Words, pictures spotlight teens

Drug court exhibit a youth forum


For the third consecutive year, Anne Arundel County's Juvenile Drug Treatment Court will present an unusual exhibit of personal expressions by youths in its program.

Starting this week, visitors to the Anne Arundel County Court House in Annapolis can view the panels of Insights, The Identity Project. An opening reception will be held Tuesday. The photographs and short essays will remain on display for at least three weeks.

About 17 teenagers have been working with professional writers and photographers to describe themselves creatively in words and pictures in a form of art therapy.

"It's about them showing their identity, and that is very important for adolescents - and especially for this group of kids," said photographer Kirsten Elstner, who heads the nonprofit Vision Workshops in Annapolis, which works with at-risk youths, and directs the project.

"This is a chance to show who you are besides the kid in the juvenile drug system," she said.

"We tell them it's how they want to present themselves. Kids, they are interested in themselves. They say, `This is cool; this is all about me,'" she said.

The self-portraits are part of the drug treatment court program, which allows juveniles to avoid the equivalent of a conviction if they finish the program, which typically lasts more than a year.

Devin, 16, said he enjoyed learning how to use a camera, develop film and work in a darkroom, even though tempers got short when the darkroom got hot. (The Sun does not identify juveniles accused of crimes in most cases.)

He said several of the many photos he took of himself, his mother and others will be displayed, and that he worked closely with the other people whose work is being displayed.

The drug court program - which he said he entered because it seemed better than the prospect of up to five years in a detention facility - helped him.

"My attitude changed. Before, it was real bad. I calmed down a little bit," he said. Still, he said, he has no idea what his plans will be. "I haven't got that far," he said.

The intensive drug court for youths began in 2002 and focuses on treatment and changing behavior. As part of juvenile court, the program sends probation officers and counselors to meet with teens and features family therapy, counseling, community service work, drug tests and more. It also provides training for parents in how to manage their children.

In Insights, the teenagers are taught to use art and words to depict their strengths and aspirations, not to see themselves as problem youths, said John D. Fullmer, juvenile drug court coordinator. About half of the youths in drug court have taken part in Insights.

The teens generally shoot six rolls of film and develop it. Photos have included close-ups of tattooed arms, whimsical outdoor photos and tight shots of facial expressions. Then, the students write about themselves.

"Deep down is a sad girl dying to be happy again," one girl wrote.

The court-run treatment program has worked with "just over 100 kids and their families," Fullmer said. About one-fourth of them did not complete the program, and 30 are in it now.


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