Someone biking, someone walking.jpg

Making Change happens when a choice is given. The wrong thought or action can take this ability and destroy it. Leaving you with not the desire to Make Change, but to give in to despair.

Remember the old game of dominoes the point of the game was to rid yourself of the numbered blocks but you could only place one down in the pattern started. Unless you had a double, then you were given a choice to change the pattern. Despair came when all you had were high numbers in your hand, with no opportunity to make a change in the pattern.

Recently, some friends and I were playing this game. It was all too much like my life. For as long back as I can think I’ve never been handed a double. Everyone I knew, in every turn of every game were dealt many. Thereby the pattern kept changing, moving in different ways, choices were always available. But not for me. I was always stuck with the same hand consistently. Now my slate is clean, now I am able to change the pattern. I make choices happen. Not that I didn’t have a choice before, I’m sure I did, it was just a wrong thought or action came into play behind it. I realize now, you deal your own doubles. I believe with this new turn in the game the pattern is changing for me.


The DoorwayComment
The Trans-mission of life
Listening doorway.jpg

The Trans-mission of life.  Ugly, Gross, Freak.  These are but a few of the hateful words spoken towards the Trans individual, and community as a whole.  Life’s not easy when everyone on the train constantly stares at you, curious as to what you actually are.  We are Human. No less than those who don’t share our curse.  The daily struggle for acceptance of the Trans individual is very real.  In other parts of the world, that is an understatement. Still, even in our very accepting society, groups still endure discrimination on varying levels.  Some verbal. Some physical.  Some are even fatal.  We must learn how to “fool” society to avoid inevitable, awkward and potentially dangerous encounters.  What happens when a Trans woman is told she doesn’t move very feminine? Or that she has a deep voice?  It slowly erodes her vision of her true self.  Forcing her to abide by social binaries.  

So before you start to judge anyone who is or may be Transgender or any of its sub-labels, just remember that we all bleed red, and all sleep under the same moonlight.


The DoorwayComment
Everything in life has to have a start
lights in sky.jpg

 I thought it would be easy to write a story about going from living on the streets to being free of the streets.  I’ve been labeled as a “success story”, but I’m not totally sure that I am. I have a full-time job, my own apartment, and many more material goods than I did a year ago. But I’m not free of the streets. I’ve worked at my job for six months now, and I still don’t feel like I fit in. We had an incident at work a few weeks ago where some money and steaks were stolen, and fingers automatically pointed at me because of my background. I find whenever I have problems at work, I go to a popular hangout down town where I am accepted. I realize though, that I have come a long way since this time last year.   

I worked long and hard to get just this far, and in some aspects I have come a long way. My relationship with my mother is 100% better. I feel better, and I’m finally getting a lot of the things out of life that I wanted.    

I’m not completely away from the streets yet, but I’ve made a start, and everything in life has to have a start.

-Anonymous, 1989

The DoorwayComment
I want you to take into consideration...
LP photo picks - 2.jpg

