I attended OAR Reentry program’s Supper Club on December 19th. The evening was warm and jovial as our community “broke bread” together. We have Supper Club’s once a month and it always proves to be an amazing evening with interesting and dynamic people. We usually have a theme, one month it might be Halloween Karaoke another watching and discussing a film, another having a game night. This month we watched clips of motivational speakers and spoken word artists and then did a vision exercise about our goals for the next 30 days together. I was fortunate enough to sit next to a client I will call Michael. I thought I knew some of Michael’s history. I knew he was living in a shelter near by and had been recently released from the detention center after serving time for trespassing and shoplifting. I knew he had spent the year prior to his incarceration in an alcoholic haze living under a bridge. His public defender who had taken a strong interest in his case told his story as one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan. “Lost Boys” was a name given to the group of over 20,000 boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were displaced and/or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005), about 2.5 million killed and millions were displaced. The name “Lost Boys of Sudan” was colloquially used by aid workers in the refugee camps where the boys resided in Africa.
At the Supper Club that night were asked to list a few things we want to add and a few things we want to subtract in our lives. Michael worked diligently on his list giving a sentence or two for each item on the list and when the facilitator asked us to share his was one of the first hands to go up. I was amazed by how humble and filled with hope his answers were. He is living in an emergency shelter where he has to leave by 8 a.m. each morning with everything he owns in life to carry through out the day on his back. Yet, he was excited about the idea of being able to work which he desperately wanted to do and knew he could only accomplish as long as alcohol was not something he used to forget the horrifying traumas he had experienced. I also learned that night that he had the most beautiful singing voice in his native tongue. I was touched that after the video clips some would share their thoughts and others would pass but Michael would struggle in English to say that he didn’t understand the clip due to language issues but thanked us for sharing it. I learned so many things about Michael that night, so many talents, so many strengths and such resiliency. One of the speakers talked about a quote “there are those who don’t know and those who don’t know they don’t know,” Before I sat and spent time with Michael on Monday night, I thought I knew.
By Katy Steinbruck, OAR’s Director of Reentry Services