- Associated Press - Saturday, August 2, 2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Standing before a full room, Alexis lifted her face up from the piece of paper in her hands and spoke into the microphone in front of her.

“I’m life. I’m here,” she read. “I plan on making a difference.”

“I’m here. I’m life,” she continued. “I will be there to help when someone needs saving. I will work hard so my mom can work less.”

The lines of Alexis’ poem, “I am here, I am life,” surged with feelings she said she’s never expressed.

The other girls in the room, all between the ages of 14 and 17, focused on Alexis, nodding their heads as she read on. They understood the feelings that brought life to her words.

“I want to be someone with a good name, and not a lost cause. I am life,” Alexis said.

Power built in her voice as she spoke about moving on from choices she made in the past.

“I am going to lead, not follow,” Alexis said, now barely glancing at the paper in her hands. “I am going to change for the better.”

She stopped, and took one last look over the group.

“I am here. I am life,” she said softly.

It’s not often girls in the Juvenile Justice Center, which provides both pre- and post-adjudication detention for boys and girls younger than 18, get special programming like Project Uncaged. The project, which is only two years old, is a weeklong art program that travels to detention centers using poetry, writing and visual art as a way to teach detained girls better ways to deal with their emotions, director Tasha Golden told the South Bend Tribune (http://bit.ly/UL3eIV ).

It’s actually not often the girls at the JJC get any programming besides their regular schooling, said Peter Morgan, executive director of the JJC. Because of limited resources, it is difficult, Morgan said, to balance the needs of all of those detained. When it comes down to it, there are just more boys to serve, he said.

From 2011 to 2013, only about 18 percent of the JJC’s population each year was female, according to numbers provided by the center.

But gender-specific programming can be an asset in rehabilitation, Morgan said, because boys and girls have different needs to address during their teenage years. Specifically, male and female juvenile offenders typically commit different crimes and have different histories.

Girls, statistically speaking, tend to commit nonviolent, status offenses, which are not crimes if committed by adults, Morgan said.

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