You are reading this right now maybe in your warm home, at work, or maybe on your way to lunch. Not taking into recognition how much you have and how easily accessible your daily means of surviving are.  I’m not saying you are taking things for granted, for all I know you’re a virtuous person, with a good heart.  When you showered this morning and had a quick breakfast, you didn’t take into account how lucky you were to have these things every day, you weren’t washing your hair or eating a piece of toast being thankful for what you have.  Everyone has seen the unfortunate downtown, whether they were drunk and making a scene, or wandering up to you asking for the change in your pockets.  A lot of the time you are startled by them, and maybe even scared.  These people don’t get to wake up to a warm shower, or to a warm meal, they have to struggle to maybe even consume something that day, even then it’s not enough to be healthy.  The clothes on their backs are their wardrobe, and money in their pocket wasn’t earned but from pity.  There are adolescents on the street these days who don’t get a warm bed or a loving family.  They don’t get to play sports. Every day is a day to survive and get by.  It’s really unfortunate how it isn’t their fault they are struggling to survive, most of the time they were brought up in a broken home, were around drugs and alcohol a lot, or their family just couldn’t provide for them any longer, and some didn’t even have a family to start out with.  If you haven’t seen a connection in the adolescent and usually older people who hassle you on the street, you should realize:  they start off as young people in youth shelters, and are usually broken inside and give in to drugs and alcohol.  They go on and on like this until they have lost all their ties, and they are alone in this world.  Struggling to have one decent meal, having issues so deep and vast that they have turned to drugs just to get by and ease the pain.  When a strung out person confronts you on the street asking for your well earned money, you are not thinking about what this person has gone through, you are maybe panicking and trying to avoid them at all costs.  I’m not saying you should give them money, for all we know they are just going to get a quick fix.  I want you to take into consideration that these people didn’t have the push to be successful, or the right people to turn to when they were in the dirt.  They didn’t have a loving family to teach them the right path, or the means to even get by.  They usually started off as teenagers who were viewed as criminals and druggies, who had no one to talk to about their issues, so never did.  They kept going the only way they knew and ended up alone.  I was on the streets for a bit of my life, yes me.  My mother passed away when I was very young and until then I was always around drugs and my abusive father.  I was soon taken away and put in foster homes where I was also abused and not cared for.  At a young age I knew I was a smart kid and I was going to amount to something and I knew none of these people were going to help me.  I was soon on the street fending for myself and also struggling to get by.  I was forced to sell drugs and steal and commit crimes just to survive.  I always had good friends I could go to but lost a lot of them because I fell into drugs and alcohol, but why?  I knew those would never get me anywhere, but why did I always feel so much better when I was high or drunk?  I knew there was a tie in these two so I sought out a psychologist to help me figure myself out.  This man told me I’ve bottled everything up in my life and I used drugs and alcohol to ease the pain I’ve kept down inside all these years.  It all made sense to me now, it was maybe different for some, but I knew I didn’t want to end up like my mother or dad.  I was inspired by this man and realized what I wanted to do with my life.  I wanted to help people like this man did and to do this I needed schooling.  I knew I could get there easily so I aced high school and was easily accepted at the U of C where I am now majoring in psychology.  It doesn’t always just take someone to assess you and help you with your feeling, it’s a major turning point where you change paths and get on track.  Youth need a turning point in their lives…


The DoorwayComment
9th Ave Downtown.jpg

I’m recently back on the bandwagon and in the NA program. Granted it’s only been a few weeks but I’m doing it and that’s what counts most. Basically what I’m trying to say is no matter what ppl may say behind your back, no matter how many peers doubt your success, no matter how many obstacles may challenge your persistence – don’t back down!

I’ve been falling off and getting back on this bandwagon for as long as I can remember but I know as long as I keep at it something is bound to give. Look at it this way – if you keep trying, something might ‘click’ & ‘stick’. If you stop trying and persistence doesn’t persist then where are you? – in the same dead end place you were before you even tried – nowhere!

I could go on rambling about the many reasons that not giving up is what counts but I’m afraid this would turn into a book. So I’ll close on this note: ‘My worst day clean is always better than my best day using.'

As always we encourage you to like, share and tell us your thoughts and learnings 

MOM photo.jpg

Did you know a mother is the most important person in a girl's life?
Well what happens when a girl's mom isn’t the mom she's supposed to be?
What happens when a girl's mom is dead inside?
Leaving the girl to always worry and wonder how much longer her mom will last before she dies on the outside too?
I have the answer to these questions.
It hurts.
Your heart feels like it is being torn to shreds every time you think about it.
It's painful.
The pain's so excruciating that sometimes you wonder how you're still surviving. Sometimes you just want to jump out of your own skin, and run as far away as you possibly can.
It's sad.
Sometimes you cry. And sometimes you can't, because you've already spent all your tears on it.
Sometimes you feel so alone.
Sometimes you just want your mom to tell you everything will be ok...
Sometimes you wish you would wake up and it would all be a bad dream.
But you won't. And it isn't.
When it's hard to get out of bed, I still have to. When it's hard to go to work, I still have to.
When it's hard to live for myself, I find it in me to do it anyways. Because I have sisters. And they need me right now.
So I live on. Life goes on. And I make the best of it.
When my Mom falls deeper into addiction, I work harder on recovery.
Because that's all I can do.
Is survive and stay strong

As always we encourage you to comment and share your thoughts and learnings!

