Finding a voice

There are two things close to the heart of D.Min. student and chaplain Silvana Krogsrud: giving youths at the detention system a voice, and giving them hope. Both of those causes involve the healing power of the written word.

“In the juvenile justice system, very few adults ask the kids, ‘What’s going on with you?’ or ‘Who are the people that support you?’ said Krogsrud. “When the kids go before the judge, he only sees what’s going wrong.” To fill that need for compassion, she started a writing group. “Some write stories about their lives while others compose poetry or rap songs. Their stories are raw, gritty, sad, and even horrific.” She posted their stories on one of the detention center’s walls, where the staff read them. “It gave the adults some insights into the talents and history of the kids,” she said. “Writing gives the students a voice in a system that renders them voiceless.”

Krogsrud also channels her efforts towards helping students in solitary confinement, and working to change that system. “If you don’t follow the rules, you end up in isolation; locked in a room for 23 hours a day, with one hour, alone, to exercise.” One youth ended up in solitary several times; one stint lasting 100 days. “He tried to do better, but for various reasons he kept getting more and more trapped. He said, ‘I don’t care. I’ll never get out of solitary.’ I gave him a book from my mobile library because he didn’t even have library privileges. I struggle with isolating young people as punishment.”

Despite the ache inherent in her work, Krogsrud feels honored to be the keeper of their stories and struggles. Part of Krogsrud’s dissertation will include voices of youths in the system. “They graciously share their life stories with me, and they have shown me what it takes to survive as they face seemingly insurmountable odds.”

Originally published in the San Francisco Theological Seminary 2014-2015 Annual Report