Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

84° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Email Newsletter

Sign up to receive our email newsletter in your inbox.



Ministry joins students, juvenile offenders

Aaron Mays used to dart out of class at 4:50 p.m. every Thursday last winter to go to prison.

He went to lend an ear, and maybe a Bible, to adolescents at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center with Sheil Catholic Center’s prison ministry program.

Participating students travel from floor to floor of the detention center as mentors, or what campus minister Tim Higgins calls “advocates,” for about 500 detained or incarcerated youths ranging in age from 12 to 17.

“I think we grow as people when we stretch ourselves and we reach out to people who we normally wouldn’t come into contact with,” Higgins said.

Higgins started the program five and a half years ago and is currently trying to recruit participants, who must be 21 or older, for this year’s program.

Because of the age requirement, the program usually needs new students every year when previous students graduate, Higgins said.

In the past, Higghins has sent three or four participants per quarter to work at the facility at 1100 S. Hamilton Ave. in Chicago.

Students choose whether they want to visit the center on Tuesdays or Thursdays. Each visit typically takes four hours, including commuting time.

While advocates may use the Bible to stir up conversation, Higgins said they let the kids take conversations where they want to.

“We’re just there to listen to them, to see how they’re doing, and to see if there’s anything they’d like to talk about,” Higgins said. “We’re not there to be counselors, to give advice or to judge, but to be there as listeners.”

Mays said getting to know the kids he had only seen before on the local news opened his eyes to the circumstances that might have landed them in trouble with the law.

“I think people label them so quickly as criminals,” Mays, a 2007 Communication graduate and former PLAY staffer, said. “But there are so many different components, different elements that add to the reason why these young men and women end up in that facility.”

Higgins said many of the youths are affected by the environment in which they grew up.

“Some of these kids have been on their own as 9- or 10-year-olds,” Higgins said. “A lot of them come from a good definition of a broken home, and just about every social issue you could think of – poverty, racism, violence – is part of their lives.”

Bryan Lochman, a 2008 McCormick graduate, worked with the program last year and said he hopes he got across the importance of education to the youths.

“I was trying to get them to focus on what they can do to prevent going back to the correctional facility, from falling back in the same trends,” he said.

Lochman tried to communicate these ideas by getting them to talk about something that excited them and encouraging them to detect their hidden talents.

“I was just helping them find a goal to set their minds on,” said Lochman. “Hopefully the goal is stronger than the pullback into their old life.”

Mays said he viewed the interactions as exchanges of beliefs, ideas and feelings. One kid actually suggested Mays become a businessman. Not long after that conversation, Mays pursued and was offered a job in the Marketing and Communications Department at the Kellogg School of Management.

“I see it as a godly coincidence,” Mays said. “He was really the first person to kind of drop that seed of business.”

Mays continued visiting the center even after he graduated in 2007 until 2008, when he felt it was his duty to let the kids grow on their own.

“It’s one thing to plant a seed, but it’s another to actually see it grow,” Mays said.

[email protected]

More to Discover
Activate Search
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Ministry joins students, juvenile offenders