The experiences of incarcerated Washington, D.C., youths who took part in trips to the Arizona and Utah wilderness is described by the Washington Post magazine. They pitched tents, hiked canyons, leapt from cliffs and paddled through rapids. The teens, some of whom can’t swim or never had seen mountains, entered a different world. John Mein, recreation director of Washington’s Oak Hill juvenile detention center, led four groups of troubled, mostly African American teens into the wilderness–more than 40 in all who have committed crimes from car theft to assault to drug-dealing.
Mein is certain that, whether the kids know it or not, the trips are making a difference for them. One one trip, a boy was mourning his older brother, who’d been shot in the head on the streets of D.C. It was the same homicide that had prompted Mein to give up work as a police officer. “Five minutes we talked, that’s it,” Mein says. “But that was all it took to deflate the pressure that had been building inside this kid. I don’t know if he’d have opened up anywhere else.”