Ask A Trainer: WhyTry Corrections and Implementation in Justice System Settings

Introduction – Story from a Trainer

I was first introduced to the WhyTry program in 2002.  At that time I had been a Juvenile Probation Officer for 14 years.  When I saw the visual metaphors used and key concepts emphasized in WhyTry, I knew immediately that this was something I wanted to use and communicate with the kids and families I was working with.  Over the next 10 years, the “WhyTry approach” dramatically changed the way in which I communicated and worked with my clients.  I moved away from a very rigid, narrow-minded, and authoritative approach where I basically thought my job was just to make sure my clients knew who was the boss and who was running the show; to a much more non-confrontational, educational, and relationship-based approach. WhyTry Corrections made the last 10 years of my career as a probation officer much more enjoyable and effective in working with juveniles who had broken the law and required additional supervision and guidance in making better decisions in their life.

Us vs. Them

As much potential as there is for a “one-up” relationship within a school environment between a teacher and a student, the potential for this to occur between corrections professionals and inmates, probationers, or clients is probably 10 times greater!  There has to be a line of safety drawn in the sand with individuals who have proven a capacity to cross that line and commit crimes against society and other people.  That line, however, in my mind now, is a very delicate one and one that has to be navigated carefully and skillfully if there is any real hope of habilitating someone in the justice system.  Simply drawing a line and then enforcing it with a lock and key, a warrant for arrest, or a documented violation for me got really old after a while!

Tearing Off Labels

I will never forget the 17-year-old young man I was working within one of my WhyTry Corrections Classes.  We had gone through Tearing Off Labels the week before and had done an activity involving a can of tomato sauce that I had altered and filled with mini Snickers candy bars.  The young man arrived early this class to tell what had happened when he took his unopened can home with his “Real Me” labels taped to the surface of the can.  He informed me that he told his father all about the class and the activity and that he realized during the class how much he had done to earn and deserve the negative labels his father had given him over the years.  He apologized for his behaviors and for earning those labels.  He then went on to tell his father about his positive “Real Me” labels that were on the can now.  He said that when he opened the can in front of his father and shook out a handful of mini Snickers candy bars (his father’s favorite snack) tears came to his eyes.  They sat there and had the best conversation they had in years.  A dose of real healing had finally come to these two men, one young and one old while sharing Snickers candy bars together.

“The Flood Zone”

(A person knows they are in the flood zone when they are experiencing less opportunity and freedom, they are hurting themselves and others, their personal energy is dying, their self-respect is getting less and less, or they are taking the path of least resistance.)

I can’t think of a clearer picture of someone being in the flood zone that someone who is locked up in a correctional institution or has to deal with a probation or parole officer in their life.  When a person is under “supervision” of the legal system, it’s easy to think and feel like greater Freedom, Opportunity, and Self-respect are a million miles away!  It wasn’t until I came into contact with and started using WhyTry that these three essential concepts even across my mind as related to what I was doing at the time!  Through the years and the hundreds of clients I have worked with, I have never come across a single person who was not able to identify with the person pictured drowning and in need of help in the flood zone.

WhyTry Corrections is all about helping kids build resilience and develop the tools they need to have hope and be successful in this life. I have seen time and time again how the WhyTry program helps the kids that I worked with as a corrections officer. The more you can encourage the kids to change and see a better life for themselves, the more you will see these kids thrive.

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