Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Writing with Teens in Juvenile Detention

My name is Mindy Hardwick and my young adult, contemporary romance, WEAVING MAGIC is coming from MuseItUp in April 2012! I began my career as a seventh grade teacher, but soon discovered that my heart wasn’t in full-time teaching. It was in writing. But, when I left teaching, I realized how much I missed being around teens and tweens. A good friend was working with teens in juvenile detention in Seattle through a program called Pongo Publishing. She encouraged me to seek out the detention center closest to me.

When I contacted my local juvenile detention center, the program director was thrilled to have a volunteer writer, and I began running a weekly poetry workshop on Monday afternoons.  Each week, after I cleared security, I was ushered through a series of locked doors and into a unit of twelve boys or girls wearing orange. The teens asked me, “Who are you? And why do you want to volunteer with us?” The same questions I would ask myself each week. Why did I want to volunteer with this group of kids? I could have easily gone to a local Boys and Girls Club or YMCA and facilitated an after-school writing workshop. And who was I? I was no longer a teacher, and yet, I didn’t really think I was a writer either. I was just beginning to publish articles and short stories, but I had yet to land that elusive book contract.

But, I kept showing up at the detention center. At times, it seemed like the only thing grounding me as I branched out on my own. Each week, I met with the teens, and asked them to write poetry about their life experiences. We read poetry written by other teens, and the “kids in orange” wrote from the heart about loss, addictions, and of course, love! And something began to happen to me in those poetry workshops. I began to find my voice as a writer.

I would listen to the kid’s poetry, and then go back home to write.  And, slowly, a story started to form. It was a story based partially on my own experiences as a teen, and a story based partially on the kid’s experiences that I was privileged to hear each week.  That story was WEAVING MAGIC.

The years passed, and I kept writing and running the poetry workshop.  We began to get grants, and I added young adult literature and memoirs to our workshop. I moved the workshop to be a part of the school day, and we published four books of the youth’s poetry, and then, a blog. (www.denneypoetry.com)

And, at the same time, my own writing began to take off.  Soon, I had a list of publishing credits from articles to short stories and I was teaching a lot of workshops.  In April 2011, MuseItUp sent that long awaited for acceptance e-mail. WEAVING MAGIC had been accepted. I finally had that elusive book contract.

There is a scene in the book where main character Christopher sits in a juvenile detention poetry workshop and has an epiphany moment about his Father who is also in jail.  As I wrote that scene, I felt like I’d had my own epiphany moment and could finally answer the questions the kids asked of me in those early workshops.

Who am I? I am a writer.

Why do I volunteer with kids in juvenile detention? They show me how to write honestly and courageously.   

I hope you will visit the teen’s poems at www.denneypoetry.com
And stop by to visit my website at www.mindyhardwick.com or blog: www.mindyhardwick.wordpress.com


Roseanne Dowell said...

what a wonderful experience. Thank you for sharing and congratulations on your contract. I wish you much success.

Shellie said...

Mindy, this is awesome! Thanks for sharing and for encouraging the kids!

Mike Hays said...

What an awesome thing you are doing for those kids, Mindy. It seems you have found the place where you were/are needed the most. Keep up the great work and the great writing.

Mindy Hardwick said...

Thanks all! I love running the workshop because the kids have ways to express themselves, and I get story ideas! win/win!

Pat McDermott said...

A worthy endeavor, Mindy, and as you say, you get great story ideas. Sounds ideal. Congrats on the contract for Weaving Magic!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your writing, and your special connection with the young people in juvenile hall.
I would love to talk to you about your work in the hall. I created a program, in 1996, called the beat within.
www.thebeatwithin.org. you can find my info on the website. i'd love to chat with you about your work. i will now look at your website.


Mindy Hardwick said...

Thanks David. I just subscribed to the Beat Within's Blog and look forward to reading and sharing the writing and art with teens in detention at Denney.

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