Youth incarcerated in juvenile detention centers are undergoing significant stress related to arrest, the uncertainties of their legal issues, and the potential loss of freedom, trust, respect of family and community, and future dreams. Effective ministry to these individuals should be based on the expected duration of the sentence (30 days vs. 1 year) but should also be focused more on the transition out of incarceration and reintegration back into the community. The better this transition is the greater the likelihood that the youth will not recidivate back into illegal behaviors.
SAMHSA Substance Abuse Treatment for Individuals in the Criminal Justice System identifies the following key factors to consider when helping an individual coming out of incarceration:
- Substance use history
- Motivation for change
- Treatment history
- Criminal thinking tendencies
- Current offenses
- Prior charges/convictions
- Age of first offense
- Type of offenses (violent vs. non-violent, sexual, etc.)
- Number of offenses
- Prior successful completion of probation/parole
- History of personality disorders (unlikely if under 18 years of age)
- Infectious disease (TB, hepatitis, STD, HIV, etc.)
- General health
- Acute conditions
- Suicidality/History of suicidal behavior
- Any diagnosis of MH
- Prior treatment/counseling and outcomes
- Current/Past medication
- Education level
- Reading level/Literacy
- Language/Cultural barriers
- Disabilities (physical, intellectual, learning, etc.)
- Family issues
- History of abuse (victim and/or perpetrator)
- Other service providers (counselor, probation officer, social worker, etc.)
This is a long list of issues that require attention. Remember, you are not alone in service this youth. Partner with others that are investing as well. Establish open communication between you and the others so you do not unintentionally work against each other. Have the other providers come do trainings for you and your staff so that you can better understand the complexities involved in serving juvenile offenders. The more you can work together with the community the greater the odds are that your youth will overcome the obstacles they are facing.
What are ways you have partnered with individuals attempting to reintegrate after returning from incarceration?
Are there special considerations for juvenile offenders vs. young adults?
How have you been successful in engaging resistant families?
Schemas — What They Are
A schema is an extremely stable, enduring negative pattern that develops during childhood or adolescence and is elaborated throughout an individual’s life. We view the world through our schemas. When one does not learn a healthy theology and understanding of who they are in Christ, these schemas take root where theology should live.
Schemas are important beliefs and feelings about oneself and the environment which the individual accepts without question. They are self-perpetuating, and are very resistant to change. For instance, children who develop a schema that they are incompetent rarely challenge this belief, even as adults. The schema usually does not go away without therapy. Overwhelming success in people’s lives is often still not enough to change the schema. The schema fights for its own survival, and, usually, quite successfully.
It’s also important to mention the importance of needs in schema formation and perpetuation. Schemas are formed when needs are not met during childhood and then the schema prevents similar needs from being fulfilled in adulthood. For instance a child whose need for secure attachments is not fulfilled by his parents may go for many years in later life without secure relationships while seeking maladaptive ways (often sinful but functional) to satisfy his or her longings.
Even though schemas persist once they are formed, they are not always in our awareness. Usually they operate in subtle ways, out of our awareness. However, when a schema erupts or is triggered by events, our thoughts and feelings are dominated by these schemas. It is at these moments that people tend to experience extreme negative emotions and have dysfunctional thoughts.
There are eighteen specific schemas. Most individuals have at least two or three of these schemas, and often more. A brief description of each of these schemas is provided below.
This schema refers to the belief that one’s primary emotional needs will never be met by others. These needs can be described in three categories: Nurturance—needs for affection, closeness and love; Empathy—needs to be listened to and understood; Protection—needs for advice, guidance and direction. Generally parents are cold or removed and don’t adequately care for the child in ways that would adequately meet the above needs.
This schema refers to the expectation that one will soon lose anyone with whom an emotional attachment is formed. The person believes that, one way or another, close relationships will end eminently. As children, these individuals may have experienced the divorce or death of parents. This schema can also arise when parents have been inconsistent in attending to the child’s needs; for instance, there may have been frequent occasions on which the child was left alone or unattended to for extended periods.
This schema refers to the expectation that others will intentionally take advantage in some way. People with this schema expect others to hurt, cheat, or put them down. They often think in terms of attacking first or getting revenge afterwards. In childhood, these individuals were often abused or treated unfairly by parents, siblings, or peers.
This schema refers to the belief that one is isolated from the world, different from other people, and/or not part of any community. This belief is usually caused by early experiences in which children see that either they, or their families, are different from other people.
