Walking inside a Juvenile Detention Center is not an easy process.
There is the security clearance pre-screen, a sign-in and badge, the surrender of your driver’s license…and then a whole lot of locked doors, not-so-nice smells, and not-so-friendly-looking guards, probation officers, and surveillance staff.
On the inside it’s no different. No details—not your name, personal background, and definitely no physical contact. And in my role as a visiting teacher: no staples, no paperclips and no sharpened pencils.
It is not a glamorous or friendly environment. The majority of the detainees have not experienced glamorous or friendly lives. And let’s make no mistake, largely these kids do not expect they will exit back into a glamorous or friendly atmosphere. The turnover and return rate of this population is rapid. However, despite all the uncertainty and opposition of this environment, there is nowhere else I’d rather work.
This fall morning was particularly cool. Nah—it was especially dope. (You could say I’ve picked up a phrase or two in my time here.) After several weeks of a series on playwrighting, professional actors were brought in to perform the scripts written by each student. For some it would be their first live theater exposure ever. This Monday was a classroom of high-school aged young men. A group of boys with nicknames like Razor and Bulldog, a community who has to act tough to survive both on the street and while being detained; individuals who know they better not show weakness or they risk ridicule, harm, or worse.
But today, a student handed in a script that revealed an unexpected shade of vulnerable.
It was a simple, sweet love story. Two characters: a guy and a girl, who like each other.
The actors began their performance. The room was filled with sniggers and audience-heckling, until something shifted. Suddenly heads were nodding, scoffs transformed into cheers, and by play’s end, there was a rousing round of applause.
Why this story, we asked. Why choose to write about this?
The playwright shrugged, “I dunno,” he replied, “It’s just what was in my head, like real-life.”
His peers all joined in agreeing, “I know! Yeah!”
Out of this anesthetized atmosphere, from his rules-rigid and isolated holding-pen, in a terrain inundated with unknowns, this playwright took a bold risk. Bravely, he crafted something authentic and real, and in his truth he was met with unanimous approval.
The class dubbed his story Thug Romance.
Thug Romance. Love in a hostile environment. Love against the odds. Love in the most unlikely of conditions. Love despite what anyone might say, think, do…because love always prevails.
See, what I’ve been thinking is, a lot has been going on in our world. Tumult, crisis, tragic loss…recent events in the public eye have turned our attention and hearts to fear and acute recognition of surrounding hostility and potential threats. And yet…
And yet, love always wins. Love is all that ever mattered anyways. Love is all that ever exists. Love is my, your, our divine birthright.
“The soul of the soul of the Universe is Love.”
Check it. The soul of the soul. Legit, right? (To borrow some more verbiage from the residents of Classroom X.)
Listen closely to the heartbeat of the Universe, follow the divine pulse of humanity, and it will take you straight to love. A love that is undeniable, unassailable and yeah—worth getting bullied for.
So, let’s take a page from my new friends and when things start to feel a little rough-and-tumble and go street on those doubts, Thug Romance-style. Get a little gangster on our hesitations. Take those fears into a headlock and hug them so hard, love them so bravely that every roadblock, restriction, and hold-up we’ve placed around our hearts is emancipated into the light. Let’s liberate our limitations (they were all made-up anyways) and bust free of all unjust incarcerations. And in that freedom, from that recognition, return to Love.
Didn’t someone once say love is all we need?
Author: Maelyn Gandola
Apprentice Editor: Taija Jackson / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s own