ICAN and Youth Justice Fund Self-Care Retreat

The ICAN and Youth Justice Fund Self-Care Convening brought more than a dozen members of the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN) together from August 8th-11th, 2019 at Camp Woodbury on Normal Lake in Dexter, Michigan. This opportunity would not have been possible without the partnership of the Youth Justice Fund who provided resources, contacts, and invaluable insight. 

This Convening brought the opportunity to rest and renew, while also developing and deepening personal and professional relationships, and learning strategies to better care for one’s own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. The structure and programming of the Convening illustrated that self-care is an important component of ICAN members’ full and healthy reintegration into society and their ability to be effective in their work.

This Self-Care Convening included workshops and discussions about recognizing and healing from trauma, which many formerly incarcerated youth experienced before and during their imprisonment. A licensed clinical social worker, staff members, and a spiritual and pastoral guide facilitated conversations about self-forgiveness. Participants also focused on creating personal wholeness and engaged ICAN members about retaining their sense of personal accountability while overcoming the shame they bear for the harm they have caused. Lastly, there were myriad opportunities for relaxing and taking the break that each ICAN member deserves and needs.

This opportunity helped each of us begin to seek out and access the professional counsel we need. I learned that self-forgiveness, apologizing, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable are integral to our work and growth. We want our ICAN members to learn how to forgive themselves because with self-forgiveness comes growth and healing. – Eddie Ellis, ICAN Coordinator

All ICAN members were incarcerated for serious crimes as children, and many spent several decades in prison, told that they deserved nothing more than to die there. Because of reforms during the last decade – including those led by the CFSY – many of these individuals are now home. They are demonstrating that they are all more than the worst thing they have ever done and that children have the capacity to grow and change. They are striving to make amends for the harm they have caused, seeking to change their communities and the world, and working to implement age-appropriate, trauma-informed accountability measures for other children – often without regard for their own needs.

To sum it up, when we all come together, it’s like you have a family you know is there, it’s a family bond that can’t be broken. I’m thankful that I’m able to travel and go because I learned to forgive myself for things that happened to me, learned how to overcome the shame I feel as someone who was incarcerated for many years. – Machelle Pearson, ICAN Member

A major priority was to convey to ICAN members the importance of developing healthy self-care habits that will benefit themselves, those with whom they work, and their entire communities. Finally, the Self-Care Convening highlighted the importance of rest, relaxation, and leisure. It was a platform to highlight the attendees’ self-care concerns, remind them that they deserve wholeness, and offer strategies and resources for continuing along this path. The CFSY hopes that supporting ICAN members’ personal, professional, and leadership development will provide clearer pathways to success in this new chapter of their lives. 

In the “reentry” world we too often focus on making sure individuals returning home from prison don’t re-offend. I’m grateful to CFSY and ICAN for creating a space for collective joy and healing that pushes all of us to reimagine what reentry can look like. The Self-Care Convening created a much-needed space for bonding and outdoor fun, while also offering different sessions dealing with conflict resolution, therapy, and self-forgiveness that pushed participants to dig deeper into their journey towards self-care and ultimately self-love. – Noam Keim, Social Worker


Other reflections from participants:

Abd’Allah Lateef:

Life is difficult beyond imagination for marginalized communities, but for formerly life-sentenced children, the trauma of long term incarceration is often exacerbated by the uncertain process of reintegration. 

Given the complexities of trying to live life after having been condemned to life, self-care is paramount. The significance of intentional detoxification from the traumatic experiences of prison and reintegration has never been more clear until after witnessing the impact of the CFSY’s ICAN Self-Care Convening. It was an amazing manifestation of love, laughter, hopefulness, healing, and redemption. Jody Kent Lavy offered inspirational remarks about how this retreat was an attempt at restoring the inherent dignity and value that was stripped from these formerly life-sentenced children long before we engaged in acts of violence and harm. I left the retreat convinced that this was a transformative moment that deserves replication within distressed communities across the nation.

Eric Alexander:

The Self-Care Convening was a liberating experience. Many found the long-awaited freedom that we’d hoped. We reflected upon the child that we left behind decades ago when we were forced to grow up in cages, among adults, in a world that was not only unnatural but frequently violent. There was a shared experience of having never mourned for that child. Some identified self-forgiveness as a roadblock, and during the retreat, we were able to reach within the depth of our being to forgive ourselves for the un-intended harm that we caused. We acknowledged past trauma and later permitted ourselves to mourn for the child within that has gone decades un-mourned.

Special thanks to our partners at the Youth Justice Fund who helped make this Self-Care Convening possible, Anlyn Addis and Deb LaBelle who located Camp Woodbury and connected ICAN to new members in Michigan, Rev. James Ross, pastor and former staff member, Belinda Dulin with the Dispute Resolution Center, Tom Hollyer, our host at Camp Woodbury, and Noam Keim, a social worker with the Center for Carceral Communities.