31 reasons why I am grateful to be clean
31 reasons, pic.jpg

1. I can love myself again
2. I can be there for my sisters
3. I’m healthy
4. I have a choice about the things I do
5. I have my own place with no roommates
6. I have money in the bank
7. I have emotions again
8. I can take custody of my sister when the time is right
9. I’m not dying
10. I am capable of respecting myself now
11. I can buy nice things
12. No hospital trips
13. No trips to the holding cell
14. I have a clean house
15. I can follow through with my plans and my goals
16. I quit smoking
17. My family doesn’t have to watch me destroy myself anymore
18. I can keep my promises
19. I have a decent job
20. I have my physical appearance back
21. I believe in myself again
22. I take proper care of my Kitty
23. I have nice teeth
24. I have nice clothes and tons of shoes!
25. Ppl aren't stealing from me every time I turn my back
26. I can say to myself "I did it!!!"
27. I can connect with other humans again
28. I can sleep every night
29. I pay my own rent and bills
30. I can spend Christmas with my family
31. I can do anything in the world now that I am clean

As always we encourage you to like, share and tell us your thoughts and learnings

Dear Mother,
dear mother, pic.jpg

Dear Mother,

Thank you for never being anything but on my side and doing what was best for me, even when I didn’t believe that you weren’t doing it to spite me. I’ve come to see that you were always right. I’m sorry for my cruelty and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. Thank you for letting me learn things the hard way, but also thank you for always knowing when I needed you most and never turning your back on me in those times. There’s nothing more that you could have done to try and save me and I’m so grateful that you’re understanding that I’m not ready to get better. I love you mom, forever I’m in your debt.

-Daughter of yours, 2018

As always we encourage you to comment and share your thoughts and learnings! 

A Poem I Wrote in Treatment
A poem i wrote in treatment photo.jpg

There was nothing good about you
You tore me apart
You hypnotized me
You were my answer to all my faults

I'll never forget what you did to me
The pain and grief you caused
I can't believe how blinded I was
To see right past all of your flaws

At first you were a miracle
I was fooled by your disguise
You murdered my friends, you were murdering me
And I still stood by your side

If something was wrong,
You were there for me
No matter where I was,
Who I was with
What I was doing
What I had done...
You were there...

No matter how good I felt,
Or how bad I felt
You never left my side...

Until I said goodbye.

I never expected what you did to me
When I chose to say goodbye...

You left me

You left me feeling DEAD inside

You did this to me
We were supposed to be friends
You stabbed me in the back

Well friend, I promise you one thing only.

