“Urban Deconstruction,” an exhibit sponsored by Wells Fargo’s ArtsVibe Teen Program and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE), paints a dual portrait of Atlanta as both a modern marvel and a city in decay. The photographs on display at the Alliance Theater are a vision of the Southeastern metropolis as both towering buildings and dilapidated structures, a place where spiraling skyscrapers stand side-by-side with crumbling schoolhouses and abandoned, graffiti-covered interiors. The artwork, much like the city itself, is a demonstration of sharp contrasts and contradictions.
The artists behind the exhibit, however, aren’t your average photojournalists. Devin Black, 18, of Sandy Springs, Ga. and Dani Planer, 15, of Atlanta, are two photographers who have been given a spotlight that would make most postgraduate photographers envious.
“It’s definitely really cool,” Black said about having his photographs on display at one of the Southeast’s most prestigious galleries. “Having it up on the wall is a lot better than just showing people your photos on a laptop screen.”
Planer also considers herself both honored and privileged to have her photographs on display. “I wasn’t expecting anything like this to come out of it,” she said.
Black and Planer’s project began when the two took a journalism class together at Atlanta’s The Galloway School, and became aware of their mutual photography interests. “We both like living in the city and exploring it,” Black said.
Planer said what would eventually become “Urban Deconstruction” began when, one day, they simply went outdoors and started taking photographs of their local landscape.
“When we walked outside the city,” Planer said, “we saw what it truly consisted of, which was deconstructed buildings and just an abandoned Atlanta, basically.”
She recalls entering an abandoned building off Dekalb Avenue and being surprised by the amount of overgrowth encircling it. “One of the buildings was just so overgrown with trees and vines that it was almost like it wasn’t even in the city anymore,” she said. The site of her favorite photograph in the exhibit, she stated, more closely resembled forest scenery than a metropolitan area.
Black believes the photographs give people a view of the city that some individuals living in Atlanta may never encounter. “Looking back,” he said, “they kind of give people a window on Atlanta.”
Black said his favorite photograph in the exhibition harked back to a peculiar childhood interest.
“I know one photo I kind of cherish,” he said. “It’s the photo of all the traffic safety lights, just scattered on a big pile on the floor.”
“As a kid,” he continued, “for some reason, I was obsessed with traffic cones and roadwork equipment.”
Black, who has applied to schools such as New York University, Northeastern University and the University of California, Los Angeles, said he would like explore some “creative ventures” for his next project. He said he wishes to continue photographing Atlanta’s urban landscapes, particularly finding ways to incorporate the city’s inhabitants into his artwork. “It adds a lot more to the story of a picture,” he said.
Planer said she wants patrons of the exhibit to note the duality of their metropolitan stomping grounds.
“We hope people realize that the beautiful city that they live in also consists of these abandoned buildings that they see every day, but don’t even notice,” she said.
After high school, Planer said she would like to minor in photography while pursuing a major in psychology, stating that she would like to one day do another photographic project about families. “Photographs of different families, from different cultures,” she said. “With, I guess, 10 items that represent what their kind of culture is.”
Leonard Witt, executive director of the Center for Sustainable Journalism, praised Black and Planer’s photography, stating that he felt “honored” to publish their work on JJIE prior to the Woodruff Arts Center exhibit.
“We feel honored that they chose us first and more importantly that they might lead the way for other youth produced special projects,” Witt said. “After all, our mission is to provide insight into issues affecting youth and who better to provide that insight than youth themselves.”
“Urban Deconstruction” will be on display at the Joseph R. Bankoff Gallery at the Woodruff Arts Center until Jan 21.
Photo by John Flemming.
Back in the fall of 2011, kids bullied Alycin Mabry so severely that her mom decided to home school the Atlanta 14-year-old. At the time, her mom Annise Mabry saw homeschooling as the shining answer the family needed.
But today, Mabry says, it’s clear that their struggle was far from over.
