Chaplains are really great listeners. Overall chaplains provide a non-anxious listening presence. We listen from a spiritual standpoint that is looking for signs of life that you may not see and we listen with an open heart that meets you on your spiritual path. We leave denominational and religious differences at the door. Chaplains are present on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Every Monday and Thursday in the Library, there are between 2-4 volunteers to talk to youth about anything on their mind: current issues, long-term goals, priority setting and/or next steps. Each session lasts around 30-40 minutes. Youth meet one-on-one with a mentor and talk — this time is completely judge-free and catered to youth! Mentoring is a secular program which means it is not focused on religion or spirituality. The focus of mentoring is walking with youth on their path.
Worship services happen each Sunday in library from 7:00—9:00. It happens in shifts so not everyone goes at once. Worship features a variety of church communities that come from all over King County.
REST Retreats happen every other month on a Saturday and Sunday. REST stands for Real Escape from Sex Trafficking. The retreats are focused on recognizing trafficking when you see it, empowering youth to help others escape sex trafficking, and in learning about gender equity. We use the CAASE curriculum that is also used by Seattle Against Slavery (SAS)
SoulCollage is an art process to explore the many parts of who we are. Do you have an inner prankster? Make a collage in honor of the prankster! An inner teacher? Honor the teacher! Perhaps you’d like to honor a person who is special to you—an auntie or hero. SoulCollage lets youth create and explore the many parts of them.
There are a variety of scripture studies that take place throughout the week.
Boys Hall #1—Tuesdays at 6:00
Boys Hall #2—Wednesdays at 6:00
Girls Hall—Fridays at 7:00
Girls Hall—Saturdays at 1:00
We are intimately involved in the current healing of the incarceration system through the use of Peacemaking Circles. Most would call this restorative justice, but I am reluctant to put a new label on an ancient process.
The Peacemaking Circle process comes to us through Saroeum Phoung who was taught by the Tagish and Tlingit First Nation people of the Yukon Territories.
You can learn more about the King County Peacemaking Coordinating Team at kingcountyPCT.org.
How Can You Help?
Will you make a commitment to pray for the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition? The Advisory Board Members? The Volunteers? The Youth of Affected by incarceration? The Staff at the Detention Centers?
Would you want to volunteer at any of the detention centers? Once a year? Weekly? In a study? Life skills? Worship? Resume writing? Cooking?
Could you make a commitment to making a donation to the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition? To being an ongoing donor? Buying Bibles? Purchasing needed supplies such as socks, shampoo, and soap? Providing opportunities to youth to attend events such as sports or theaters?
Would you like to help out by providing administrative support? Finding grant opportunities? Mailing out fundraising letters? Finding speaking opportunities?
Please contact Rev. Terri Stewart if you are interested.
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.
“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.”
This is an offering from a chaplain friend, Heather Thomason. She is in the ordination process with the Disciples of Christ. This is her take on assisting people through grief. Although she works at a hospital, there is connective tissue to the trauma and grief that the youth within the juvenile detention centers. The story she offers us is a life-long journey through the valleys.
My heart is pounding. My palms are sweaty. I can feel the grief in the room as the neurosurgeon enters. I am sitting with a family who is being told one of their children is already dead and the other has such a significant injury that doctors see little hope for their survival. I think to myself as I listen to the surgeon talk to the sobbing father, “This will be a very long grief process for them.” My heart breaks and a week later when the child is removed from life support, I say goodbye to her as I cry. My tears drop on her arm as if to baptize the grief process for her family.
I sit with another family as they receive the news: their son will never walk again or have a “normal” life. He will need to be on a ventilator, wheelchair and will require constant care. His spinal cord injury is never going to heal. It is a very different life than the one his family envisioned for him just a week prior. His mother cries.
I walk down the hospital hallway and see a woman sitting on a bench. She is sobbing, almost uncontrollably. I sense that she needs someone to talk to so I gently touch her shoulder, and say, “It looks like you might need some support.” She gets up, latches onto me in a bear hug, and screams, “Yes, it’s my husband!” She continues to cry. As we sit down together, she tells me about their life and how much he means to her and also about how this heart episode is so unexpected. I run into her in the hallway a few days later and her husband is doing well. We rejoice.
