for D-Unit, but by also initiating a “Free Tapes to Prisoners” prisoner outreach program.
In the interview, linked here, Aurelius unshackles his mind for readers, discussing civil liberties, our colossally corrupt prison system, and his philosophies on living an ascetic life. It’s quite the engaging piece, whether you’re a fan of D-Unit or not, and resonates within me on a particularly deep level because of my own personal history with joining a group to help color the lives of those incarcerated.
You can catch Aurelius with his band, Destruction Unit, on Friday, June 28th at Thirsty Monkey, where they will be playing with Milk Music, Deep Woods, and Jungle Bodies.
But for now, you can read that great interview piece, and who knows, be inspired to explore ascetism, explore the realm of volunteering, and advance a narrative within your life you have not yet written.