“Maybe two or three months into the online school, Ali started to become more and more isolated,” Mabry said. “I just couldn’t get her out of the room. It just started spiraling. … Finally, my breaking point was when she stopped brushing her teeth, taking showers and I couldn’t even see her face for her hair.”
Mabry, suffering from an autoimmune disease and also struggling to provide for her second child, 8-year-old Niles who has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, felt there was no way for her and her family to overcome their issues.
Little did they know, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) was considering their story for its new series, “Trouble Next Door,” now airing on Monday nights. The series focuses on helping families in crisis by implementing the very specific community based method of getting their neighbors involved.
“We really wanted to address bullying and [the Mabry’s] story really stood out,” said the series’ executive producer, Domini Hofmann. “We wanted to be able to help these families with this method of working with neighbors. And it was clear that Alicyn needed to just get out of her room. She needed interaction with other people. And, Annise was overwhelmed.”
When the show began shooting last May, it drove the Mabry family to put everything on the table and let their next-door neighbors fully into their lives and their struggles. And, although the process of being completely transparent was difficult, Mabry feels that it saved her family.
As seen during the episode, by opening up and sharing their story with their neighborhood, things began to change in a positive manner. Alicyn even gained an educational opportunity when she landed a scholarship at the East Minster private school, in Conyers, Ga.
“Before the show, I had a very tiny community, which didn’t include my neighbors. I would wave at them, but I didn’t know who they were,” Mabry explained. Now, months after the cameras left, Mabry still talks to her neighbor’s daily and they continue to be an immediate source of help when she needs.
Alicyn continues to deal with the trauma she suffered when she was bullied at her previous school. She was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder last October.
“I remember sitting there thinking, ‘so the child that I sent to that school in 2009, I’ll never see that little girl again,’” Mabry said. “I had to grieve for that, but I also had to celebrate that now we know what’s wrong. And now we have not only a neighborhood community supporting us, but also a school community.”
With this series, OWN wants to illustrate how getting to know the next-door neighbors can create positive change.
“We want people to look at themselves and their relationship with their neighbors, and see how things could be different,” Hofmann said.
And although her family continues to have ups and downs, Mabry feels that creating a relationship with her community was the answer she desperately needed.
“[Community based methods] work.” said Mabry. “… The thing about having neighborhood support like this on this level is that I’m in their neighborhood. So whatever happens to me happens to them. There’s more of a vested interest to take care of the person next door because this is somebody that you’re going to see.”
The Mabry family will be featured on OWN’s new docu-series “Trouble Next Door” airing Monday, January 21 at 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific.
Photo courtesy of OWN.
A nearly three-year legal battle has come to an end for a young undocumented immigrant whose 2010 arrest sparked a national debate over U.S. immigration policy, particularly the right of undocumented immigrants to attend public universities.
Thursday, a Cobb County, Georgia, judge dismissed a false-swearing charge against the now 23-year-old Jessica Colotl stemming from her arrest on March 29, 2010. A Kennesaw State University (KSU) police officer stopped Colotl, a KSU student, for a traffic infraction on campus. She was arrested the following day after failing to produce for authorities a valid driver’s license.
Colotl’s case has been widely publicized nationally, drawing renewed attention to the use of 287(g) programs, which allow local police agencies to enforce immigration law and detain suspected undocumented immigrants.
She remained in an immigration detention center for 37 days before she was granted a deportation deferment to finish her college coursework.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Colotl, who graduated from KSU in 2011, is working as a legal assistant.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The nonprofit MacArthur Foundation has spent more than $100 million since 2004 on developing blueprints for reform within the juvenile justice systems of 16 states. Earlier this week, its reform initiative, Models for Change, brought together nearly 400 judges, advocates, probation officers and other juvenile justice professionals for two days of workshops in Washington, D.C.