I chose life, not METH

As always we encourage you to comment and share your thoughts and learnings

My Choice
my choices, pic .jpg

I am an alcoholic and a drug addict. The reason that I am writing this is because I did something today that I never thought I would do in a million years. I ran into an associate of mine that I knew for quite a while. He had asked me if I wanted to go smoke a joint with him. Now, I have been clean and sober for a period of 22 days thus far. This period of sobriety was all my choice, and my choice to boot. The next thing I knew I was walking to the C-train with him. I can’t as much say what got me thinking this, but I started thinking about the consequences of me smoking a joint. Then I started thinking about what I’m really going to get out of it. The first thing I thought about was my girlfriend and how she would react to me being high. I knew right away that she would be pissed off. The thing that really gets me is that 22 days ago I wouldn’t have cared if she was mad or not, but for some reason this was a big concern of mine. I then really started thinking about what it would be like to be stoned, and I couldn’t think of anything positive about it. I realized that I don’t need drugs to feel good. I actually feel worse when I’m high because I know that I would feel alright with it while I was high, but when I come down, I know that I’ll start feeling guilty, ashamed, and I know that I wouldn’t be able to see my girlfriend while I’m high because she’ll know right way and I know that she’ll be choked. I then started thinking about what I’ll get out of it. Then I came up with the end result that nothing good would come out of it. It was then that my associate had said to me, I guess it depends on how much you want to smoke a joint. To tell you the truth I don’t really know what the conversation was that we were having that made him say those words but those nine words struck something in my head that made me realize that I really don’t want to risk all that I have worked for over the past 22 days for one simple joint. I feel real good about that because I have finally realized that drugs and alcohol don’t have the hold on me they once had. I’m finally starting to get a grasp of my life and it feels really good. I know now more than I have ever know, I do have the power to make choices. I also feel real good because I can honestly say that I made the right choice for the right reason. I don’t want any part of my life that I had with drugs and alcohol. I mean specifically being afraid that people are watching you, that people that love and care about you don’t exist, and with my sobriety comes love and respect from my girlfriend, and if that’s the only thing that I get out of this sobriety then that’s good enough because I wouldn’t trade that for a million dollars, or for anything else.

- Anonymous 

As always, we encourage you to like and share your thoughts and learnings!

Mental Recovery
Mental Recovery .jpg

Mental Recovery

Although I’m stuck in what would feel like jail
I am refreshed and happy but really scared
I don’t know what’s going to happen out there
In a world that is not fair
I know I have to fight my way to the top without anything like a crutch
I know when I finally get there though
Ill be happy that I got help from the people that I know
How important it is to be straight and clean,
To succeed inner happiness that I’m finally getting in me

Hey, my name is Mike, and I would like to tell you something important to me. I have a drug problem that was controlling my life. I was powerless. I took drugs to try to kill my problems and all it did was make them worse. I needed help, so I went to treatment. This is the best thing I did. The poem up top is how I felt when I was there. I’m doing great now and I highly recommend going to treatment. So, if you have a drug or alcohol problem, please get help, because it will be the best things that you can do for you and your loved ones!

-          Smiling Brighter, 1995

As always, we encourage you to like and share your thoughts and learnings!

Leap of Faith
Leap of Faith, photo.jpg

Have you ever had to face your phobia? Well my phobia has lived with me for the past 13 years. It’s there when I wake up in the morning, it’s there when I go to sleep at night and everywhere in between. Can you guess what it is? It’s addiction and it’s the scariest thing I have ever encountered. Imagine being suspended off the highest building you could possibly think of with no safety nets, no support, nothing. Just empty land around you and if you were to scream no one would possibly be able to hear you. That’s just it, the only way to overcome addiction is within yourself and I have realized that now, that’s why I am choosing to take the leap of faith, the first step into this building, and check myself into detox. It’s been frightening, but there is nothing more frightening than living in a constant battle between bad and evil. There is no good, the only light or glimpse of hope is me. And with my potential I am brighter than any darkness or obstacle that will ever come in my way. Today is the last day I will live in darkness, for tomorrow will be light.

-          January 2018


As always, we encourage you to comment and share your thoughts and learnings!

Keep Progressing
Pathway with Trees.jpg

Keep Progressing because things are only going to get better from here on out...

I have learned that with time and effort you can change your whole world around if you believe that you can. Even when you don't think you can do it, you'll prove yourself wrong because it happened to me and I couldn't thank myself and others enough for it. My thinking has changed from negative and never believing in myself, to having belief and always knowing that I can do it if I put my mind to the task. If I didn't do that, I would of went no where fast. I've made a lot of changes and still have more to come. I found myself a house, now I am progressing towards a bigger house with a more pet-friendly vibe because I love my dogs. I am struggling with finding ways to make extra cash and saving up because the world we live in today is very expensive. I have overcome my negative thoughts, I mean, some say they are still in the distant fog but I always push through to become a better me. I am learning that it takes time and patience and a lot of perseverance. If there is anything that I can help someone with, I will do the best that I can and I will not leave their side until its accomplished because I am a caring human being and I don't want to see people go through what I went through. It's not fun and it's scary. My perspective to get off the streets: it takes determination and a lot of time and energy but if you believe you deserve it, you will make it come true and nobody can do that but you, so remember that. 

