Who we serve, who are these juvenile offenders?
We call the juveniles we work with "Stars". First and foremost these are teenagers mostly in the 15 to 17 year old range. If you have ever tried to reason with a 16 or 17 year old who thinks they are all grown up and knows the score, you have a good idea of what you will be dealing with. You will find the same stubbornness, mistrust, tendency to avoid taking responsibility, and bizarre misinformation about how the world works in these kids that you see in your own. You will find a wide range of behaviors, everything from truancy and running away from home, to drugs and murder. You may not find out what the Stars you are working with have done. In Epiphany we don’t ask and we don’t care. Sometimes kids volunteer the information and sometimes like many teenagers they lie. It does not matter to Epiphany volunteers what the Star has done.
By and large, these are what most of society views as disposable kids, especially the ones without good lawyers, the ones most people don’t want to think about. Many come from awful home situations. Many of our stars have never had a chance, they were born into families so dysfunctional that they are almost unrecognizable to us as families. It is common for us to work with kids who have never had a visitor in the time they have been in. It’s not unusual for us to work with kids who have never had a birthday party, we give them one. Most humans have an in built tendency to lash out when they are hurt. That’s what got some of our kids where they are today. Most of us learn in our families that it’s counter-productive to lash out, so we suppress the impulse. For many of these kids, lashing out meant and still means survival.
Many teenagers are skeptical of Christianity. Most have been told about it, but few have actually seen it in ways which are believable to them. You might sum up our philosophy on this as "talk is cheap." It takes the love of Christ being manifest in the Epiphany volunteers to make Christianity comprehensible to these young people. Seeing is believing, and experiencing Christ's love face to face is an epiphany for many incarcerated juveniles.
One of the most amazing things you will find in these kids is hope. They have an amazing ability to hold onto hope for better things. After two years without a visit to hope that their mom will come to see them soon. Hope to get a GED and find a job when they get out. Hope to have a family and a safe place to live. For those of us who work with these kids, these seem like relatively modest hopes, yet for them, in many cases it represents hope for things which have always been far beyond their experience in life.
Not all of the stars are from deprived backgrounds, as one South Carolina volunteer discovered when wearing an Epiphany T-shirt at a political rally in another state. One of the aides of the Governor asked her if she worked with Epiphany and when she replied yes I do, the Governor’s aide said: “Thank you for giving my son back to me.” There is no easily defined “type” that you encounter in Epiphany.
We work with juvenile offenders and we call them "Stars"