It was the seventh such yearly gathering for Models for Change partners, and it came at a time when the foundation is beginning to wind down funding for new research into juvenile justice reforms and enter a new phase focused on defining, sustaining and disseminating to the rest of the country the reform models its state partners and networks have already developed.
As the foundation moves toward solidifying the legacy of its blueprint initiative, its conference this year emphasized the power of storytelling and collaboration as a way to convey the impact of justice reforms to other states and to the public.
The storytelling theme ran through several events over the two-day event. Public relations professionals held a plenary session to discuss how juvenile justice organizations could craft an effective public message.
of photographs that illustrated the stark conditions within juvenile facilities around the country. Journalists from the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange and CBS This Morning held a hands-on workshop to explain how justice professionals could engage the media without compromising the privacy of minors. And NPR reporter Cheryl Corley gave a keynote address explaining how she came to report a radio series on juvenile offenders in Chicago last year.
Another conference theme emerged around fostering collaboration: training attendees to recognize the multiple ways individuals, agencies and local governments can work together to improve the treatment of children in the justice system. Workshops addressed ways to involve families of juvenile offenders more closely with their child’s treatment; encourage state agencies to seek common goals with watchdog organizations; get court and child welfare agencies to share data more effectively; and build relationships between public defender offices and local law schools.
Plenary speakers encouraged cash-strapped public entities to partner with private organizations and foundations as a way to grow their resources and further their reach in replicating and sustaining reform models throughout the country.
Collaborative efforts by private foundations like MacArthur are motivating the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to develop its own partnerships with private philanthropic entities, said Marlene Beckman, the counsel to the assistant attorney general at the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice, at a conference panel.
Federal officials recently met with a group of philanthropic organizations to solicit guidance on how to work with the private sector, Beckman said. The Obama administration was very interested in such partnerships, she said.
Among the feedback the federal juvenile justice office received from philanthropic groups at that meeting was that federal agencies needed to collaborate more closely with each other – between the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education, Health and Human Services, for example – and present a united leadership front when seeking partners from the private sector, Beckman said.
The group also advised the federal office of juvenile justice that it needed to communicate more effectively with private partners so that everyone understands their priorities and goals, and shares a vision for desired outcomes, Beckman said.
“Up until now, we have been more the follower than the leader,” Beckman said of the federal office’s role in developing public-private partnerships in pursuit of justice reforms.
Editor's note: The MacArthur Foundation supports the work of JJIE.
Photos courtesy of Models for Change.
The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange is at the 2012 annual Models for Change conference, a conference geared toward supporting a network of policy makers, government and court officials, advocates, educators, community leaders and families cooperating together in an effort to ensure that "kids who make mistakes are held accountable and treated fairly throughout the juvenile justice process."
JJIE had the opportunity to catch up with several different officials from varying organizations about their goals and thoughts on the subject of juvenile justice. Continue checking in for ongoing updates.[Friday 12/7/12] [4:19 p.m.]
Jessica Sandoval, Director of National Field Operations at the Campaign for Youth Justice, talks about how her organization got its start and where its going in the future.
Rhonda McKitten, Director of Training and Senior Trial Attorney of the Juvenile Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, shares a story about a teen who was positively impacted by one of her programs.
Nancy Gannon Hornberger, Executive Director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, shares an anecdote about a young person whose circumstances led to her being harshly charged in criminal court.
Executive Director of the John Howard Association, John Maki, talks about the best ways to dispel myths about what it's like inside prison, in order to affect change.
Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the State of New York, describes his belief in raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18.
Jason Ziedenberg, Research and Policy Consultant, talks large scale juvenile justice reform.
Mike Griffiths, Executive director of the Texas Department of Juvenile Justice, shares improvements that have been made in his area.
Bonnie Glenn, Director of the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration Community Programs and Parole Programs for Washington State, shares the joys of her job and talks about young people who have traversed the system who now give back in an effort to help juvenile offenders currently dealing with the system.
