Race to Equity launched the “HearUs” youth justice podcast following the state’s plan to close Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls by 2021.
“I had to be willing to be open with my story and my life in order to gain that credibility to eventually help other people,” 21-year-old participant Maya Simms said.
She spoke about her experiences with the Dane County Juvenile Detention Center, including her life before and after. Simms also talked about the judgment young people face for their involvement with the justice system.
“I think a big misconception that a lot of people have is that the child is a delinquent. For me, there’s a lot of decisions I made. They can say that about some of mine, but a lot of decisions are rooted in trauma,” she said.
“HearUs” opens the door for first-hand accounts of the youth justice system. Some individuals shared memories of staying in detention facilities like Simms, group homes, dealing with child protective services and in the courts. The podcast also discusses the disparities among youth of color, especially Black youth.
“This idea came about probably in 2018 and the idea was to find youth voices, youth who had experiences in the juvenile justice system and educate the public,” said Erica Nelson, the Kids Forward advocacy director and podcast progenitor.
The project features six Wisconsin youth who all have varying experiences with the youth justice and child welfare systems in the state. Bria Brown, founder of B. Brown Productions LLC, and Alexa Turner, Kids Forward operations manager, became co-collaborators in 2019. Brown produces and narrates the podcast.
“We have all learned a lot throughout the process. We were having conversations throughout the interviews and as we were interviewing, we would hear the same names repeated,” Brown said.
After hearing those names, the group sought out the insight of some of the prominent individuals working within the child welfare and youth justice systems mentioned. Their voices are featured in each episode as well in addition to the youth.
“Me going to the juvenile justice system didn’t change anything for me and it really heightened ‘oh, I can do this life because it’s a piece of cake for me.’ Then, there’s kids who didn’t have the same support as I did that end up going to adult jail and things are completely different,” Simms said.
Expert voices include Dane County Circuit Court Judge Everett Mitchell, WIDCF Out-of-Home Care Section Manager Shannon Braden, WIDCF Youth Services Section Manager Ragen Shapiro, UW-Madison Youth Justice Curriculum Coordinator Nicki Laudolff and MMSD Coordinator of Progressive Discipline Bryn Martyna. Their purpose was to tie the youth’s experiences together for listeners.
“For me, I would like them [listeners] to learn from actual youth who have been in systems and put a picture as opposed to reading statistics and hearing things,” Turner said.
So far “HearUs” has three episodes and the team plans to release two more sometime this week. These episodes will feature suggestions from all six youth who shared their stories in the podcast.
“At the end of the day, kids deserve better … they deserve better lives and to be taken seriously, too. I want people to think critically about what it means to enter the system,” Brown said.
For more information about Race to Equity’s “HearUs” podcast, you can visit their website.