Category Archives: Youth Detention

Christmas Thank You Note Excerpts

This afternoon, I was handed a pile of thank you notes for my small part in helping the youth in detention have a better Christmas. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and amazed at the honesty of the youth. I’d like to share a few excerpts.

“You gave us a better Christmas and more hope.”

“This was my second time having Christmas in my 14 years of life. And it was one of the best ones.”

“You don’t know how happy it makes me to know someone has taken the time out of their life to make me a happy person on Christmas.”

“It was so touching to know someone cares about the ones that sometime feel forgotten.”

“I have not had a Christmas in 5 years. You guys made my day with the gifts you got. I really am thankful.”

“Growing up Christmas never meant much to me. It was just another day of another month of another year. I’ve found that I don’t look forward to this time of year. Being in jail I thought this time of year could not get much worse but yet waking up on Christmas morning I still had hope. Hope because I had heard what Christmas is like in here but I did not want to let myself believe it…I cannot begin to describe to you the overwhelming joy and happiness that came over me. Because of you my Christmas was made and to me it did not matter what gifts I got, it was more meaningful to me that someone cared enough to help someone else out.”

That’ll preach.


Christmas Morning

Went in this morning to be with the youth as they celebrated Christmas in detention. This is a weird time for them. On the one hand, they are in detention. On the other hand, for some, they are getting more gifts than they have ever gotten before in their lifetime. All gifts are donated by the community. Here’s a photo essay (all the kid’s identities are protected).

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Prison State

I feel like the PBS Frontline special, “Prison State,” captures my experience very well. The young woman, Demetria, is every youth I have encountered. The best point that the special makes is:

“We need to distinguish who we are mad at and who we are afraid of.”

If we rehabilitated the folks we are “mad” at, we would slash the rate of imprisonment. Are we really afraid of a non-violent drug user? A youth who habitually is truant?

The stories are just tragic. Generations of imprisonment. We complain that the families are “broken” and that is where the fault lies, but we created the broken families through a process of institutional racism that locked up fathers starting generations ago.

The sins of society are visited on the children.

To watch the special, go here:

Source: "No Place for Kids," Annie E. Casey Foundation
Source: “No Place for Kids,” Annie E. Casey Foundation

You Can Do It: A Good Friday Homily

Delivered at Liberation UCC in Seattle on 4/18/2014-Good Friday.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour, the disciple received her as his own. -John 19:26-27, translation, mine

What if every time we left a vulnerable, grieving member of our family behind, we turned to another beloved and said, “Please, receive my family as your family.” But we are not taught to do this! Our culture has us holding our chin up! Standing on our own two feet! You should learn to be self-reliant!

Have you heard these messages? “You can do it if you try!”

Recently, as in Tuesday, I heard similar words come from a youth’s mouth. He is 15, from a marginalized area in Seattle, and struggling in detention. He and I were talking about what his next steps were and what his dreams of life were. He described a future where he could have a house that his family lived in—his mother and brothers and where he could have a game room and a workout room. Maybe, it would be a game room – slash – workout room—that was negotiable.

Taking that as his vision for his life, we talked about accomplishments that would enable him to achieve his vision of a cared for, stable, ordinary family and house. He expressed the thought that he should get a job now while his rent was free so he could save all his money and buy a house when he was 18. He could do it! All by himself! All he needed was a job at the Boys and Girls Club that pays $600 per month and he’s good. He can do it if he tries. It is all in his hands.

Never mind that he has a criminal record. Never mind that he can’t do math or science and probably will not be able to graduate high school. Never mind that he has nobody in his community to help him—I asked. None of that matters. He has bought the cultural ideal of independence and self-reliance.

The question is, what comes next? What will happen when this youth cannot get a bank loan, a full time job, or a GED? He will blame himself, not the systems that have failed him. And in blaming himself, he will be filled with shame and sadness.

In these words of Christ, we could hear not a nice moment of care-taking between beloved disciple and mother, but a command of how we should care for one another, especially those who are vulnerable. These words of Christ call out to us to receive our vulnerable youth, those affected by incarceration, gangs, and substance abuse.

What difference would it make to a vulnerable youth to have some behold them! See them! Love them! Receive them!

Interestingly, another possibility examining the word for “receive” in Greek elaben is the word “catch.” Doesn’t that really bring a different feeling to this? We are not only being called to receive the vulnerable among us, but to catch them. Provide a safety net that will enable them to grow into all that they were created to be.

Jesus said, “Woman, behold your son—and you—behold your mother.”

What if we said, What if we said, “People, behold your children—and you—behold your people.” What a difference it would make.

Amen? Amen!

Rev. Terri Stewart

Being a Remembrancer

I found this to be spot on!