This schema refers to the belief that one is internally flawed, and that, if others get close, they will realize this and withdraw from the relationship. This feeling of being flawed and inadequate often leads to a strong sense of shame. Generally parents were very critical of their children and made them feel as if they were not worthy of being loved.
This schema refers to the belief that one is incapable of performing as well as one’s peers in areas such as career, school or sports. These individuals may feel stupid, inept or untalented. People with this schema often do not try to achieve because they believe that they will fail. This schema may develop if children are put down and treated as if they are a failure in school and other spheres of accomplishment. Usually the parents did not give enough support, discipline, and encouragement for the child to persist and succeed in areas of achievement, such as schoolwork or sport.
This schema refers to the belief that one is not capable of handling day-to-day responsibilities competently and independently. People with this schema often rely on others excessively for help in areas such as decision-making and initiating new tasks. Generally, parents did not encourage these children to act independently and develop confidence in their ability to take care of themselves.
Vulnerability to Harm and Illness
This schema refers to the belief that one is always on the verge of experiencing a major catastrophe (financial, natural, medical, criminal, etc.). It may lead to taking excessive precautions to protect oneself. Usually there was an extremely fearful parent who passed on the idea that the world is a dangerous place.
This schema refers to a pattern in which you experience too much emotional involvement with others – usually parents or romantic partners. It may also include the sense that one has too little individual identity or inner direction, causing a feeling of emptiness or of floundering. This schema is often brought on by parents who are so controlling, abusive, or so overprotective that the child is discouraged from developing a separate sense of self.
This schema refers to the belief that one must submit to the control of others in order to avoid negative consequences. Often these individuals fear that, unless they submit, others will get angry or reject them. Individuals who subjugate ignore their own desires and feelings. In childhood there was generally a very controlling parent.
This schema refers to the excessive sacrifice of one’s own needs in order to help others. When these individuals pay attention to their own needs, they often feel guilty. To avoid this guilt, they put others’ needs ahead of their own. Often individuals who self-sacrifice gain a feeling of increased self-esteem or a sense of meaning from helping others. In childhood the person may have been made to feel overly responsible for the well being of one or both parents.
This schema refers to the belief that you must suppress spontaneous emotions and impulses, especially anger, because any expression of feelings would harm others or lead to loss of self-esteem, embarrassment, retaliation or abandonment. You may lack spontaneity, or be viewed as uptight. This schema is often brought on by parents who discourage the expression of feelings.
This schema refers to the belief that whatever you do is not good enough, that you must always strive harder. The motivation for this belief is the desire to meet extremely high internal demands for competence, usually to avoid internal criticism. People with this schema show impairments in important life areas, such as health, pleasure or self-esteem. Usually these individuals’ parents were never satisfied and gave their children love that was conditional on outstanding achievement.
This schema refers to the belief that you should be able to do, say, or have whatever you want immediately regardless of whether that hurts others or seems reasonable to them. You are not interested in what other people need, nor are you aware of the long-term costs to you of alienating others. Parents who overindulge their children and who do not set limits about what is socially appropriate may foster the development of this schema. Alternatively, some children develop this schema to compensate for feelings of emotional deprivation or defectiveness.
This schema refers to the inability to tolerate any frustration in reaching one’s goals, as well as an inability to restrain expression of one’s impulses or feelings. When lack of self-control is extreme, criminal or addictive behavior rule your life. Parents who did not model self-control, or who did not adequately discipline their children, may predispose them to have this schema as adults.
This schema refers to the placing of too much emphasis on gaining the approval and recognition of others at the expense of one’s genuine needs and sense of self. It can also include excessive emphasis on status and appearance as a means of gaining recognition and approval. individuals with this schema are generally extremely sensitive to rejections by others and try hard to fit in. Usually they did not have their needs for unconditional love and acceptance met by their parents in their early years.
This schema refers to a pervasive pattern of focusing on the negative aspects of life while minimizing the positive aspects. Individuals with this schema are unable to enjoy things that are going well in their lives because they are so concerned with negative details or potential future problems. They worry about possible failures no matter how well things are going for them. Usually these individuals had a parent who worried excessively.
This schema refers to the belief that people deserve to be harshly punished for making mistakes. People with this schema are critical and unforgiving of both themselves and others. They tend to be angry about imperfect behaviors much of the time. In childhood these individuals usually had at least one parent who put too much emphasis on performance and had a punitive style of controlling behavior.
There are two primary schema operations: Schema healing and schema perpetuation. All thoughts, behaviors and feelings may be seen as being part of one of these operations. Either they perpetuate the schema or they heal the schema. We will explore both in part 2.
