Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

Truth and Lies with Teens in Detention

on February 6, 2012

A couple weeks ago, I presented a young adult book and writing workshop to the teens at Denney Juvenile Justice Center. The topic was Truth and Lies. The first day we did a brainstorming exercise. I asked the kids to write down all the lies they had told on one side of the paper. We talked about how lies included everything from lying to cover an addiction to those small little white lies. The kids wrote fast and furious.

After fifteen minutes, I asked them to flip the paper over and write Truths they had told. Suddenly, the room got very quiet.

“Truth? What kind of truth?”

“Truth,” I said. “How many days you have clean and sober,” or “The truths about yourself such as, you are creative. “

The kids wrote.  Two lines. Three lines. Finally, one boy looked up and said, “You know, truths are really short. Lies are big and long, but truth, truth is really, really short.”

I agreed and we talked about how truths look on our papers. We talked about how the sentences were short. The words simple, and the list of truths very small compared to the lies. We talked about how lies are long and lengthy. How lies need a lot of explanation and words. And how, we all lie about so many things that, sometimes, we forget we are even lying.

After we finished with the brainstorming, I asked the kids to choose from our selection of young adult novels and memoirs that we used for the workshop. The young adult books were selected because each had an unreliable narrator who is telling the story. The narrator in each story is trying to come to terms with the truth and that sets up the character arc. My teen romance, WEAVING MAGIC (April 27, 2012) also uses this structure for the character arc of Shantel. In my story, Shantel can’t face her Mother’s suicide and creates elaborate romantic fantasies–fantasies she tries to play out with Christopher that come to a disastrous ending.

These are the books in the Juvenile Detention Truth and Lies Workshop:

After, Amy Efaw: The story of a teen who leaves her baby in a dumpster and spends time in a juvenile detention center in Tacoma, WA. I loved this book for many reasons. First, it is one of the few books I have read with a character in detention where the detention center is not portrayed as some horrific place. I know that some juvenile detention centers are terrible, but Denney Juvenile Justice Center is not one of those and neither is the Tacoma Juvenile Justice Center. This story is based on a true story and the author spent quite a bit of time with the girls in detention and researching the story.

Monster, Walter Dean Myers—This is always a popular book with the teens in detention, and a lot of them have read it, and usually want to reread it. It’s the story of a young man who has been accused of a crime and is waiting his trial. While he is waiting, he is writing a script about his life. The story is told in script format.
Inexcusable, Chris Lynch–This book is the story of a teen boy who rapes his best girlfriend. It is told from the point of view of the teen boy as he tries to deny what he has done. This book was often discussed in my Vermont College MFA work. But, the detention center kids were not as interested in this book as I had hoped. The boys did not choose it at all, and the girls brought it back the next day and said they hated the character and didn’t want to read it.

Invisible, Pete Hautman– This is the story of a teen who refuses to remember what happened one night. He’s teased at school, and building a large model railway in his basement. It’s a good book to discuss how the things we don’t want to look at or remember influence our lives.

A Million Little Pieces, James Frey–When I introduced this book, I talked about the controversy over whether it was a true story or not and should it have been called fiction instead of memoir. The boys and I had a great talk about how addicts don’t always know the truth and how for them, the truth IS the lie.

Terror Father, I Remember You, Sue Silverman— This is a memoir and the story of Sue Silverman’s sexual abuse at the hands of her Father. I heard Sue speak at a conference on Orcas Island and she is a dynamite teacher, author, and speaker. The young lady who chose this book had a powerful realization about her own experiences with a step-father during the poetry workshop. She said to me, “I guess it’s common when a Mom doesn’t take your side.” And then wrote a powerful poem about her experience.

Love Sick, Sue Silverman–The continuation of Sue’s story when she is in college and her experience being addicted to men.

We’re waiting on release forms for the teen’s poetry, and then I’ll be posting some of the poems on the Denney Poetry Blog.

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3 responses to “Truth and Lies with Teens in Detention

  1. Jen says:

    Sounds like some amazing workshops!

  2. It’s good stuff! I really like adding the YA and memoirs into the workshop. The kids do a lot of reading in their cells!

  3. S. Lampe says:

    Truth and lies–interesting exercise for all of us. Sounds like an article topic. S Lampe

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