Kids Who Survived Adult Jail Send a Lifeline to Those Still Inside

A dozen slouching teenage boys shuffled into a makeshift classroom just off the juvenile block at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center, one of the city's adult jails.

They were awkward and reticent at first as Jacob Winterstein, a poet, worked the room, challenging them with tongue twisters, icebreakers, moving to the beat playing from an iPod and a portable speaker. Two hours later, the teens were writing poetry and rapping - about street life and family, about the rhythm of the cell block and the fights that can disrupt it, about their regrets and hopes.

Winterstein was impressed.

"The best sessions," he said, "are where, by the end, we all kind of forget that we're inside of a jail."

It's a rare reprieve, courtesy of the Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project - a program created and run by former juvenile inmates to provide support to kids in Philadelphia's adult prison system. It also acts to fuel a movement to treat kids as kids in Pennsylvania courts and jails.

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