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Guest Writer

Daring to share your voice in the world
A lesson from lockup
by Carolyn Campbell

recently had a life-changing opportunity to witness the power of publicly revealing your core truth.

For 10 weeks I facilitated a coaching-through-art program for incarcerated teens. Combining self-exploration, mask making and personal story, they slowly gained the courage and confidence to express their hopes, fears and personal challenges. When the masks were finished, each student had a choice. They could keep their writing and art private or share their process during a special event with the entire inmate population of 180 teens.

The journey of one 15 year old will stay with me forever.

Throughout the workshops I watched him move from relinquishing his tough fuck-you exterior to exposing his vulnerable child. The evening before the assembly, we had dress rehearsal. He asked to go first and declared that he would sing the poem he had written.

"Alright," I said with uncertainty, "can I hear it?"

As he began, one of the girls in the group blurted out, "If you sing it no one will understand the words!"

Knowing how important this was to him, I told him that if he wanted people to understand the words, he might say the poem first.

The next day he introduced his story with barely more than a whisper.

"I've never had the courage to really show my real self before," he said, "so today I'm going to sing a song about my mask and my life. But first I'll read the words."

As he read his poem the room was silent. Then he began to sing with a tender, uncertain, raw voice.

The boys started to snicker. He kept singing. They hid their faces in their T-shirts. The girls started to laugh. He kept singing. I sat backstage forcing back the urge to scream at the kids. He kept singing. When he finished the room went still. Then – a full house of applause.

When I took the mike from him, he hugged me and smiled in a deep soul-hearted way.

As I turned to his peers, they were leaning forward, waiting. Instead of jeers, he was met with respect. By continuing to sing he let them hear, let them feel, in ways they hadn't before. Laughter had been their defense against their own feelings.

Every day I think about him and the impact he's had – not just on the room, but on me and those with whom I share this story.

After wondering about it for a couple weeks, I've begun to think about why he was so successful. There are a few simple yet powerful reasons:

• He was committed to reveal who he really was
• He took baby steps that culminated in his public presentation
• He had a simple, truth-filled message that he was compelled to share
• He had a support system (the group and me)
• He connected with unwavering sincerity and clarity
• He prepared his audience for what he was going to share
• He let people hear his message in their own way
• He celebrated his connection

The young man's journey has inspired me in ways I can't fully express. It was more than courage. His need to speak to the truth of his life was greater than his fear of ridicule. He knew that he had to sing. He had to share his message through his voice.

At the end of the day, some of the toughest boys came up to me and said, "Thanks, that was really powerful."

What do you dare to say?

Carolyn Campbell is a life vision and leadership coach in Portland. Check out her previous work in our archives, check out her profile in Sketch Pad, visit her Web site, e-mail carolyn@thecoresource.com, or give her a call at 503-493-9497.

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