Going into Hickey School for the first time, I had no idea what to expect. I had never been inside a correctional facility before, so I was nervous and full of questions—where should I park? What would security be like? What would the inside actually look like? Would I feel safe? Would the guards be kind? What about the boys? Still, the opportunity to get hands on experience working with youth inside facilities was one of the main draws to interning with unCUFFED this summer, and I was excited to begin that part of my work.
After checking our keys at the gatehouse and going through the metal detectors, I, along with the other unCUFFED volunteers Kim and Rob, walked to the other side of the grounds to where our class was being held in the Mandela ward. On our way, we prayed for the upcoming class, asking God to use our time to His benefit and to reach as many of the boys as possible. Our prayers were answered when we had a large class of 10 students, including many new faces, all of whom were polite, attentive, curious, and receptive.
I was struck by how respectful the guys were of us and of each other. In my past experiences with youth, it was difficult to get even a few guys to keep quiet during a lesson, but this large group stayed focused on the teachings and respectfully listened and shared throughout the discussion. I was particularly touched by the students who offered to translate the lesson for one of their friends, who spoke only Spanish. I was also shocked by how thoughtful, insightful, and open all of the youth were, especially since this was my first day there—even though I was a virtual stranger, they still shared honest and mature reflections about their past mistakes and how they relate to their faith today. At the end of the day, many shook my hand and kindly wished me a good day; when I went back the next day to fill out paperwork, I received the same recognition and kindness from a student I happened to see. In the face of my fear and uncertainty, the young men greeted me with respect and kindness.