NASHVILLE, Tenn — According to the ACLU, on any given day, nearly 60,000 kids younger than 18 are incarcerated in juvenile detention centers and prisons across the U.S. When these kids are jailed, they are cut off from their family, their education is disrupted, and they may be exposed to further trauma and violence in the court system, which can cause life-long damage to their development.
One woman is empowering young girls caught up in the juvie system.
Seventeen-year-old Aleena McCrary is using her writing to heal. “It’s not the streets that introduced me to pain, but it’s the pain that brought me to the streets,” is from one of her poems. “Most of my poetry is about like real life,” said Aleena McCrary. Things got very real for Aleena a couple of years ago. After being taken to court as a runaway at 13, she was placed in juvenile detention at 15. “It was a bad decision made off of impulse,” said McCrary.
Most young women have their first encounter with the juvenile justice system as a runaway. That is why Stacia Freeman founded Epic Girl. “We want the girls that are most likely to fall through the cracks. The ones a lot of times that society, the system, the world has given up on,” said Stacia Freeman, the founder of Epic Girl.
Epic Girl reaches about 300 girls a year and empowers them with education to recognize unhealthy situations that can affect their mindset by talking about boundaries, resolving conflicts effectively, self-esteem, and most importantly relationships. “The number one thing that really drives change is consistent relationships,” said Freeman. “Anything I ever needed, I knew I could count on them and that really is what made me turn around. They taught me how to use my voice,” said McCrary. Now she is getting another chance to rewrite her story. “Epic Girl is an agency that believes in second and third, and fourth chances,” said Freeman.
Data has found that girls who have entered the Epic Girl program are less likely to re-enter the court system. The program is completely free to the girls, but expenses can run about 450 dollars per girl. Funding is covered with grants and private donations.