One of the more interesting speaking engagements occurred deep within the woods in Monkton, Vt. this past week.
I was invited to share our work with The Walden Project, an alternative school serving about 20 students from Vergennes Union High School.
Their curriculum emphasizes writing, philosophy, environmental studies, while supporting student centered-learning. The program is modeled on Henry David Thoreau’s sojourn to Walden Pond where he immersed himself in his ecology to deepen his sense of self, society, and the natural world. (The Willowell Foundation supports and guides the program.)
Thus, my visit to the Walden “village” meant a half-mile trek into the Monkton woods to meet with the crew, which was challenging on a blustery 20-degree day as the unmarked path was covered over with snow!
I eventually located the school nestled within the valley, some of the students inside a yurt-like structure with a wood stove warming both bodies and a mammoth pot of boiling stew.
Director Matt Schlein convened the class. Some were arriving back from a morning of outside trekking instruction.
Inside the rough structure, students crammed together on the floorboards sipping stew and listening to me read the words of some of our well-known ‘inside’ writers, Billie, Flip, Norajean and Tess…
The students’ focus, interest and deep listening were palpable. Their comments and poignant questions revealed the extent of their knowledge around incarceration issues.
“Why would women with long sentences be held in a ‘detention facility?'” one young man queried about the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in So. Burlington.
“It must be very hard on prisoners jailed in Kentucky whose families can’t visit them,” a young woman commented, aware that several hundred of Vermont’s male inmates are housed out-of-state.
And the students of The Walden Project knew much about the private prison system around the nation and the conflicting agendas around a for-profit business housing inmates.
I was deeply impressed with the thoughtful, compassionate insights shared; the students’ understanding that prisons really don’t rehabilitate; and their awareness of the monumental challenges facing ex-offenders returning to communities.
As I hiked back to my car, I couldn’t help but be uplifted and inspired … that a younger generation begins with much more understanding and acceptance of people who have committed crimes (certainly than I did at their age) and that we are in good hands for the future.
Many thanks to The Walden Project for the invitation!