Skip to main content

Blog Posts

RISE Family Program Skit Night

An Evening of Vulnerability, True Empathy, and Connection.

By Jeremy Bouman, RISE CEO & Founder

On Friday evening, February 4th, 60 masked people crammed into the Culxr House to listen to spoken word poems, stories and reflections from the RISE Youth & Family Program participants who had just completed a six-week session on effective communication. When we ran out of chairs people sat on the floor and stood in the back, everyone there to hold space and to truly see and hear from people that most have written off, or fear, or don't think deserve everything we all desire out of life, whatever that means. 

RISE has a mission to break generational cycles of incarceration. This includes the children, parents, spouses and partners of incarcerated loved ones. We can't truly live out our mission without supporting those left behind when a loved one is incarcerated, or find ways to support them when their loved one comes home and everything that comes along with it - resentments, mixed emotions, anger, unforgiveness, heightened expectations, disappointments.

Will things be like they used to be? How is this going to work? Is forgiveness possible? Will they hurt me again? Will I hurt them again? 

The RISE Youth & Family Program started in 2021 as a way for families to reckon with these questions and emotions in a safe space shared with peers navigating similar experiences. Sometimes the loved one has returned home and they need to work through these things together. Sometimes the loved one is still incarcerated and the family needs support either preparing for their return home or all the challenges they face staying connected while their loved one is still incarcerated.

Often, communication is a barrier. There are physical and emotional barriers to communication. There are logistical barriers where people have not been able to see their loved ones for months on end as the pandemic drags on. Sometimes the oppressive cost of the phone calls are just too much to afford this month. People fall away, facing only the challenges they are able to face each day right in front of their face. Their incarcerated loved one will have to wait because they are struggling and doing their best to hold it together. 

Program participants worked during the six week unit with theater artist Lucas Perez-Leahy to prepare their monologues that were performed beautifully in duos, each person's words juxtaposed and intertwined with their spouse, partner or a class peer. The stories were heart-wrenching and hopeful. Common themes of violence, addiction, neglect, abuse, suicidal thoughts, familial harm and disappointment weaved through the narrative with all roads leading to incarceration. They also talked about the importance of hope and how they had found it in the program, in each other, and in themselves.

I was in awe of their resilience through all their trials and the courage they displayed stepping up to the mic to bear their souls. When I think about what the best definition of community can be, it was this; vulnerability, true empathy and connection with everyone that was present. People being listened to and truly seen. An opportunity for reflection, genuine questions and sharing after the stories were told. People processing, inquiring, testing biases, digesting, probing and changing. Shared humanity and connection. There is healing in the telling. There is healing in the listening. There is transformation in the shared experience. This is what community can and should be.

The RISE Youth & Family Program is lovingly run and stewarded by Alana Alexander, who shares lived experience in the criminal legal system with our program participants and has a heart for children of the incarcerated, seeing each person as a reflection of her own son who she was separated from during her time in prison. She has two Bachelor's Degrees, a Graduate Degree, and is certified in Family Mediation. She is uniquely gifted to shepherd these relationships and conversations that require a gentle, experienced touch.

The program provides space for conversations that can be difficult to have for family members but that need to be had if there is hope for healing and reconciliation. The Program meets at the RISE office on Friday nights from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm. Childcare is provided. A meal is shared and the group works through the topics and discussion for the night broken into six-week units curated by Alana through materials created by family psychologists, national experts, therapists at Boys Town and other best-practice resources. 

In the first year of the program, we have seen true healing, repair and strengthened bonds in families and relationships. The program is open to anyone in Nebraska that is formerly incarcerated or family members that have incarcerated loved ones. We are holding a seat for you and your family. Please reach out and get plugged in if this type of support is something you need. If you know of someone or a family that could benefit from this program please encourage them to check it out.

We'd love to hear from you!
What's the best way to contact you?
Additional Details