Jan 09, 2018
Youth Spotlight—Noah Schultz and his” Inspiring Action Tour”
Noah Schultz is a 25-year old graduate of the Hope Partnership program who served 7.5 years in the custody of the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA). While at the MacLaren Correctional Facility, Noah received two Bachelor of Arts degrees. Since his release in October 2016, he has become an outspoken youth advocate, with a passion to drive reform in our justice system, inspiring hope, action and humanizing the stories of the incarcerated. In November 2017, Noah completed a two-month “Inspiring Action Tour” at ten correctional facilities throughout the U.S. where he showed the award-winning documentary film about him, “Perception: From Prison to Purpose.” He is co-owner of Forgotten Culture Clothing and co-founder of Verbal Escape. Noah spoke to us about his tour.
What gave you the idea to do a tour to correctional facilities in other states?
I wanted to go outside of Oregon because I know that many other states do not have programs like OYA has which focuses on the human development model. I knew from personal experience how programs like the Hope Partnership have a positive effect on youth. I wanted to share my story to inspire hope for incarcerated youth.
The documentary film “Perception: From Prison to Purpose” is a story that happens to be personal—it is mine. The film shows that any kid is capable of committing a crime. One of the big goals I wanted to achieve with the tour was to get the film in front of facility administrators and their staff to help them understand the role trauma plays in a youth’s decision-making. Usually a decision to commit a crime is a manifestation of a lot of hurt from one’s past. By sharing my own story, I tried to get administrators to understand how these kids end up in their facilities. Given the right resources, they can change their trajectory.
How did you get correctional facilities to sign up?
I began by making cold calls and being persistent. Outside of Oregon and Washington, no one knew who I was. I had to convince them that I was giving a free screening of a documentary and a presentation. When I look back, I am not sure how we got into some of those facilities.
Where did you go?
We went to youth correctional facilities, universities, youth-serving organizations and an adult facility. Our tour took us to Florida, Louisiana, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina and Washington D.C. We tailored our presentation to each audience, but kept the main themes in tact: inspiring hope, action and changing the perception of incarcerated youth. By the time we left each facility, we were getting hugs and handshakes. Every presentation was different. It felt like planting seeds across the U.S. Although it was hard to get into some of these places, they all asked when we were coming back.
How did you engage the youth?
I started by giving a 10 minute presentation then showed the documentary. Afterwards, my friend and partner, Guytanos and I answered questions. Many youth wanted to know details about what is like to transition back into society. Some asked about ways that helped me stay out of trouble when I was inside.
We showed these youth through our speaking that it is ok to be vulnerable. It is ok to feel. Even if they are not ready, they are seeing someone who has taken those steps.
What are some of the takeaways from the tour?
The tourreignited my passion for prison reformation issues, seeing so many youth who were not receiving the kinds of programs I did, like Hope Partnership. I want to bring more awareness to the issue of incarceration, advocating for better programming for incarcerated youth.
Many people do not understand who ends up in these facilities and what happens to them. I want to push for rehabilitation, helping youth in the facilities come out better than when they went in. From my observations, the facilities in the South use the punitive model. In contrast, the Oregon Youth Authority has made a push towards a model of treating people like people. I want to humanize the story of incarcerated people so when they come home employers do not deny them jobs nor are they scarred for the rest of their lives.
How did Hope Partnership prepare you?
Hope Partnership provided me with the support and opportunity to grow into the leader I am today. Having a person like Kathleen Fullerton—Hope Partnership Project Coordinator—believe in me and make me be accountable and take control of my life was so important. The leadership classes I took put me into a leadership role when I did not think I was a leader. Toastmasters helped me to speak confidently. I was not a natural public speaker; I was scared to open up. I broke those walls down through five years of Toastmasters and staying committed. Restorative justice classes helped me see the impact of my crime on the victim, his family and the community.
I want to continue to speak with families and advocate for young people.
In February, we are scheduling speaking engagements in schools and colleges throughout Oregon and Washington. I hope to teach Verbal Escape—a spoken word, poetry curriculum that my partner and I designed to get an incarcerated youth without experience to write poetry. In Verbal Escape, we instruct youth on how to get control of their voice and their story. Most importantly, we give youth an outlet to express their feelings through writing; it is a safe place.
An inmate from the Miami facility said to me when we were leaving, “Do not stop what you are doing. Continue to be that light. Do it for us.” I will never forget that moment. It propels me forward.