Julia Biehl, Director of Children and Family Justice Center at NorthWestern Law School, shares three things she wants continued work on in her field.
Ben Roe, Ogle County State Court Attorney, shares
an anecdote about a juvenile offender who turned his life around.
Victim Services Director Gretchen Casey expresses her desire for juvenile justice workers to continue to work to get better.
Retired Illinois Judge George Timberlake talks about the
strides his state has made to improve how juvenile offenders are handled.
Early this week, I was having Thanksgiving dinner with my fiancée. She is on her way home for the holiday, and I am staying in Georgia to work on my final paper for school and take care of a few other tasks, so we shared the meal a few days early. Before we began to eat, we took a few moments to talk about what we have been grateful for this past year. It was a pretty long list for both of us, and touched on our relationships, our work, good health, and many other things.
It seems that gratitude has been coming up a lot in my life lately, in discussions with friends and online. People on Facebook have been posting each day about what they are appreciating in their lives. I have been enjoying reading their reflections. It is easy to overlook the many blessings that we have, and to focus on what is missing or what could be just a little better. Intentionally bringing our awareness to what is going well in our lives is a great remedy for a lot of our imagined problems.
My own life is remarkably different than it was just a few years ago. Thanksgiving of 2009 saw me still in prison, unsure of whether the parole board would give me another chance at life on the outside. For many years I had lived with the assurance that I would never be released, and then in 2006 a tiny bit of hope appeared to me, literally. It was the Refuge of Hope, a Christian home (not a half-way house they will adamantly insist) for men being released from prison. I went there in December of 2009, got my feet under me, and then in 2011 enrolled in the Masters in Conflict Management Program at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta.
Today I work at the Georgia Conflict Center in Athens, Ga. I share communications skills and conflict management strategies with a diverse group of clients, including school kids and volunteers from impoverished neighborhoods in the city. We are working to develop a restorative justice program for juveniles that will meet the needs of crime victims as well as the kids who harm them. Wednesday night I facilitated a three-hour mediation involving a dispute between couples and friends.
I am grateful to be able to do this work, and especially to be able to write for JJIE and Youth Today. When I was in prison, very few people were concerned with my opinion, but on these pages what I have to offer is valued by many readers precisely because of my experiences with the criminal justice system.
I am not an indifferent observer of facts. My views, shared here for more than a year, are born of my own life. I was a deeply disturbed and harmful person as a teenager. I was a prisoner, and I learned not only to survive, but to grow and change. Now I am a man doing the work I am called to do, hopefully making a small impact on this world, and, I pray, on the lives of the young people I am coming into contact with. From someone who lived violently, I have become an advocate for peace.
It is strange to reflect that 25 years ago the state contemplated killing me as punishment for my crime. Later, when I had a life sentence, the state contemplated letting me die in prison. Neither of those things happened, because a few people decided to take a chance on me.
I don’t need a scientific survey or brain scan to know that young people can change, because I have lived that change. I advocate for young people now because I have an unshakeable faith that they too can change and become productive members of this world on the outside of prison. I believe in mercy because it was extended to me when I most needed it. For that I am thankful, and I hope and pray to see the same mercy extended to as many children as possible. Happy Thanksgiving.
Aaron, 18 years old and dressed in an oversized, light grey sweatshirt, sits blankly across from Intake Officer Clayton in an Indiana detention center while she asks him questions, his face betraying little emotion and his voice barely above a whisper.
“I can’t hear you,” Clayton says, and Aaron repeats his answer, just loud enough for her to hear.
As Clayton tells Aaron of an impending charge, shock flickers across his otherwise still face – this was the first he’d heard anything about it.
Scenes such as this are common in the work of Calamari Productions. In an effort to continue bringing innovative, accurate insights on juvenile justice, The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has formed a partnership with this award-winning production. Dubbed The Juvenile Justice Documentary Project, the partnership showcases documentary clips that give first-person accounts from teens and employees of the system on JJIE’s sister site, Bokeh.
