- Associated Press - Saturday, May 10, 2014

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - The plan on Monday was to go home on Tuesday.

“I don’t even know why I’m doing this, bro,” a 17-year-old Sur-13 gang member said to the boy sitting across the table. “I’m leaving tomorrow.”

“Ain’t nothing promised,” said the other boy, 16, a member of the Geer Gang Crips.

The two, inmates at the Lucas County Juvenile Detention Center, continued to mix their bowls of shredded paper and water, making a paste that looked like Greek yogurt and felt like toothpaste.

Using plastic green sticks with a wide, flat edge, the 10 teenagers in Jan Revill’s art class use the white goop to fill in the outlines of either a bird or lizard for a Cinco de Mayo-inspired project.

Five days a week, 52 weeks a year, every child - and the occasional “adult” - who is held in the county’s juvenile lock-up facility, goes to an hour-long art class under the direction of Revill - who, in class, is known as Ms. Jan.

Every new week begins a new art project that is coupled with another learning component, incorporating current events, history, science, and math. It’s “art integration,” a curriculum crafted by Revill and Joe Szafarowicz, a retired teacher who works with Revill.

“The people in here are some of the toughest guys involved in some of the most severe crimes,” Szafarowicz said. “What that has given rise to is our desire to show the world out there how good they are in here. We have tough customers, but they are the most workable, compliant, dedicated, interested folks you’ve ever met.”

Soon, the artwork that’s created in the classes will be on display at the Lucas County Juvenile Justice Center in the lobby and on the second floor, where the courtrooms are. The plan is to eventually sell the artwork, pooling earnings into a communal fund that would benefit other organizations.

“If we as the community, all of us, can create some small opportunities for these kids to let them feel valuable and make them feel part of our community, then we are really creating opportunities that will result in lowering our crime rate and creating safe communities,” said Judge Denise Navarre-Cubbon.

The Sur-13 gang member was in lock-up this time, he says, because he stabbed someone who broke into his home. The teen is a fixture in juvenile detention. He’s been in and out 52 times, first when he was 8 years old.

In art class, he’s just a kid. The best artist in the room, he brags.

“Look at this creative artwork, bro,” he said. “Crown me now, bro.”

When he asked a classmate, a 19-year-old murder suspect who others say is the most talented artist in class, who is the best, the 19-year-old lets the younger teen take the honor.

Because the students are allowed to talk in art class, they’re open and engaged with their teachers, oftentimes sharing their personal histories.

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