Martin Girls Academy, Florida

Brilliant, creative, diligent, curious, collaborative, generous, respectful and kind — they’re not necessarily adjectives first associated with girls in a high-security juvenile corrections facility. But they certainly apply to the 20 authors of This is Ours: Martin Girls Academy, a remarkable group of young women who poured their hearts and minds into the creation of this book.

Over three days in central Florida in 2017, these women, ages 14 to 20, worked with four New York City educators to write, take pictures and draw. Brainstorming as a community, the students picked five topics to illustrate in their home environment: Obstacles, Environment, Entertainment, Culture, and finally, Grace. As a group, they felt it was essential to represent both hardship and transformation.

Telling stories of life beyond the razor wire requires tremendous creativity and ingenuity. What the students could not photograph, they drew; what they couldn't draw, they brought to life through words. Individually and collectively, the authors’ took risks each day. The process was punctuated by intentional moments of community bonding - meditation, games and reflections - to ensure a strong foundation for the development of the book, and build lasting ties within the group. We were honored by their candor in sharing deeply personal experiences, and we could not be prouder of what they created.

Still, we were left with so many questions:  how does our nation’s current system of juvenile incarceration serve youth and the larger community?  What will happen to these young women, who we came to care for deeply — many of whom have experienced unspeakable trauma in their young lives and will leave the system with little support?  

The Martin Girls Academy book, the eighth edition in the series, joins This Is Ours books created by young people and for young people across the world. Designed to promote global awareness of diverse environments, the curriculum empowers youth by offering a voice to share their unique view of the world. The program is about both the natural world and the humanity we share as citizens of the this earth. Through the authors’ stories, we witnessed a triumph of the human spirit, and we hope that this is just the beginning of finding their voices. From this page onward, every photograph, image and word in this book is the work of the students at Martin Girls Academy. This is truly theirs to share with the world.

— Bessie Oster

To preview the book and buy it, please click here.