- Brian S. 2018



When you look at the world and they say no
Remember, there is always someone saying yes
When you reach for the door and it stays closed
Remember, there is one more being opened
When you look at the street and its all black and white
Remember, the tear you cried was blue
When you look at the child with no life inside
Remember, there is, just give him a chance
When you look at the wind, and it seems lost
Remember, in time once, so were you
When you look at the trees, and they want answers
Remember, there is always someone who will

- Anonymous, 1990


Looking at Yourself
One Day.jpg

One day you will wake up and look in the mirror and smile; because you like what you see. Not necessarily what you look like, but who you are. If you can look in the mirror and love the person who looks back at you, you have made it. It's that person you have to look at each day, the person you have to please, accept how they feel and why they feel it. But, if for some strange reason, you don't like what you see, just think about all the good you've done as well as the bad. For that is who you are and what your past and your future is all about, what you're all about. And thats what life is all about, good and evil. The man is the mirror can tell you that. 

- Anonymous, 1990 

For You, By You
For You, By You - intro photo.png

This past April at our, Engaging Youth, Engaging Community event (, we heard about parents, professionals, volunteers and community members, value and belief in autonomy, ownership and self-accountability when raising and supporting young people. After the weekend, we explored our archives of over thirty years of written words and found additional perspectives from the young people themselves.  Have you heard of Self-Determination Theory? 

We were on to something that weekend... self-determination is not only important for youth but for all human beings. All of July, we will be exploring the topic: For You, By You, by sharing living knowledge about determination, empowerment and taking action. Tell us why self-care and self-determination is important to you and all of us. How do YOU think service providers/care givers - teachers, parents, youth workers, social workers and health care professionals - can create an environment in which they support self-advocacy and independent thinking in young people? 

This month we hope to create space to share and understand the importance of giving CHOICE and taking care of YOU. 

"The person I care most about is me because I owe it to myself" 
- A Participant

As always we encourage you to share, comment and tell us your thoughts and learnings!

Thank you for learning along side us!

Our Justice System: Discussed
Our Justice System PIC.png

Please watch the following video: 

Naomi Nichols: Young People’s Knowledge

If we want young people to re-enter communities and not re-engage in criminal activity, it is imperative that the police advising youth and making decisions about their futures have a clear sense of how the world works from the standpoints of the young people they are serving. Too often, decisions are made by people who fail to grasp the cumulative impacts of racism, poverty, food and housing insecurity, school failure and pervasive police presence in the lives of youth.

To really understand the links between a young person’s involvement in the justice system and his or her experiences of housing and homelessness, one needs to understand what it’s like to grow up in neighbourhoods that are shaped by housing insecurity, poverty, criminality, and pervasive negative interactions with the police – partly because these are the contextual factors, shaping the likelihood that a young person will come into conflict with the law in the first place, but also because these are the very life circumstances awaiting a young person during re-entry.

Service providers and decision makers also need to understand how the various systems impacting youth wellbeing interconnect. Nowhere is this more evident than for youth in conflict with the law.

What are we do to change this reality?

Moving Forward

we would be well-served by treating young people as knowledgeable experts of their own lives and heeding what they have to tell us. They know the system is broken, and they can point to the places where institutional interventions do more harm than good.

From here, we must do the hard work of creating, testing and continually re-adjusting our interventions, such as the systematic processes of exclusion and neglect (e.g., the racism, gender-based violence, homo/transphobia, classism, colonialism), which create and sustain the instabilities at the root of criminal offending, are addressed.

