To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner is you. — Lewis B. Smedes
Anger Management for incarcerated youth has been an extremely important aspect of Cloud and Fire’s work with at-risk youth. Launched in 2004 by our executive director Melody Rossi and co-founder Carole Walker, this program, previously known as "True Freedom," created a deeper awareness and urgency among staff reagrding the issues faced by youth in gangs and gang communities.
Now as an independent organization under the spiritual covering of Valley Vineyard Church, Love Works is headed up by Carole Walker and continues to touch the lives of hundreds of incarcerated youth a year. We at Cloud & Fire are overjoyed for the growth of this program, and continue to partner and recieve referals for our YouthBuild program.
Continue reading for more information about the necesity of anger management in Juvenille Detention Centers.
Los Angeles is the gang capitol of the world. The number of known gang members in the County is estimated to be 150,000, and the actual number is probably much higher. Though many people may think that gangs are simply groups of youth “hanging out” together and occasionally engaging in acts of vandalism and tagging, a deeper look at gangs reveals something entirely different.
Gangs in Los Angeles are much more than groups of youth with too much time on their hands. Gangs have developed into a new culture—a group that has its own values, language, art, music, clothing, and economic system. Gangs are often highly organized, and may band together with other gangs, such as those that are part of the Mexican Mafia. Other gangs, like the Bloods and Crips have many locations where their “franchises” operate. Some gangs, like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) are international, and are known for extreme violence. No matter if the gang is small or large, or which ethnicity is involved, all gangs have common codes of conduct which are understood and followed by all of their members.
Cycle Of Violence
A common call to arms among gang members is “an eye for an eye.” It is understood in gangs everywhere that when an act of violence is carried out by a rival group, revenge must follow. For a gang member, failure to “pay back” is seen as lack of courage and lack of dignity, and would result in something akin to “losing face.” Both the individual and the group must retaliate. Cruel and inhumane acts are considered to be justified under these circumstances.
The ramifications to the community for mandated retribution are obvious, for violence continually escalates under gang influence. In a system where a wrong requires an equal or greater pay-back, it is never possible to fully extinguish the flames of anger. But what happens to the individual who is caught in the cycle of gang violence? How does a system of retaliatory anger affect a person who participates?
Many Gang Members Are Also Victims
In our years of working with incarcerated youth, Cloud and Fire has found many young gang members who have committed crimes are also victims of crimes, as well. Because of the extreme violence to which they are exposed in their homes and communities at an early age, these gang members may also suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is extremely common for youth from gang communities to see friends or family members shot and killed in front of them. They typically do not receive any kind of aftercare or grief counseling, and especially in the case of males, may be told that “men don’t cry.” These traumatized young people desperately need help coping and working through the after-effects of violence. Instead, they connect gang members who provide both sympathy and protection. Though terribly flawed, the gang also provides a method for obtaining some sort of “justice.” Hence, the cycle of violence continues.
This is where Love Works comes in
Love Works provides classes and one-on-one mentoring for youth who are detained in Los Angeles County Probation Department facilities. Currently, classes take place at both Sylmar Juvenile Hall and Camp Mendenhall. For twelve weeks, youth attend weekly 90-minute classes which help uncover anger triggers and develop new skills that allow them to communicate more effectively when angry. In addition to these classes, each participant also receives several one-on-one mentoring sessions during the course. During these sessions, mentors further reinforce concepts presented in class, and help participants process and resolve their personal pain.
This individualized mentoring component of the program is so powerful that many youth request mentoring even after they graduate. The work in these sessions is extremely deep, and often results in youth being able to forgive those who have wronged them or seek forgiveness from those they have wronged. Some youth can even begin to see that the code of valor that has been instilled in them by the gangs in some measure contributes to their pain and to the continuation of violence and hatred in their communities.
Our History With Incarcerated Youth
From 2004-2007, Cloud and Fire worked with the Latino Coalition and the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives on a project to help youthful offenders get their lives back on track. During this project, Cloud and Fire staff began to see the intense need for anger management among incarcerated youth.
Read More: How The Brain Works: The Mentoring Miracle