Georgetown Law highlights Flint girls, 'Arts in Detention' program in new national publication

The voices of Flint girls are included in a new nationwide release by the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Georgetown University’s renowned Law Center. Published Oct. 25, “I am the Voice: Girls’ Reflections from Inside the Justice System” is a compilation of stories and feelings of girls from across the country. 

HerStory: Unlocked — a program that offers instructional workshops in both visual and performing arts for the 10- to 17-year-olds sentenced to the Genesee Valley Regional Center — was invited to participate. Earlier this year, HerStory: Unlocked produced a show at Buckham Gallery called “Arts in Detention.”

Being included in the nationwide publication is meaningful, said co-founder Shelley Spivack, who also is a lecturer at the University of Michigan-Flint. 

Shelley Spivack, co-founder of HerStory and Arts in Detention"When any one of us sees our words in print, it empowers us. It makes us realize that our voices are important and can make a difference. For the justice-involved girls at Flint’s detention center, GVRC, the impact is even stronger,” Spivack said. “For the first time in their lives, the world is saying to them, ‘We are listening, we care.’"

Related story: Art and Identity dance freely through 'Arts and Detention'

The Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality works to remove barriers for marginalized, low-income girls of color. “I actually saw an article in Flintside that highlighted their ‘Arts in Detention’ exhibit, and I noticed Shelley Spivack's discussion of unique issues for girls in juvenile justice, which seemed to dovetail well with our project,” said Rebecca Epstein, executive director of the center and one of the editors for “I am the Voice.”

Even though a major portion of the work on “I am the Voice” already had been completed, additional workshops were set to hear from the Flint girls about different aspects of their experience, including arrest, the court system, and the detention facility itself.

Participants’ are not identified by name — but their words are powerful: 

On being arrested: “I felt like I was just another bad person that they pick up every day, just a different case, I was angry.” 

On being sent to the juvenile facility: “I felt scared, and I felt as if my voice didn’t matter. I didn’t want to admit what I had did.”

On what should be done: “I would help out all the hurt kids that are not noticed.”

They describe their fears and feeling like everyone is against them. They talk about missing their family and their children. They talk about the need for rehabilitation and substance abuse treatment. Some say it’s not fair to be there. Others say they learned a lot about life and about themselves.

“I am very strong,” said one. “I can do whatever I put my mind to,” said another.

The publication was produced in partnership with Rights 4 Girls and the Initiative on Gender Justice and Opportunity. It was funded through support from Terri Jackson, a Georgetown Law alum.

Epstein said it is important to hear, listen and learn from the voices of imprisoned girls.

“The vast majority of these girls present no risk to public safety. Instead, they are the victims of violence,” Epstein said. “As such, they need the support of gender-responsive, trauma-sensitive programs and services — not our punishment. ... It is intended to provide space for girls to inspire their peers and allows the work to stand on its own in making the case for reform.”

A version of “I am the Voice: Girls’ Reflections on the Justice System” is available online.
“Arts in Detention” is now on display at Good Beans Cafe, 328 N. Grand Traverse St. 

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Read more articles by Jake Carah.