Calamari, an independent digital media and television production company, is unique for its sole focus on juvenile justice and child welfare programming. With shows that have been featured on several major networks including MSNBC, A&E, Dateline NBC and MTV, Calamari goes beyond providing inside access to juvenile detention centers and court hearings and succeeds in showing the human side of the juvenile justice system.
“When you’re making films or projects about youth and especially youth who are at a crossroads in their life or in a state different place, it’s easy to get their stories wrong. So, there’s a heightened responsibility for filmmakers in this area,” said fellow documentarian Bernardo Ruiz of Quiet Pictures.
Founded in the spare bedroom of President and Executive Producer Karen Grau in 1995, Grau felt the push to focus on these issues when, for an unrelated matter, she sat in on an abuse and neglect hearing.
“And without any intent on altering her life course, she was so affected by what she saw in that courtroom and she just felt people had to know what goes on…she felt very strongly that the public needed to know,” said Chip Warren, Vice President of Production and New Media Development at Calamari.
Warren, who began working with Calamari on a part-time basis in 2005 and fully made the transition in 2008, also never intended to commit his life to this work. With extensive production and development experience, it was also Warren’s time spent around kids in crisis that lead him to commit to this cause.
“The really powerful experience is walking into a detention center or prison for the first time --- those kids are scary,” said Warren. “Going from that to talking to them about their past and opening up to them and them opening up to me -- that human connection, and feeling like you could make a real connection if you just treat them like normal,” said Warren.
As a teen, Warren also spent some time in a juvenile detention center, which he feels gave him a marginally better chance at being prepared to enter into this field of work.
“Coming from a well-to-do middle- to upper-class background, spending a weekend in juvie really impacted me,” said Warren. “It better equipment me to step outside my comfort zone and embrace that human connection in these environments.”
And, showcasing that human connection is just one of the things that has helped Calamari grow and bring these stories to life. In just over a decade, the company has flourished from a small bedroom office to headquarters in Indianapolis, Ind. with satellite offices in New York City and Austin, Texas.
Grau’s commitment to staying true to the topic as well as her hands-on, holds-no-barred attitude pushed her to petition the Indiana Supreme Court for camera access in the courts, a request to venues that – by law – are close to the media. Grau, along with Calamari Productions, made history by becoming the first director/producer and production company to have the state law waived and gain unrestricted access to Supreme Court hearings. And although others have been granted temporary access, Calamari’s remain the only cameras allowed inside several juvenile and child welfare courts and juvenile prisons with unrestricted access.
This access couple with Calamari’s commitment to educating the public on the inner workings of the juvenile justice and child welfare system has resulted in numerous award-winning network television series and documentary films.
Through growth and innovation, Calamari has managed to stick to its main goal: Sharing the stories of children, teens and officials who deal with the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.
“We want to de-stigmatize these families and courts, because they don’t get their story told,” said Warren. “And to help people realize what brings kids into trouble in the first place. And, that there’s a reason to care,” Warren explains. “And it’s not about being lenient. We’re showing that they are challenging cases. [There is] more of an opportunity to rehabilitate a 15-year-old than a 25-year-old.”
JJIE’s Bokeh will begin with an exclusive look at one teen’s process in the juvenile justice system. In a three-part series entitled “Aaron’s Story,” this young man shares his story on how he landed in the system, and what’s in store for his future. For the full feature, follow this link: The Juvenile Justice Documentary Project
The Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University will begin publishing Youth Today, the nationally distributed newspaper that is read online and in print by thousands of professionals in the youth services field.
“Having Youth Today housed at Kennesaw State University is a perfect fit,” said Ken Harmon, KSU provost. “We have undergraduate and advanced degree programs in compatible areas, including journalism, social work, criminology, conflict management, educational leadership and other health and human sciences, all of which can provide best practice training and research to advance the Youth Today mission.”
