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'Writers in Residence' gives voice to Ohio's juvenile detention youth, helping spark transformation and cut down recidivism

writers in residence
writers in residence
Posted at 8:33 AM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 18:29:38-05

MEDINA, Ohio — Words are powerful and they’ve been a way of expression for one teen currently serving time at the Medina County Juvenile Detention Center.

“I was feeling like pretty stressed most of the time,” he said. “When I was like putting my thoughts down on the paper it kind of like even helped me relax.”

We can’t share his name, but he tells News 5 words are currently his only way out.

“I’ve been here almost 80 days,” he said. “Being in here is just like it’s really stressful especially with like covid and everything going on. It’s just a lot worse.”

He told passing the time hasn’t been easy saying, “there’s not like a whole lot I can do.” Despite the various offers services and skill-building programs offered, administrators at the Medina County Juvenile Detention Center admit they’re not always effective long-term.

“Out of all the skills that we teach the kids while they’re here they don’t necessarily have the tools when they leave to use them. They don’t always leave with canvases and paint or drums for music therapy to be able to incorporate those in their lives, but they always have some ability to be writing,” said Jaclyn Balliet, Youth Fulfillment Coordinator at the Medina County Juvenile Detention Center.

Using writing as a tool to engage the facility’s youth was an idea Balliet found through Writers in Residence and its founder, Zachary Thomas.

“I was so excited at how excited the kids were because as soon as they were done with the first workshop they were like when are we doing this again like I want to talk to them,” said Balliet.

Thomas started the 12-week program as a student at John Carroll University as a way of helping stop the cycle of recidivism.

"That to me hits kind of close based on where I’m from, where I grew up and just statistically the likelihood of me being in their shoes,” Thomas said.

He and his team of college volunteers use creative writing to spark transformation within nine Ohio juvenile detention centers. They report 52,000 youth are confined in the juvenile justice system, adult justice system and the immigration system in the United States. In addition, the team reports more than 2,300 of those youth tested positive for COVID-19 who feel forgotten, alone and scared.

“Through all the reflection that we go through in our workshops, through all the expression that we have them do they arrive to a point where they realize where they want to go and what they want to achieve.”

The workshop is what helped the Medina teen we spoke to. As he waits for release, he says he’s now using his words to heal.

“When I’m out of here this workshop is going to be like one of the things that helps me a lot."