One of my first teaching assignments through the Portland Conservatory was to teach piano and music skills to incarcerated youths at Maine's Long Creek Developmental Center. This was a uniquely challenging and rewarding assignment. After I arrived at the Center and signed in, I was met by the project manager who escorted me through the main building to a classroom where I was locked in with a piano or digital pianos, and some youthful offenders who were interested in learning and playing music. One of the things that made it most challenging was that I had to devise a curriculum that worked for kids who didn't read music, although some were interested in learning. Another challenge was for the students to find practice time during the week between lessons.
We worked on music by Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Ray Charles, Bill Withers and others, even some Beethoven and Pachelbel. I also helped students work on writing their own songs. I remember the first one was a song the student called "Numbness."
If a problem arose I was supposed to use a phone in the room to call for help, but that was never necessary. Sometimes kids who were having a rough week didn't show up for their lessons, or I wasn't able to teach because the Center was on lockdown. But I was never threatened, or had to break up a fight. It soon became obvious that many of these kids were very intelligent and very sensitive. Putting two plus two together I was able to conclude that their problems were the result of early life situations that contained emotional, economic or physical hardship and abuse which gave them a bad start, and little or no reason to believe in the values and institutions of our society.
The program was funded under a grant which eventually ran dry. But it was well worth the time and effort spent getting to know and work with these kids. If helping them to find a constructive outlet to express themselves made a difference in their lives for even a short while, it was well worth the effort. To this day, whenever I see a child in a difficult situation I find myself troubled by wondering whether they will ever have a chance. And when I see an adult in dire straits, I mourn for the lost promise of their youth.