A Girls Scout Leader Reflects on Using ITVS Docs to Help Girls Behind Bars

By Shalon Maral
Outreach Manager, Got Choices

In 2012, ITVS’s Community Classroom partnered with the Girls Scouts of the USA to create the curriculum “This is a Story You Have to Tell: Women, Girls, and the Criminal Justice System.” The collection features modules from three ITVS films: Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story, Troop 1500, and Girls on the Wall. The Girl Scouts have since adapted the resource to be used as curriculum for their national programs Beyond Bars and Girl Scouting in Detention Centers, reaching nearly 17,000 women and girls around the country. This week, their program in Northern California, Got Choices, will present at the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women in New York City. Here is a video portraying the project, followed by reflection from Shalon Maral, the Got Choices Outreach Manager.

I started out with Girl Scouts 22 years ago as a volunteer and I now have the most incredible job! For the last 10 years, working for Girl Scouts as an Outreach Program Manager has opened my heart. Our program, Got Choices, is a nationwide Girl Scouts in Detention Center Program. It is very strong in Northern California and continues to grow. We serve at least 660 girls a year in our council, in 18 sites in five counties.

My girls are in juvenile detention centers, on probation, and in group homes. Girl Scouts is working with girls from all walks of life. They are involved in gangs, drugs, and prostitution, to name a few of their choice activities before Got Choices… and they are Girl Scouts.  We have weekly meetings where I am potentially the only person that the girls see from the “outside” for days on end. These girls are MY girls. And I know that the work we do with them matters.

I can personally relate to these girls on so many levels, because of my experiences as a youth. I have “been there, done that”.  I am blessed to have the opportunity to share with them who I was and who I have become. The girls learn about my past and it builds trust between us. We connect.

I believe these girls can make changes in their lives and in the community, if they are given the right tools. Having positive adult female mentors, such as me, helps the girls learn how to relate to others in a more positive way.  I have shown them that there is another way to live. They can make different choices. Believing they can have a positive future makes the biggest difference of all.

Partnering with ITVS has given the girls a look at the world through others’ eyes. They can see other girls who walk the same walk, talk the same talk. The girls relate to documentaries and can view them without being judged.  My girls can identify pieces of themselves within the girls in the films. The curriculum motivates them to be better people and to not go down the same path. They are learning to make a new path for themselves.  It gives them hope.

ITVS curriculum is current; it tells stories of people the girls can relate to, helping them develop a sense of empathy. The documentaries and activities are engaging so they are motivated to participate and learn at the same time. I love this curriculum and I love sharing it with others. The response has been overwhelmingly positive from the girls!

I believe together we can make a difference in the lives of girls from all backgrounds, including those in detention centers. Using resources like this one helps us one step closer to that goal.