The undercurrent of all these stories is grief. Grief that threatens to consume us because the life we once lived has been shattered. How do you “get over” the death of a child? How do you “deal with” the lost expectations you held for the life of a loved one? How do you “move on” from a near-death experience that happened to the most important person in your life? I put these questions partially in quotation marks because that is what our society teaches us we do in the face of grief: We move on, we get over it, we deal with it. When grief threatens to consume our very lives, we stuff our emotions into phrases which we think are going to help us make meaning of events that sometimes are impossible to make meaning from. How do we find a new normal when our lives will never be normal again? Admitting that, to many people, makes them feel afraid of the judgment they will receive from others who have “gotten over,” “dealt with” or “moved on” from a traumatic event.
We say to ourselves, “My mom got over her miscarriage so I should too.” “My best-friend moved on from the death of her mom way faster than I am dealing with mine.” “Someday I shouldn’t think about the sister I lost when we were both little, right?” Get over it. Move on. Deal with it. Then you’re all better and your life will go on as normal. Except that it doesn’t. We tell ourselves it will but it doesn’t. The grief lingers for years. Every time I see a child whose hair is the same color as my baby’s. Every time I smell the cigars my grandpa used to smoke. Each time something triggers a memory, I feel that grief. Sure, it might not be as pointed but it is still there. It will always be there. And the lie we tell ourselves each time that trigger happens, is “I should be over this by now. How long is it going to take?” Avoiding grief is ingrained deep into our culture and we enter into the lie unconsciously.
Having worked with people in the midst of their grief process I have made some interesting observations and been privy to very private and intimate details of how people make meaning of the traumatic events they suffer. The first is that everyone’s grief process is different. Some people start at anger, some in denial, and some never start a process at all. Everyone is different and I have personally witnessed people bursting into tears, collapsing on the floor, laughing, vomiting or a combination of all of the above, when they experience a grief-inducing life event. The lie our society tells us is that there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” to work through grief. While there are certainly healthier behaviors than others, I don’t believe there is a “correct” starting place in a grief process. What I do as a chaplain is meet people where they are, encourage them to be gentle with themselves in whatever their process is going to look like, and provide support as they make meaning out of their life-altering event. It’s not my work to do, it’s theirs. I don’t push or force the work; I walk alongside people as they walk their grief-path.
My supervisor here at the hospital likes to remind us that when a life-altering event occurs the good chaplains are the ones who go into the Valley of the Shadow of Death with the people we serve, alongside them. We don’t force them to go to places they aren’t willing or able, but we show them they are not alone and even though the Valley is deep, dark, and long, there is the other side and we will be with them until they reach it. Even when they do, it’s a good reminder that they are not completely finished; they are just through the darkest part of the Valley.
The second observation I have made is the expansion of my own capacity to absorb, process and return to normal, after having done that deep, dark walk in the Valley with folks. When you do it all the time, you have to be able to let go of people where they are at in their process and hope they have the support they need once they leave the hospital room to keep the work going. Sometimes, knowing someone doesn’t have support but they can’t stay with us is the hardest part of the work I do. I pray for those folks every day.
The third observation is the constancy of our society pressuring people not to go into the Valley. “Fill your time with distractions and then you won’t feel the pain of your loss or potential loss,” it says. But that is a lie. When we don’t do our work to make meaning out of life events, or we do our work but it’s inauthentic or incomplete, we risk profoundly altering who we are. When we don’t do our work we drink, we work too much, we engage in other risky behaviors, we have health problems, we snap at those closest to us, we kill ourselves. When we don’t go into the Valley, whether out of fear or for other reasons, we change. And most of the time, this change is not for the better.
So the next time your best friend brings up that miscarriage she had or your brother brings up how hard it is around the holidays without his wife, recognize the grief in those events and realize that grief will never be completely gone. Sure, they will hopefully process it and make meaning in their own way, but that twinge will always be there. It is our role as support people, and my role as a chaplain, to walk alongside them as they look into the deep, black abyss that is the Valley, and say, “I’m right here, not going anywhere. You take as long as you need; baby step by baby step.” One day, they will look up and see the sun shining, the bottom of the Valley behind them, and they will notice the two sets of footprints on the path behind. You will be there with their hand in your hand, and give it a gentle squeeze as if to say, “You did the work and you survived.”
