The Grace Project’s Six Word Memoirs

In the past few months, The Grace Project at Grace Syracuse has been working with youth at the Onondaga County Justice Center on 6 word memoirs.  The memoirs are now on display at Grace, with the hopes that they can someday be displayed in other places around Syracuse.  There are several more which parishioners of Grace are still working on that have not yet been returned to us.

This project both provided an opportunity for the youth to think about and to reconnect with themselves and their humanity; and, for the people of our community, the six word memoirs humanized the youth in a profound and meaningful way.  Five or six of the young men who did not initially participate in the program are now asking to have an opportunity to create their own six word memoir. Others would like to create a second.  The six word memoirs and other creative programs are valuable tools in helping to reduce behavioral issues and teaching self-worth to our youth who desperately need to be mentored in ways which are restorative and positive.

What is so wonderful about this project is that it included both the youth we work with and parishioners — the end result was moving for both the people who did the art work to fill in the lettering and the youth who wrote the six words and then saw them completed.

Parishioners at Grace were then invited to take a poster home and fill in the letters using only magazines and glue – in other words, no scissors! The original thought was that they would use only what the youth would have been able to use had they been able to complete the art portion of the project at the Justice Center. At the time, we didn’t realize they couldn’t have glue. As you will notice, some of our parishioners felt compelled to let their own creativity flow and chose to alter the rules just a bit! Please know that although it may be difficult to see from the photos included here, each completed poster took hours and hours of work as each is made up of little tiny pieces torn from magazines and then glued onto the poster board. By the time this project is completed, nearly a dozen family units from our congregation will have spent time working to complete a poster!

Everyone – and we do mean everyone – the youth and our parishioners – who participated thought this project was transformative. The youth were incredibly proud, took ownership, and expressed gratitude for the people who did the art work. They were amazed to see what they had written come to life and they were genuinely moved to learn that there were people who valued them and their thoughts. They were beaming and attentive as each poster was shown to them and discussed.

Our parishioners were amazed by what had been written and how the project helped them to see inside these young men. They now see them not as monsters or thugs but rather, as our youth. They expressed empathy for them and continue to pray for them. Many expressed an interest in learning more about them and how they might help support them.

The Grace Project: An Invitation to Participate

Our emerging juvenile justice ministry began taking root in the fall of 2013. Our goals have been defined by our desire to seek restorative justice in our local community and by the needs of the at-risk high school youth with whom we work to re-envision their future and transform their lives. Our program is unique in that we work with youthful offenders both while incarcerated and after their release.

Over the past several weeks The Grace Project has aimed to encourage the young men with whom we work to think about who they are and what they would like the community in which they live to know about them. Through a process of self-reflection and writing each of the young men were invited to developed a six-word memoir which offered insight to how they see themselves or the world in which they live. These memoirs were intended to encourage the young men to claim a piece of their humanity while housed in an otherwise inhumane environment.

You are invited to help complete their project by bringing their words to life by adding color—using only magazines and glue sticks; no scissors! Each six-word memoir has been stenciled onto a large poster board. There are National Geographic magazines and glue sticks available for you to use during coffee hour hour, you may choose to take a memoir home along with a few magazines and glue sticks and work on the project at your leisure during Holy Week. Of course, if you have a wonderful selection of magazines at home you would like to use, that would be fine! Working on the memoirs is a perfect time to pray for all those incarcerated in our jails and prisons and to connect, in some small, way with them.

On behalf of those working with The Grace Project, thank you for your participation. We look forward to displaying the memoirs in our parish hall as they are completed. Our hope is that they will eventually be placed on display around Syracuse where others may see and experience them.

Why We Must #EndSolitary Confinement

Will you help us #EndSolitary?

Locked [In]

There is a boy
Who is locked in a box
For 23 hours a day
And for 178 days he is completely by himself
in a room so small when he stretches his arms
he can almost touch both walls at the same time.
In a room so small
it feels like the walls are closing in on him
mostly because they are
mostly because he is still growing,
he is only 16 years old
and already corroding between maximum security walls
cuffed wrists and cracking voice,
prisoner identification number and learner’s permit,
locked in a solitary confinement cell the size of a small parking spot
but feels like the trunk of a car
Crushed beneath hundreds of hours of forced isolation
Desperately searching for human contact
Only to collide with the sterile walls of his shrinking cell.

And he isn’t alone.
Across the city in a juvenile detention center
A young girl is trapped in a box
For 23 hours a day.
While most of her girlfriends worry about
locking parents out of diaries and bedrooms,
cell phones and instagram accounts
she is locked in
to a 6 x 8 foot cell
Smothered between walls barely wide enough for her to breathe
She’s been holding her breath
For 254 consecutive days now
And it’s beginning to get to her head
When she’s awake, black spotted hallucinations haunt her vision like mascara clumped thick
in the corners of her eyes
and when they’re closed
she drowns in the muffled screams of other suffocating youth
pounding on her walls
begging for someone to listen.

Will it be any surprise when she finally starts screaming back,
when he finally cracks
his skull like a sledge hammer
against the concrete walls of his cell.
When she slits wrist to resist solitary existence
Carving trap doors, underground tunnels
Fire escapes through skin and cell walls
Smeared in their own blood.

Corrections officers will call this attempted suicide.
I call it survival, a last desperate attempt to escape their shrinking cell.
Every day, teens across America sacrifice their bodies to avoid the violence
of forced isolation.
Somewhere in this country a young boy chews his wrist to the bone.
A young woman forces a battery inside herself
A teen knots a makeshift noose around their neck
And ties it to whatever will hoist them from this whole
Self-harming for the promise of human touch
Even if only through coroner’s gloves.

Suicide is more common in solitary than any other part of prison
and we still do it
Send our children to the box for talking back, for horsing around
Many aren’t even convicted of a crime in the first place
Guilty, of simply not being able to afford bail
This isn’t discipline, this is human experimentation
And we already know the results
How many isolated youth will emerge missing pieces of themselves
How many will return to jail like a child to an abusive parent
And how many youth will make caskets out of their solitary confinement cells?

A boy and a girl
Are locked in a box
They are only 16 years old and still growing
But what room is there for growth in a cell with barely enough room to stand
What room is there for therapy and rehabilitation when trauma
Is promised 23 hours a day
Solitary isn’t punishment, it’s torture
Drawn and quartered with no horses
Waterboarding whole bodies buried beneath brick and mortar
Extraordinary rendition
Every isolation cell a black site on American soil
Every isolation cell an iron maiden closing around hundreds of youth each year

May each youth’s solitary confinement cells swing open
So we can treat the youth inside
And one day free the youth inside
A boy and a girl are slowly falling apart
with our hands on the doors
all they can do is wait.

Find this poem and more at