Leonard Witt, executive director of the Center for Sustainable Journalism, said the addition of Youth Today to the center’s publishing portfolio is an excellent extension of the work it does.
“We now publish the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, JJIE.org, the only entity to cover juvenile justice every day with professional journalists, so this is a natural addition to the work we do,” Witt said. “We will be able to get Youth Today back to its full potential, while expanding the JJIE.org reach at the same time.”
Financial challenges almost led to the demise of the subscription-based newspaper that covers a wide range of issues including juvenile justice, foster care, mentoring, substance abuse, sexual behavior, after school programs, mentoring, youth employment, child welfare, college and careers, gangs, violence prevention, adolescent health, teen pregnancy and parenting.
Youth Today was founded in 1984 and features in-depth articles on issues and events of major importance to professionals who work with America’s youth. Winner of several journalism awards, Youth Today also provides insightful commentary that readers rely on to improve their organizations’ operations and functions.
"The board has been working hard to deal with the organization's financial challenges and to ensure the survival of Youth Today,” said Brant Houston, board chair of the American Youth Work Center, which is Youth Today’s umbrella organization. “We are pleased that Leonard Witt and Kennesaw State have agreed to produce Youth Today and we are confident that under their stewardship the publication will be a success.”
John Fleming, JJIE.org editor, who now will provide editorial leadership for both publications, says, “Our children are our country’s most treasured resource. The people who serve them must have a trusted source of high quality information, which has been the hallmark of Youth Today. Now that legacy will go forward into the future with an added dose of investigative reporting.”
# # #
The Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University has one central mission: to ensure that high quality, ethically sound journalism continues to have a vibrant place in our democracy. The Center produces research and nurtures innovative ideas, incubates new projects and launches applications all in a financially sustainable atmosphere, while forming partnerships with entrepreneurial-minded individuals, media companies and academic institutions. In addition to publishing its centerpiece project, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, JJIE.org, it produces conferences and training both online and face to face. Its founding was made possible in part by a generous gift from the Harnisch Foundation, under the supervision of Ruth Ann Harnisch.
Kennesaw State University is the third-largest university in Georgia, offering 80 graduate and undergraduate degrees, including doctorates in education, business and nursing, and a new Ph.D. in international conflict management. A member of the 35-unit University System of Georgia, Kennesaw State is a comprehensive, residential institution with a growing population of 24,100 students from more than 130 countries.
This holiday season, before you are reach for the eggnog, after you rip open the presents, when you’ve finished gearing up for visits from the family and friends, take a few minutes to look over some of the best work JJIE has generated this year.
Starting tomorrow and continuing throughout the week we are posting compelling pieces that ran in 2011. These stories are rich with details about some of the most important issues dealing with youth today, from homelessness, to drug abuse, to sexuality, to juvenile crime.
They are a sampling of our best work; which means they are not only well written, they get to the heart of what we do here at the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. They, in short, are stories of young people and the challenges, heartbreaks and joys they face every day.
We strive to bring you good journalism on meaningful topics. We’ve done that in the past and we’ll keep pushing it in the future. And that begins next week, when you’ll read some frank and honest New Year’s resolutions from a group of teens in drug court. We all hope their resolutions are obvious. But nothing in the lives of our young people is obvious.
So it is a mistake to think that an accurate portrayal of juveniles or the juvenile justice system across the country can be accomplished by shallow stories that take a glimpse of an incident here or a problem there. The true picture of youth in our nation today will only come with a deeper engagement with them and, the people in their lives and the organizations and entities that define and better their being.
In the coming year, then, we’ll bring you data-driven stories on the effectiveness of certain detention policies, analysis of the school-to-prison-pipeline, a comprehensive look at one state’s juvenile court system, why some groups of kids are more prone to commit certain crimes as well as dozens of feature and news stories.
We can’t cover every story of every young person in this nation. But we’ll do our best to give you the most complete picture of juvenile justice as we can.