In just how many ways can a heart be broken? I didn’t know, until my teenage students in jail taught me.
“My grannie used to hit me with her high-heeled shoes cause I couldn’t read my ABCs,” one 16-year-old girl in my class wrote, while other girls have written and then shared their words: “I got no one in the world to care about me;” “I lost my lil sister last week by a bullet;” “I been homeless since I was 12 and sleeping on park benches and in alleys;” “I was 13 and pregnant when I watched them kill my daddy in our living room;” “My heart’s been broken so many times I don’t have no tears left to cry.”
I ask my girls to write and read aloud their vulnerable truths, followed by our applause for their courage to do so. I believe it’s one step along their path to freedom and self-value from the inside out.
I feel blessed to be an InsideOUT Writers’ teacher. Working with these kids informs my life as an artist, a man and a human being. Each week for the past five years, I’ve taught incarcerated girls in Central Juvenile Hall, ages 13-18. An estimated 30% of my students are pregnant, and they’re just kids; they are children in jail. But first they are children living in a world of pain beyond what many of us might imagine, and I cherish them even more for it. It’s hard for these students to hide their emotions as they share their stories in class, while I invite them to see that masculinity can mean tenderness too. On a number of occasions, I’ve said, “You see these tears?” pointing to my eyes. “Men cry too. Now we both can cry for you.”
I explain to them why they are each beautiful, perfect, important and loved, and have every reason to have a treasured and fulfilling life. Then I do what teachers do: I pray that they remember it.
Along with being a volunteer IOW teacher, Kenny Mirman is an award-winning writer-director and visual artist. A design pioneer in the early days of computer animation, he was a designer-director of animation on 1981’s breakthrough film, Tron, and the Visual Effects Art Director on James Cameron’s Titanic. “Spirits Triumphant,” his large-scale, permanent sculptural installation at the DaVita UCLA Westwood Dialysis Center in Los Angeles, is dedicated to those individuals who daily triumph and thrive in the face of great adversity. Kenny resides in Malibu, CA.