Pragmatically, this looks like the following:

·      Monitoring the race, class and gender based outcomes of particular systemic interventions to reveal and address disproportionalities

·      Engaging in participatory knowledge-to-action cycles (or research-driven feedback loops) with youth to design and evaluate interventions, which reflect the actual conditions of their lives

·      Creating and funding equality and root-cause oriented government programs, which give legs to policy ang legislation, which in their present state fail to create positive changes in young people’s lives.


Over the last several weeks, The Listening Project has worked with Naomi Nichols to connect Naomi’s research with the videos that we created for a video mini-series called: Our Justice System: The Story of the Impossible? In doing this, we demonstrated the vast similarities in the experience that young people are having across Canada. Furthermore, we unpacked Our Justice System to answer the question: What can we do to change this reality? Thank you so much to Naomi for sharing your experiences working alongside young people and being The Listening Projects FIRST guest!


As always, we encourage you to share, comment and tell us your thoughts and learnings!

If you or anyone you know would like to share their story and experience, please contact us at

Our Justice System: Discussed
Our Justice System PIC.png

Please watch the following video: 

Naomi Nichols: Intersectoral Dimensions

For example, a lack of appropriate housing and supervision for youth leaving custody or detention increases the likelihood they will re-enter the community via a homeless shelter or the streets.

Additionally, all of the inter-institutional challenges associated with re-entry are connected to the gendering and racializing experiences youth have had with other institutional authorities prior to incarceration, and that they will continue to have – in one way or another – when discharged back into their communities – particularly communities that are characterized by an antagonist relationship with the police. 

These cultural and inter-personal barriers to re-entry are magnified by persistent inter-organizational and cross-sectoral gaps, which make it difficult to coordinate resources and services for youth in community. For example, youth who grow up in Toronto Community Housing and/or one of Toronto’s neighbourhood improvement areas see themselves and their neighbourhoods as unfairly stigmatized. Youth report particularly intense and fraught relations with the police:

“the police deal with you according to what they believe that you are. It’s the same in metro housing – in any priority neighbourhood. Its how they’ve [the police] grown up to see you. They [the police] don’t deal with you as a person … they come to us and judge us [based] on the neighbourhood’s history, not who you are.”

We asked young people in Canada’s largest youth jail how often they had interactions with the police outside, the general response was something like, “not too much – maybe a couple of times a day.”

Toronto Police Services and Toronto Community Housing have a contract that grants Agent of the Landlord status for all Toronto Community Housing properties, as well as a range of other information sharing agreements (Nichols & Braimoh, 2016). Where youth live in families that cant afford market rents and must rely on Toronto Community Housing, they are subject to more non-crime related stops than people who live in other environments. Interactions with the police do not just occur on the streets, but also in their homes.

For those families who are evicted from social housing environments or who decide to leave voluntarily, the increased financial burden of market housing can reduce their choices or freedoms in other areas – some parents pick up more shifts at work, limiting the time they are able to spend in the home; other families experience food insecurity; while others turn to the streets to generate income.

Due to elevated crime and call for service rates in some neighbourhoods, there is also extensive police activity in the neighbourhood more generally – that is, not simply on social housing properties. Police are actively present in the neighbourhood gathering intelligence and doing what they describe as “community outreach.” They are also involved in high schools as School Resource Officers and in the data gathering activities, associated with initiatives like Toronto’s Anti-violence Prevention Strategy or TAVIS.

Of the 48 young people I interview in one of Toronto’s North-West neighbourhoods, all but a couple described unwanted interactions with the police. A few of the encounters they talked about took place in school; most took place in the neighbourhood. All of the 15 youth we interviewed in a youth justice facility reported daily or weekly encounters with the police in their neighbourhoods.

Most young people’s first encounters with the police are non-crime related. When I say that a stop is “non-crime related,” I mean that the police stopped them – and often searched them – asked for ID and recorded the information into their data bases through the production of contact cards, but the young people were not actually breaking any laws at the time of the encounter. Many youths we have spoken with will go on to describe subsequent interactions that lead to involvement with the youth justice system and then later repeated “administration of justice offences” like a break of probation. Other simply describe repeated non-crime related interactions throughout their adolescents.

