to share your voice in the world
lesson from lockup
had a life-changing opportunity to witness the power of publicly
revealing your core truth.
For 10 weeks I facilitated a coaching-through-art
program for incarcerated teens. Combining self-exploration, mask
making and personal story, they slowly gained the courage and
confidence to express their hopes, fears and personal challenges.
When the masks were finished, each student had a choice. They
could keep their writing and art private or share their process
during a special event with the entire inmate population of 180
The journey of one 15 year old will stay with me forever.
Throughout the workshops I watched him move from relinquishing
his tough fuck-you exterior to exposing his vulnerable child. The
evening before the assembly, we had dress rehearsal. He asked to
go first and declared that he would sing the poem he had written.
"Alright," I said with uncertainty, "can I hear
As he began, one of the girls in the group blurted out, "If
you sing it no one will understand the words!"
Knowing how important this was to him, I told him that if he wanted
people to understand the words, he might say the poem first.
The next day he introduced his story with barely more than a whisper.
"I've never had the courage to really show my real self before,"
he said, "so today I'm going to sing a song about my mask and
my life. But first I'll read the words."
As he read his poem the room was silent. Then he began to sing
with a tender, uncertain, raw voice.
The boys started to snicker. He kept singing. They hid their faces
in their T-shirts. The girls started to laugh. He kept singing.
I sat backstage forcing back the urge to scream at the kids. He
kept singing. When he finished the room went still. Then
a full house of applause.
When I took the mike from him, he hugged me and smiled in a deep
As I turned to his peers, they were leaning forward, waiting. Instead
of jeers, he was met with respect. By continuing to sing he let
them hear, let them feel, in ways they hadn't before. Laughter had
been their defense against their own feelings.
Every day I think about him and the impact he's had not
just on the room, but on me and those with whom I share this story.
After wondering about it for a couple weeks, I've begun to think
about why he was so successful. There are a few simple yet powerful
He was committed to reveal who he really was
He took baby steps that culminated in his public presentation
He had a simple, truth-filled message that he was compelled
He had a support system (the group and me)
He connected with unwavering sincerity and clarity
He prepared his audience for what he was going to share
He let people hear his message in their own way
He celebrated his connection
The young man's journey has inspired me in ways I can't fully express.
It was more than courage. His need to speak to the truth of his
life was greater than his fear of ridicule. He knew that he had
to sing. He had to share his message through his voice.
At the end of the day, some of the toughest boys came up to me
and said, "Thanks, that was really powerful."
What do you dare to say?