What is trauma and what does it mean to survive and heal from it? This is a poignant question on the heels of another attack on our country. The bombings at the Boston Marathon will naturally impact those in attendance differently than those who watched the events through a screen, but we will all be impacted regardless.
Have you ever been just sailing along smoothly in life and then BAM? Trauma strikes and nothing in your life will ever be the same again…
Maybe it’s because of a talk you had with a student, maybe it was the phone call where you found out that one of your students was killed in a car accident, or worse, they died at their own hands. Maybe it is a natural disaster that wrecks your community like a flood or tornado. Maybe it is a senseless school shooting like Newtown. And in that moment, nothing makes any sense. What do you do? Do you run away? Do you decide you are not cut out for this kind of work? Do you just withdraw or run to something that will anesthetize you from the hurt? What do you do?
Before trauma occurs you and your students operate from a belief that the world is orderly, that most people are kind, and that there is meaning to life. You believe that God is in control of all things but prior to trauma that is a shallow belief because it has never been tested. Post-trauma you are awakened to the awareness that you are not in control of anything and that you are vulnerable. You begin to realize that you are no longer safe and secure. Often, what gave you meaning before the event leave in a smoke cloud and we are left grasping at straws. Life no longer feels fair or just.
In the PSTD Workbook (2002) Mary Beth Williams and Soili Poijula inform us that many factors impact how an individual reacts to a traumatic event. Age, time preparing for the event, amount of damage done to you, (physically, emotionally, and spiritually), the amount of damage witnessed, and the degree of responsibility one feels for causing or not preventing the event (pg. 5).
The authors go on to say that there are three major types of factors that influence the development of PTSD. They are pre-event factors, event factors, and post-event factors.
- Previous exposure to severe adverse life events or trauma or childhood victimization, including neglect, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, or witnessing abuse
- Hx. Of clinical depression
- Poor coping skills
- Unstable family system
- Early substance abuse
- Family hx. of anti-social / current anti-social behavior
- Poor social support
- Multiple early losses of people, places, or things
- Gender (women 2x as likely to develop PTSD)
- Geographic nearness to event
- Level of exposure to event
- The event’s meaning to the individual
- Age: being young at the time of the event
- Being victim of multiple traumatic events
- Duration of trauma
- The existence of an ongoing threat that the trauma will continue (e.g., war)
- Participation in an atrocity, as a perpetrator or witness
- The absence of good social support
- Not being able to do something about what happened
- Indulging in self-pity while neglecting oneself
- Being passive rather than active – letting things happen to you (disempowered)
- Inability to find meaning in the suffering (Viktor Frankl – Logotherapy)
The PSTD Workbook by Williams and Poiluja, New Harbor Publications, Inc. 2002
As I read through these lists I can’t help but think that our ministries could play a central role of addressing many of the present factors surrounding traumatic events.
Spend some time this week talking with your staff or volunteers and discuss the factors on these lists and ask, “How can we be incarnational in the midst of trauma and tragedy?” I’d love to hear your ideas on this…
In Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck wrestles through a moral dilemma about demonstrating true friendship to a stigmatized person of his day – a man who bore a dual stigma of being black in a racist society and slavery in an exploitative one. To help his friend Jim escape meant violating not only human law but also divine law as it had been interpreted in that society, because to help a slave escape meant stealing property from his or her owner. Not only did Huck worry about God and about going to hell for obeying the impulse of his heart, but he also worried about what people would think of him. “It would get all around that Huck Finn helped a negro to et his freedom; and if I was eer to see anybody from that town again I’d be ready to get down and lick his boots for shame.” But such worries did not prevent him from doing what he knew to be right.
Jesus knew all about stigma. He never hesitated to move among the oppressed people of his day, including the most despised social outcasts. He went about his ministry without worrying about what others would say about his character, his motives, his righteousness. “If this man were a prophet,” said some, “he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). He also ignored the insinuations and seemed unconcerned about his reputation among the townspeople. “Look,” said those who criticized Jesus and passed judgment on him, “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Luke 7:34).
Jesus was not afraid of being called names, nor was he afraid to be identified with the most hated, discredited people in the society in which he lived. He cared about them. He felt their pain, knew their hunger and thirst, recognized their humanity, saw the image of God in them. In short, he loved them. And he longed to minister to them – even if others misunderstood and vilified him. Name calling was as common then as it is now, and to label someone with a scornful term identified with a stigmatized group has always been considered an extreme insult. Today, terms of insult are frequently associated with homosexuality – “queer,” “fag,” “dyke,” “lezbo.”
During the time that Jesus walked the earth, the stigmatized people were the Samaritans, and the term of insult was “You Samaritan!” Samaritans were half-breed leftovers from previous generations when God’s people were enslaved, raped, and plundered by the Assyrians. Not only were they bi-racial and therefore not clean, they were reminders of the horrible atrocities committed against the Israelites during that time. That’s what is so powerful about the story of the Good Samaritan. The hero in the story was one of the most despised people in all of the New Testament yet Jesus refused to dissociate himself from this disdained group of people that he loved.
Have our youth ministries become sanctified segregation machines? Why is it that most of the churches in the suburbs are all white? Why don’t diverse inner-city churches adopt-a-block in affluent neighborhoods? Why do LGBTQ students still avoid the church like the plague?
We should long for the day when people call us “faggots,” and “cutters,” and accuse us of having AIDS because of the company we keep and we aren’t compelled to defend ourselves because we don’t care what man has to say about us. I think if Jesus came back today you might find him hanging out at a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting or with kids who were at a skittles party the night before or out on the corner with all the smokers. You would probably be able to smell cigarette smoke on his robe so he’d be accused of being a smoker too…
We encourage students to explore the role of honesty and confession as a discipline in the Way of Jesus. Issues relevant to this topic include: What is the cost of dishonesty? When is it safe to confess? What if the other person doesn’t accept honesty?
“I haven’t told my parents that I use pot. I don’t want them to be mad at me.”
“My abuse can’t be as bad as I’ve made it out to be; I must be making things up.”
“If I tell my family about the abuse, I’ll be the black sheep.”
“I don’t want to date that person, but I can’t say ‘no’.”
Honesty, with God, oneself and others, is a central principle of the Way of Jesus. Secrecy, lies, and avoidance are hallmarks of sin as well as abuse. In cases of abuse, young people may have been punished or ignored if they spoke out regarding their abuse, and thus learned to suppress their truths. When the consequence of telling the truth is greater than that of telling lies it makes sense that one would choose the latter of the two.
Students are therefore encouraged to recognize the cost of dishonesty: It alienates them from others and perpetuates the idea that something about them is unacceptable and must be hidden. (Think Adam and Eve) In contrast honesty is liberating.
The term “honesty” conveys an ideal that goes beyond just expressing one’s views. It is meant to convey integrity, the notion of “owning” one’s experiences, and a spiritual sense of acceptance.
Honesty is a complicated subject, however, as real risks are on the line for the abused student. Honesty needs to be selective. It may not be safe, for example, for a young person to confront their abuser.
One particularly difficult situation is when a student asks the youth worker to hide information from parents or other adults, such as substance abuse. In such scenarios, it is strongly recommended that the youth worker not keep secrets that would further place the student at risk of hurting themselves or others. It usually helps to suggest to the student to try talking honestly with the parents, setting a date by which it would happen (such as a few days). After the specified date, the youth worker then talks with the parents directly to confirm that the information has been shared. Although there may be a risk of the student dropping out of our program, the greater risk is keeping substance abuse secrets on behalf of the student. Not only would this reinforce lying about substance abuse, but it puts the youth worker in the position of being an “enabler” and may at times put other people in jeopardy (i.e., driving while under the influence).
In encouraging students to be honest, a key issue is helping them cope with others’ negative reactions. It helps to view honesty as a positive goal in and of itself, regardless of how the other person feels. This is the Way of Jesus. He routinely spoke truth for the sake of truth and not because He was concerned with how the others would react to it. There will be growth either way: If the person has a positive reaction, the relationship has increased in closeness; if the person has a negative reaction, the student has learned more about the other person and can proceed accordingly. Unfortunately, young people too often take a negative reaction to truth not as information about the other person, but as condemnation of themselves. Preparing for negative reactions is then very important because when we can see that often dishonesty is nothing more than a functional protective skill, developed to keep someone safe from threats, we can move from a place of compassion into the messiness of their world.
Because it can be so difficult for students to be honest, respecting their defenses and locating areas where they are able to make some disclosure is more helpful than trying to convince them reveal when they resist. Thus, if a student cannot be honest in a particular situation we should use this defensive posture as a thermostat for our relationship with that student. Resistance can sometimes, often time, be a gift. It lets us know there is still work to be done to develop a trusting relationship with a hurt and scared student.
If we are fortunate enough to gain their trust, we dare not do anything to lose it. It is a sacred thing when a person allows you entrance into their innermost hurt. We must tread carefully. Take off your shoes because you are walking on holy ground. It is here that we have the opportunity to witness the miracle of Jesus making someone whole again.