Saturday, May 13, 2006
Children Are Our Future?
Today I had lunch with volunteers and residents at the Santa Fe Youth Development Center (previously known as the youth detention center). Federal Judge Martha Vasquez joined me in honoring the volunteers who teach students, Music, Art, Native American Rituals, Religion, Culinary Arts, and Academics. It was a moving experience.
The program started with Aztec Dancers who danced and prayed. First just the Indian dancers danced then about 9 brave residents and one of the volunteers joined them. As I watched the teens dance they really got into it and had big smiles on their faces. Dressed in their sweat pants and green t-shirts, when I first arrived it was easy to distinguish them as residents. However, dancing with big smiles on their faces they looked just like any other kid, actually they looked a lot like my kids. I have a 13 year old daughter and a 20 year old son.
These were all long term detainees, most were Federal Indian Nation prisoners. In order to be placed in this program one must have been convicted of a serious felony. Dancing, smiling and enjoying the beautiful day outside these kids looked just like kids should look. Happy and enjoying life. All this was happening in the back recreation yard of the Youth Development Program. As I watched them my eyes caught the fence surrounding the property. It is tall and topped with razor wire. Just outside the fence you can see a normal playground belonging to a nearby daycare. What a difference from the harsh playground in the fence to the colorful inviting playground outside.
Inside the building we were served a meal as good as I have had in some of Santa Fe's finest restaurants. All of it was cooked by residents enrolled in the culinary arts program. Many of the volunteers were honored by the kids with moving speeches, prayers, and awards. This entire program once run by a private company is now run by Santa Fe County. It is really a shining star and a great example of government doing things right.
I know one day some of these kids will serve us a meal in their own restaurant. One day we will enjoy a sold out concert played by one of these kids. One day we will attend a gallery opening with the works of one of these children. The sad truth is one day I will also see one of these kids at the adult jail. Maybe one day I will be able to say this will not be the case, at least that is why all these great volunteers do what they do.