Parkour at the NRV Juvenile Detention Center.

By Elijah Bowen APK Ambassador and owner of affiliated gym Blue Ridge Motion

July 2019, I was given an opportunity to spend 3 hours in our local juvenile detention center in Christiansburg, Virginia, teaching Parkour and leading a discussion on fairness (a topic the center assigned me), for character development. This is part of a program they host called “Character counts”. It was a small group of young guys between the ages of 13 and 17. None of them looked like kids you would think should be there, they all appeared “normal” and were articulate, and intelligent; they didn’t appear to be bad kids or even rough kids. If you saw them outside, you wouldn’t guess they were trouble makers. However, they were there for whatever reason, and now I had a unique opportunity to redirect some misguided youth in a better direction using the discussion topic and parkour.

Once I was set up and ready, they were marched into the gymnasium, a large open room with pads lining two of the walls, basketball hoops, and even some nice colorful painted accents on the walls, it was not unlike a normal schools gymnasium, except that the doors were all locked and couldn’t be opened without keys. They walked in an orderly line with about four staff members accompanying them and were told to sit down against the wall. I gave a brief introduction to who I was, where I was from, what I did and what I was there to teach them, and proceeded to get their names and shake their hands. After a little further discussion on “what is parkour?”, and “what is free running?”, we got up and began our warm-up. They weren’t allowed the usual footwear in the facility, so they all were wearing crocs and preferred to be barefoot, so we went barefoot for the whole session.

Everything was going smoothly, they enjoyed learning everything; vaulting, wall running, precision jumping, and I brought the air floor, so we even did some flips too. Some were exceptional athletes, and some were initially too terrified to try some of the basic moves. It took a lot of encouragement from the other kids there to get the ones that were apprehensive to try it, but when they did and were successful, we all cheered and it really brought them out of their shell in that way and with each challenge, they were less scared to try. After about two and a half hours of practicing and learning, we began nearing the final 30 minutes of the event, so I sat everyone down and we began our cool down stretching phase, and I used this time to begin the discussions on fairness and how parkour related and was beneficial to their situations.

“What is fairness” I asked them, it started an interesting dialog that trailed off a number of directions. I said “one example, we all took turns on the obstacles.” they all agreed that was a simple form of fairness.

Another one said, “fairness is everyone has the same amount of stuff and the same opportunities.” I said, “So if your neighbor works harder than you and makes twice as much money, is that unfair that he has more?” They all agreed that it was fair for him to have more because he worked for it.

I elaborated on the example and said “life itself is really not that fair, and people rarely have the exact same circumstances or opportunities. However, you may have completely different opportunities that they don’t have or that you haven’t considered yet as well, like how I am here teaching you guys parkour. Not a lot of other people have this sort of opportunity, and it wouldn’t have been open to me if I didn’t pursue opening a parkour gym. It took lots of work and effort, but it came together from nothing to what it is now.”

I continued on and told them how I started the gym, how I got there, and where I hoped it would go someday, and then we discussed what they wanted for their future. “I want to be an engineer.” one of them said, “I want to go to college.” said another, and the others had different things they wanted for their future. I said “Great! So what’s the plan? How will you get there?” It was a good discussion time about the future and their plans, but none of them had thought too much about how they would reach those goals.

The discussion continued and was coming to a close, so I told them, “You guys are all here for a reason; for the bad choices you’ve made.” They all dropped their heads as if feeling shameful, but I continued. “however, you’re good kids, and you’re smart, and you could do anything you set your mind to.” They looked back up and gave me their attention. “We don’t all have the same opportunities or advantages sometimes, but everyone can rise above and make the best of their circumstances no matter how bad. Just like we learned there are many ways to overcome these physical obstacles, we must learn the best ways to overcome the obstacles we face in life, and sometimes that’s going to be a lot of work. It takes training, dedication, and it even takes encouragement from people close to you… and guys if you don’t encourage and look out for each other like you’ve done today, life can be a lot harder for you.

Remember this too, that it will often take a lot of failed attempts to get to where you’re going, but that’s okay, because you get up and you try again and you keep trying until you get it, like you guys did with this training… This situation is not the end of your lives, you are all still at the beginning, just start making better choices, and start aiming for the things you guys want for your future. I don’t know all your situations, but I truly hope you guys never come back here. When you all get out, if you want to, come to my gym. I don’t mind if it’s just a place to hang out, or if it’s to learn more parkour and stuff. Just come, it’s free for you and I want you all to know that you have me as your friend on the outside that will be there to help you guys in any way I can. I can’t promise I have the answers, but I will be there to help you guys succeed, and do whatever you have to do. Filling out applications, being a reference, or whatever it is, I am here for you guys when you’re out.”

Their eyes were all fixed on mine, then the oldest one says to me “You mean that? If I come to you when I am out, will you remember me?” I told him, “I wouldn’t forget any of you and I mean what I said. Even if you just want a place to hang out, you don’t have to do parkour. I am just offering myself for you guys as a resource when you are out and wanting to start again because I want to see you guys succeed and do good things.” they all asked for my business card and the lady in charge said she would give them my business info when they left.

Only time will tell what impact this had on them, so I plan to write a follow-up article someday when I hear from them and see how they are doing.  My main hope is that through parkour and the discussions we had, that I was able to make a difference in their lives and that they would choose better things and follow the dreams they told me of, but also that through our lesson they would learn they can overcome all obstacles in their life if they are persistent and keep going, and that they can better themselves every day, if they try.

Written by

Patrick Witbrod

Patrick is a Technology and Business senior at Missouri S&T where he practices parkour. Constantly trying to improve himself, he's lost 30 lbs because of parkour and martial arts and doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon.