04-20-2024  5:59 am   •   PDX and SEA Weather
Saundra Sorenson
Published: 25 January 2024

victor trillo introVictor Trillo Jr.“It’s an arts-based club to support youth who have been impacted by incarceration, deportation or detention,” Trillo told The Skanner. “It’s just mind-boggling what we’ve been able to do here. Going on two years we have consistent attendance, we sit in the space together, we either have a writing prompt where we write about our experiences, or an art prompt where we draw our experiences, and we’ll have guest speakers come in and talk about their stories of resilience and how they overcame the barriers or the challenges of having a loved one incarcerated or deported or detained.”

Trillo knows all too well how isolating it is to have a loved one locked up.

“Growing up, my father was unfortunately incarcerated all my childhood,” he said. “My mom was trying her best, but I started down on the wrong path, getting involved in the juvenile justice system. Ultimately I found support in my life, and when I found that support in my life, I really developed who the real me was, that it wasn’t my fault that my father was incarcerated, it wasn’t my fault that my mother had barriers that she had to endure, and I started putting my best foot forward and just learning.”

Trillo told his story for the Pathfinder Network's Impact of Incarceration video library, alongside other adults who grew up separated from family members who were serving time.

The video library is one of the nonprofit’s tools to counteract the isolation and shame youth impacted by the correctional system often feel. The school-based Pathfinder Club is another.

“We very rarely have a student come in and share their impacts,” Trillo said. “You don’t have to come to club and say why you’re there. But time and time again, through that community and through that food, you get these masterpieces created where you have stories where they’ll just write about what they endured.”

Battling Hopelessness

tyler stonebrakerTyler StonebrakerParkrose student Tyler Stonebraker discovered a knack for writing through Pathfinder Club. In his poem “Pain to Motivation,” he describes a household stretched thin, his burdened mother and his decision to use adversity to propel himself forward.

He described incarceration as a kind of phantom threat that hovers around his family. His uncle went to prison when Tyler was five, and just a couple years ago, his mother’s live-in boyfriend was given a relatively short sentence that nonetheless threw the family off-kilter.

Seeing adults in his life land in prison gave Stonebraker a sense of hopelessness.

“I just felt there wasn't anything in this life for me,” Stonebraker told The Skanner.

“They didn’t really talk to me about it. I just kind of understood – for a while I was just on my own about stuff.”

Even though he lived in a neighborhood where many families experienced similar absences, Stonebraker said, “I didn’t really have anyone I could talk about it with, it was just kind of eating me alive and I was really embarrassed about everything.”

Though initially skeptical about the Pathfinder Club, Stonebraker now views Trillo as a mentor – one who checks up on him regularly and helped him find jobs last summer.

“Personally, I don’t think I would be here without the Pathfinder Club,” Stonebraker said. “I would end up like everyone else in my life, either dead or in prison. It’s given me more opportunities. It’s opened up my eyes to see that I have a future, that I really do matter.”

Understanding The Pain

Obstacles to visiting incarcerated loved ones include distance, the often-intimidating process of going through security and getting cleared to visit an inmate, and the often prohibitive cost of staying in touch by phone or email, for which most correctional facilities charge fees. (A year ago, President Biden signed the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022 to regulate the often predatory rates private, third-party telecommunications companies charge inmates and their families. At the time, a 30-minute phone call averaged $5, though rates were sometimes as high as $1 a minute.)

“It’s a very scary situation, it was very emotional, very traumatizing having to go through those doors, walking through metal detectors, being watched by guards,” Trillo said of his visits to see his father in prison. “And ultimately, I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I yearned to go to prison to be with my dad, because I missed him so much and I couldn’t take him home with me.”

Though estimates vary, data suggests that children of an incarcerated parent have a significantly higher chance of ending up in custody themselves.

Trillo did end up in prison at 19, and ultimately served just over two decades. Even that experience has given him valuable perspective he can share with students.

“It was about survival,” he said. “It was easier for me to become emotionally disconnected rather than connected with family. In those moments it was just all about surviving, not to let the time do me. I became emotionally shut down, telling myself I’m not good enough for my family, telling myself that I failed, having negative self-talk.”

Trillo started the Parkrose chapter of the Pathfinder Club in May 2022.

“I say this without reservation: Parkrose is so wonderful,” he said. “It has been a great partner for the success of the Pathfinder Club and the trail from hurt and harm to hope and healing.

"We have a wonderful, open relationship with the principal on down, with support from teachers.”

From Pain To Plans

Through Pathfinder Club, Stonebraker may have found his calling. Last summer the Pathfinder Network coordinated filmmaking classes with the nonprofit Outside the Frame and Stonebraker wrote and directed a three-minute short film called “It’s Ok Not to Be Ok.”

The camera follows three students – one with a father in prison, one who moves around frequently and lacks a stable home and one whose parents are constantly in conflict.

“I really liked expressing my story through film, so I want to be a director when I’m older,” Stonebraker said.

Trillo believes strongly in Stonebraker’s artistic talents.

“I probably have the most writing submissions from Tyler,” Trillo said. “Just deep, deep pain, and his wisdom and his expression – it’s just so powerful to see.”

Stonebraker's writing and the art and poetry of other Pathfinder Club members has been compiled in an anthology called Advice to 9th Graders: Stories, Poetry, Art & Other Wisdom, which will have its own book launch at Parkrose High on Feb. 13.

For more information, visit https://www.thepathfindernetwork.org/programs/programs-for-youth.

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