CHINO – Saturday, a professional artist presented before a live audience the formal “read-through” of an original play written by fifteen juvenile offenders from the Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility.
The effort was made possible through an alliance with the Southern California-based Unusual Suspects Theatre Company — a non-profit organization of professional artists who work to bring theatre arts to youth, ages 12-21, from the foster care and juvenile justice systems. The juvenile offenders, or ‘wards’ as they are called within the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), spent seven weeks with the theatre company, learning the basics of theatre, script writing and role-playing.
“The myriad of talent of youth in the DJJ is often unrecognized until volunteer groups such as ‘Unusual Suspects’ makes an investment in time, effort and in this case – training,” said Bernard Warner, Chief Deputy Secretary of Juvenile Justice, “This program has been an innovative way for our youth to creatively enhance their communication skills and work cooperatively. This has given them confidence and the feeling of self-respect.”
Warner acknowledged the role of staff that provides treatment and training to wards at the Stark facility, specifically highlighting the efforts of Jennifer Hetherton, Supervising Case Worker and Joe Hartigan, Program Administrator, who reached out to the theatre group to assist with several wards that would benefit from the project.
Through The Unusual Suspects Theatre program, The Heman G. Stark wards spent time working on developing and writing a play with peers of different races and gang affiliations, and with adults in a supportive role.
“The wards at Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility were unlike any we had worked with in the past, primarily because of their ages and also because of their willingness to participate,” said Melissa Denton, Program Manager of The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company. ”They took everything we gave them and ran with it, shattering their own perceptions of each other along the way.”
The wards learned theatre and writing techniques, and wrote, produced and will perform their own work for parents, friends, peers, and staff. This experience exposed the wards to creativity, new thoughts about adults and their peers, and pride of accomplishment.
“As we continue to work on the rehabilitative process of the young adult offenders, this is an example of the growth that they experience with community support,” Heman G. Stark Superintendent Ramon Martinez said. “We thank The Unusual Suspects Theatre project in devoting their efforts to assisting these young men at a critical time in their life-skills development.”