These encounters with the police are fraught with tension for the youth. Young men, in particular, describe being treated like “little bitches” by the police. On the other hand, these same youth, describe the police as “the boydom,” in comparison to their own groups of friends and associates, who they call “the mandom.” Young men I worked with as co-researchers talked about all the effort they out into being “fierce” and level-headed on the streets – where one must deal with the politics of the ‘hood and continuous encounters with the police.’ This work, they explain is stressful and part of the reason why they are quick to snap – on each other, on teachers, on parents, and any adult in a position of authority.


Please check back with us next week as we continue to unpack Our Justice System: The Story of the Impossible?

As always, we encourage you to share, comment and tell us your thoughts and learnings!

Our Justice System: Discussed
Our Justice System PIC.png

Please watch the following video: 

Naomi Nichols: The Failed Promise of Re-Integration (cont.) & Intersectoral Dimensions

Darren, a youth advocate, explains how he gets “calls from everywhere” for him to help youth navigate a highly fragmented system of supports during re-entry:

I get a call from the courts, from the Crown attorney, from the probation officer and sometimes, believe it or not, police officers who’ve seen my card. And community leaders, community social workers, school social workers, principals, vice principals, teachers, etc. I get calls from all of these places and they say, “We have a youth who we think might benefit from your mentorship, doing what you do. Right now, the youth is in incarceration and needs you to come out,” or “right now we’re trying to have a bail for a youth. He has nowhere to go, so we think you might be able to help him navigate the shelter system because he can’t go home.”

Ideally, the re-integration process would be coordinated, targeted, and planned. Unfortunately, it is just as likely that a youth will go to court one day and simply not return to custody (field not, RM school staff). Darren’s description of his work suggests an ad-hoc system where the degree to which a young person experiences a sustained transition from custody may depend on whether or not the youth is able to connect to someone like him.

Further, while many re-entry programs focus on addressing problems within the individual – e.g., anger management or drug and alcohol rehabilitation – there remains insufficient attention paid to the structural issues young people will face during re-entry. Youth continue to be discharged into homeless shelters or into communities that have been negatively impacted by poverty, racism, and ongoing police surveillance. And they continue to be discharged without any clear sense of how they will navigate re-entry.

Almost every young man we spoke with at an Ontario youth justice facility said that when he “hit roads,” he would stay out of trouble, by making better choices. Even when probed to talk about their re-entry plans, none of the youth could speak to these documents or seemed to know that they exist. It blows my mind that we prepare young men and women for community re-entry, by suggesting they should make better decisions.

The mantra – I will make better choices – is what young people have learned to say to judges. This is what they have learned to say to you and their probation officers. But it is an empty promise for youth who will transition back into neighbourhoods shaped equally by criminality and criminalizing institutional processes.

What choices are actually available to young people who are met by their “bosses” upon re-entry, puffed up for their great work and then given a new mission or bunch of drugs to move. Youth who fail to comply with these requests are threatened with violence – towards themselves and their families. Going to the police only represents further risk to their safety.

Youth who transition back into acute poverty, family conflict, and/or housing instability or homelessness similarly have very few actual choices available to them. The desire to “make better choices” is quickly replaced by a need to take care of one’s most basic requirements for food, shelter, and safety.

Upon release from custody, youth are returned to these same neighbourhoods. Some youth return to neighbourhoods with endless opportunities for street work, few opportunities to enter the official labour market, and considerable police presence – on the streets and in their homes. These interactions with the police – and their criminalizing impacts – are the ordinary backdrop to some people’s childhoods. Youth talk about how they learn to recognize under-cover officers at a distance and find new routes in and through their neighbourhoods. The feeling that one will be treated like a criminal no matter what one does influences the decisions one makes when faced with opportunities to make little money on the street.


Please check back with us next week as we continue to unpack Our Justice System: The Story of the Impossible?

As always, we encourage you to share, comment and tell us your thoughts and learnings!