Madison Bara + Harsh Godhani
The Juvenile Justice Reform Club invites students interested in engaging in conversation with detained youths to join their club in the Middlesex County Juvenile Detention Center on Fridays from 9:30 – 11 a.m.
Alexandra Fields, faculty advisor of the Juvenile Justice Reform Club, said one of the activities the club is focusing on this semester is a book club that engages in the reading and discussion of a novel at the detention center with detained youths.
“Club members, a social worker at the detention center and I are working together to develop engaging discussion questions and activities based upon themes from the novel, and club members will facilitate these activities with residents of the detention center during our club meetings,” said Fields.
Fields said Julia Howard, vice president of the club, created a lot of the lesson planning for the book they would read.
Howard said, “The book we will be reading is called ‘The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream’ by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, Rameck Hunt, and Liza Frazier. It’s a fairly quick read, about 270 pages.”
Howard said, “If you wish to join and are unable to purchase the book, we will buy a copy for you, but the book itself can be bought for $8-$12 on Amazon.”
Fields said anyone who is interested in joining will have to complete a background check which will take roughly seven to 14 days.
She said only the first 15 students who can pass the background check would be allowed to participate and engage in the activity due to restrictions enforced by the detention center.
Howard said they will go three times to the detention center in the month of February. The remainder of the semester will be two meetings each month.
She also said there will be two sessions after the school semester ends.
Fields said there will be opportunities to participate during the summer semester as well.
Fields said the goal is for the students to read the book between the first two weeks of February.
Howard said it is highly recommended to read and watch the module links on their Canvas page before making a visit to the juvenile facility.
She said the first video is a TedTalk by Shaka Senghor called ‘Why your worst deeds don’t define you’.
“It’s only a 12 minute long video but it has a powerful message, which really gives you a glimpse on how inmates are not defined by the crime they commit,” said Howard.
She also said there is another video which they were assigned to watch in Fields’ class called “They Call Us Monsters – A Sensitive Look at Teenage Offenders”.
Howard said, “It’s an hour and 20-minute documentary that helps humanize the juveniles who are struggling to be part of society when really it’s the justice system and poor representation that leaves behind.”
Fields said the idea for the club came from her teaching service-learning English courses at the Middlesex County Juvenile Detention Center.
“I have been teaching service-learning courses for over two years now, and both my college students and the residents at the detention center always express how much they enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with one another,” said Fields.
She said because she will be out on sabbatical this semester and not teaching any classes, she created the club to make sure that the residents at the detention center and Middlesex County College students continued to have the opportunity to work together.
“I also noticed that many of our college students and the residents at the detention center [were sad] when the course ended and wanted a means for continuing to work together,” said Fields.
Fields said two of her previous students, Courtney Maino and Julia Howard, who are the president and vice-president of the club were students in her English class who wanted to continue being involved after the class was over. With the help of Fields, Maino and Howard decided to start the club.
Fields said this semester she hopes that club members and detention center residents engage in thoughtful dialogue about the novel, which will help them become more reflective about themselves, larger systemic inequities, and ways for engaging in both self-advocacy and larger policy-level advocacy efforts.
“I also hope this experience helps to [refine] club members’ understanding of who detained youths are while also helping detention center residents believe in their own ability to engage in professional, academic experiences with their peers outside of the juvenile justice system,” said Fields.
She said one of the things she is looking to continue in the future is to expand the program and find more support.
“I’m meeting State representatives and juvenile justice commission – who run the entire juvenile justice educational program throughout the state – to look at ways they can support the type of work that we’re doing here,” said Fields.
For more information, contact Alexandra Fields at firstname.lastname@example.org.