When I heard the words, “It’s never too late to write your own ending.” I knew I needed and wanted to know more about how this phrase came to be, especially from an incarcerated youth in juvenile hall.
Before I can tell that story, I need to share another, and that is the story of Sister Janet Harris. In 1989, Sr. Janet took the role of chaplain at the LA Central Juvenile Hall. A facility that houses anywhere between 1,700 and 600 incarcerated youths. In 1996, a LA Times reporter named Duane Noriyuki came to interview Sr. Janet for a story he was doing. Sr. Janet asked the writer if he could lead some creative writing classes with these kids and that was the beginning of InsideOUTWriters.
Those classes turned into weekly writing classes and in 1999 and IOW officially became a non-profit. Their mission is to reducing the rate recidivism (translation: the tendency for a convicted criminal to re-offend) by providing services, such as creative writing, as a catalyst for personal transformation. Sr. Janet, Duane Noriyuki and a handful of volunteer writers wanted to create an environment of trust and camaraderie where students creativity could flourish regardless of their harsh surroundings.
Today, there are over 42 weekly classes, twenty-seven volunteer teachers, teaching 400 boys and girls the power of writing at over four juvenile detention facilities and the LA County Men’s Central Jail. There is now an alumni program that helps InsideOUT Writer‘s alumni transition as they are released from prison. Since 1996, more than 11, 000 incarcerated youth have participated in over 15, 000 classes.
An InsideOUTWriters alum, Mario Rocha was quoted saying about Sr. Janet, “She is one of the greatest examples of human loyalty and spiritual dedication. For her, religion isn’t something you read, its something you experience by giving your self to the struggle of other people.”
And to end where we began, it is never too late to write your own ending.
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