Making that first step into the Valley is terrifying because we don’t know if we are going to see the other side, or if we do, how long that process will take. Some people never finish that work and are consumed in the depths of the Valley. Others take a few steps down and realize how hard the work is and retreat to their life of distractions and periodic meltdowns because, we falsely think, that is so much easier emotionally. Some enter into it and make it through to the other side where they find a new way to do life. I wish I could provide answers for people or a “grief checklist” that folks can use in order to make meaning out of their life event. It would be so much easier to do it that way and that is what our society tells us: “Make this as easy as possible.” Except that a grief process isn’t supposed to be easy. We are supposed to struggle, to lament, to get angry, to mourn the loss, to cry. We grieve because it’s the hardest thing we will do as people. It’s supposed to be a difficult process because we have suffered a profound loss which we struggle to understand. True grief is hard.
The state of Florida did a study on the impact of participation in chaplain’s programs on discipline for those who are incarcerated. The news is AMAZING!! (DRs are Disciplinary Reports). For the complete report, go here.
Sunday, November 20th, is National Transgender Remembrance Day.
In my experience, when there is an LGBTQ youth in detention, there is conflict: Gay youth are picked on, lesbians are suspicious, transgender youth cannot sleep with their identified gender. It is hard for traditional detention centers, grounded in an age of ‘boy’ or ‘girl,’ to keep up with the rising tide of multiple gender orientation identities. But it is something to attend to.
The equity project has an report that they published in 2009. I am including their core recommendations below from page 137-138.
I would add to the core recommendations below, that attending to the spiritual needs of the LGBTQ youth is paramount. Often, God has been used as a weapon. Full healing and restoration cannot happen if they feel that God hates them.
The following core recommendations are designed to enhance the capacity of juvenile justice professionals to work effectively with LGBT youth. To help ensure the rights of LGBT youth and meet their rehabilitative needs in delinquency and status offense cases, the Equity Project recommends the following:
Juvenile justice professionals (including judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, probation officers, and detention staff) must treat—and ensure others treat—all LGBT youth with fairness, dignity, and respect, including prohibiting any attempts to ridicule or change a youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Juvenile justice professionals must promote the well-being of transgender youth by allowing them to express their gender identity through choice of clothing, name, hairstyle, and other means of expression and by ensuring that they have access to appropriate medical care if necessary.
Juvenile justice professionals must receive training and resources regarding the unique societal, familial, and developmental challenges confronting LGBT youth and the relevance of these issues to court proceedings. Trainings must be designed to address the specific professional responsibilities of the audience (i.e., judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, probation officers, and detention staff).
Juvenile justice professionals must develop individualized, developmentally appropriate responses to the behavior of each LGBT youth, tailored to address the specific circumstances of his or her life.
All agencies and offices involved in the juvenile justice system (including courts, as well as prosecutor, defender, and probation offices, and detention facilities) must develop, adopt, and enforce policies that explicitly prohibit discrimination and mistreatment of youth on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity at all stages of the juvenile justice process, from initial arrest through case closure.
Juvenile courts must commit to using the least restrictive alternative necessary when intervening in the lives of youth and their families and avoid unnecessary detention and incarceration.
Juvenile courts must collaborate with other system partners and decision makers to develop and maintain a continuum of programs, services, and placements competent to serve LGBT youth, ranging from prevention programs to alternatives to detention to nonsecure and secure out-of-home placements and facilities. Programs should be available to address the conflict that some families face over the sexual orientation and gender identity of their LGBT child.
Juvenile justice professionals and related stakeholders must ensure adequate development, oversight and monitoring of programs, services, and placements competent to serve LGBT youth.
Juvenile courts must ensure the timely appointment of qualified and well-resourced counsel to provide zealous defense advocacy at all stages of delinquency proceedings.
Juvenile justice professionals must take responsibility for protecting the civil rights, and ensuring the physical and emotional well-being and safety, of LGBT youth placed in out-of-home placements.
Juvenile justice professionals must adhere to all confidentiality and privacy protections afforded LGBT youth. These protections must prohibit disclosure of information about a youth’s sexual orientation and gender identity to third parties, including the youth’s parent or guardian, without first obtaining the youth’s consent.