“Prison Chaplain — a ‘remembrancer’
In such a context, I think, the easy distinction between ministry that is unquestioningly supportive and one that is prophetically transforming does not actually make a great deal of sense. It’s true that, because of the isolation of people from their usual support systems, confrontation, and the explicit call to repentance or change, are not likely to be helpful, to say the least; they may have short term effect — but only as another way of offering a new and ‘safe’ identity in a strange land. But a ministry that asks no questions will not, as I’ve said, bring people nearer to what will genuinely feed or sustain them. The notion that seems to me to capture what most matters here is that of a ministry of ‘reminding’. The chaplain, to use an old fashioned word, is a ‘remembrancer’. Central to a ministry conceived in these terms is the patience to explore the vulnerability that underlies the pressure towards reinventing yourself in the way that new institutions encourage. Central also is the willingness to work with someone to bring to light a vital sense of what in fact has made them the person they are, what still shapes reactions and expressed instincts.”

Can you keep watch?

April 17-18

-17th from 9:00 p.m. to the 18th at noon

“Could you not keep watch with me even one hour?” Matthew 26:40

Youth-Chaplaincy-Coalition and Faith Action Network (FAN) invite you to a virtual and placed prayer and meditation vigil raising consciousness for youth affected by incarceration, racism, and gun violence.

Event link: Here.


Anyone and everyone can participate in the vigil! This event has purposely been scheduled during Holy Week in the Christian Tradition and this vigil is open to all people of all faiths (or of no particular faith) who wish to raise consciousness for youth affected by incarceration, racism, and gun violence.

The VIRTUAL vigil begins at 9:00 pm PST on Maundy Thursday, April 17 and continues through the night until NOON PST on Long Friday, April 18.

The PLACED vigil will be observed in silence from 6 am – Noon on Long Friday, April 18 in the Chapel at Epiphany Parish Seattle. Information from the Washington Alliance for Responsible Gun Ownership, FAN, The Church Council of Greater Seattle, and YCC will be available at Epiphany. If you would like to share silent prayer and meditation in community please join us in Epiphany’s Chapel.

IF you want your NAME and/or a Prayer or Message included on a prayer chain we’re creating to bring with us to Juvie in May to show the youth visually how many folks were and are keeping watch with them, please RSVP yes and/or post a comment. We will add a link to the chain with your first name on it.

We’ve invited almost 800 people to participate – wouldn’t it be awesome if we had hundreds of links in our chain showing the youth how connected we are? Please SHARE the invitation with everyone and anyone you think would keep watch with youth affected by incarceration, racism, and gun violence. We will share photos of the prayer chain after the retreats in May.

If you would like to see prayers, readings, and images posted by YCC on the hour throughout vigil please like the the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition FB page.

Once you sign up you don’t need to do anything, but pray or meditate. If you’re moved toward action beyond this vigil – may it be so.

With deep gratitude for your witness and love,

Emily Linderman, Chaplain Intern
& The Rev. Terri Stewart, Founder and Director
The Youth Chaplaincy Coalition



Active Listening Methods

flickr photo by Wes Peck cc licensed (BYNC ND )
flickr photo by Wes Peck
cc licensed (BY NC ND )

Active listening is:

  • Hearing what the person says
  • Identifying and labeling the feelings a speaker experiences
  • Listening for undercurrent feelings not explicitly expressed by the speaker
  • Recognizing personal values and personal history revealed in conversation
  • Being empathetic, not sympathetic. Truly try to understand how the other person might be feeling without being judgmental. Your youth doesn’t want pity, but does want to feel like you understand, even if you can’t specifically relate the situation to your own life.

Some verbal response techniques for active listening include:

  • Paraphrases: Restatements of the speaker’s feeling or meaning in your own words. Paraphrases help against miscommunication and can clarify feelings.
    • “So, what I’m hearing you say is the security guard accused you of stealing the shirt, and called you a liar when you said it was paid for.”
  • Feeling reflections: Statements that focus on the emotions or feelings you observe in the speaker. This validates emotions.
    • “It sounds like you were angry when the guard accused you of stealing the shirt.”
  • Clarifications: Questions or comments to elicit more information from the speaker and to double-check your and the speaker’s understanding of the problem.
    • “And you said this happened yesterday?”
  • Neutral statements: Brief verbal responses that show the speaker that you are following the conversation.
    • “Mmhm. Gotcha. Then what?”
  • Summaries: Organizing statements that capture the speaker’s emotions and concerns concisely. A summary helps integrate the information you’ve heard, leads to new directions in conversation, and helps wrap up a listening session.
    • “Let me see if I understand you correctly. You feel thios situation is unfair and your first reaction was to get angry.”

Some non-verbal queues in active listening include:

  • Look the person in the eye. Good eye contact shows that you are paying attention and take the conversation seriously. Watching the speaker also lets you read thje speaker’s body language, which may say a lot about how she feels.
  • Use natural posture. Be relaxed. Slouching, resting your head on your hands or crossing your arms on your chest can signal boredom, fatigue, or restlessness.
  • Sit in a helping position. If you sit across from a person with a table in between, you may put yourself in an “oppositional” stance. Sit at an angle and lean slightly towards (but don’t crowd out!) your youth.

Adapted from the Work Group for Community Health and Development Community Tool Box, 2013. “Building Youth Mentor Relationships.” Available at