The Serbu Book Club meets every Wednesday of every academic term. On the Monday prior, the ‘outside’ students gather to plan the upcoming session’s activities. Upon one such occasion, an interesting question was posed. “What do you-” (you being plural, to the group), “want the Serbu students to get out of this?” This post attempts to answer that question, for me, being singular, as an individual. And I shall do so in a roundabout manner, so be patient and think critically, so that you may leave a comment when you have reached the end. Something that has been said many times in Inside-Out classes, and is often repeated by professors and endorsers of the program, is that the ‘inside’ students feel like they aren’t in prison when they are in class. Though I have never been subjected to the methodologies of the American justice system, I feel confident that that sensation of escapism is liberating.
The youth in the Serbu Book Club are not in prison. This should be made clear: Phoenix, the program we work with inside Serbu, is a treatment program that the youth have chosen to enroll in. Still, despite the art on the corridor walls, despite the uplifting posters and the supportive quotes, the doors are still thick and locked, they still buzz, and they still slam shut behind you. When you walk in, the sounds are terrifying, when you walk out, every slam is a reminder that you are being let out – that you are being intimidated by a systemized and secure separation of ‘inside’ and ‘out.’
A central difference between the Serbu facility and prison is that the Serbu students are kids, even more than I am a kid. This is simple math. I, and all the students from the U of O, are older than the ‘inside’ students.
I grew up in Texas, and before I left there, I felt trapped at home and detained in school (I still, to a large extent, feel that way). This was even with loving, open-handed, intelligent, funny, and lax parents. I felt trapped by society (first world problems, yeah?). Even though the sensations were ridiculous, the emotions were still present and they influenced many of my (sometimes illegal) actions with a heavy hand. And if I faced such angst in my bourgeois, upper middle class-oppressed neighborhood, attending a nationally-ranked-top-10 high school, what must these students, these kids in the Serbu program, feel? I don’t mean to project, but Damn.
If I’m correct in assuming that the Serbu youth experience some sense of forced confinement, and that impression manifests itself in the students actions and psyche, then the Serbu program has got its work cut out for it. On one hand, it is trying to support, educate, and rehabilitate these kids, providing them with ‘shelter from the storm’ of their outside lives. On the other hand, it is holding them in, in various degrees against the student’s will, as it is above their will (at least on some days, we can imagine). ‘Inside’ students do not have the option to leave, only the option of how to act inside the program, and, preferably, inside the parameters of what the program teaches. Let me clarify: I am not critiquing the Serbu facility or programs. I am attempting to illuminate the tensions of the situation, and trying (hopefully humorously) to imagine some realistic understanding of what ‘inside’ students experience emotionally – without knowing or projecting what has conspired to bring the students to this place.
So what is the purpose of all this? Only to recognize that the ‘inside’ students and the Serbu program are in a very complex relationship. How does the Book Club factor in? A previous author on this blog was very eloquent when he stated, “[a]s alumni, we go to Serbu to share our company with the youth and to enjoy theirs. We are not interested in posing as instructors, psychologists, or social workers.” As we operate within the walls of the Serbu campus, the book club is a part of the detention facility and rehabilitation programs. But we do not volunteer (I suppose I should not speak for everyone – I do not volunteer) for those ends.
We (I) volunteer because book club is an opportunity to enjoy meaningful, benevolent, and dedicated human interaction. It is my hope that our weekly meetings, while focused and driven towards a goal, can act as a pressure valve, allowing some of the stresses of the ‘inside’ student’s situations to be relieved. I want the book club to help facilitate a quality sense of life for everyone involved. This is done, in large part, by having fun. Which I have been. And I’ve been learning (tons), though admittedly that is secondary (and inevitable). So I want the Serbu students, the ‘kids,’ to feel the joy I’ve been feeling. More specifically, I want them to understand that the past is not a rock, the future not a hard place, and that in the moments when we are not hungry, or cold, or wanting, and are amongst friends, it is possible to be free.
- Jordan Former 'Outside' Student UofO