Chicago At Risk Youth Takes to Sailing

Chicago At Risk Youth Takes to Sailing

As a society, we do have two choices with criminals. We can lock them up spending excruciating amounts of tax money to house, feed, provide medical care keeping them in the same environment with other criminals where they see the world in the same light, OR, we pull them out of that world entirely and put them in a totally new environment that provides a completely different perspective on life.

Sadly, many will say “Lock them up and throw away the keys.” Others see opportunity to improve the lives of the convicted by changing the world they live in. Here is one of those stories.

SailFuture based in Sarasota, FL created the “Sail for Justice” program in 2012. So far, it has taken 40 incarcerated minors, received permission from the Judge to be released to their custody where they take these disadvantaged sailing.  To date, none of the youth who completed the program have returned to incarceration.

A new program they are working on includes using their MacGregor 65 sailboat that will be sailed in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) from Gran Canary Island to St. Lucia in the Caribbean, some 2,700 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, beginning November 8, 2015.


There were 100 applicants which were whittled down to 9 candidates who are going through swimming school if they did not know how to swim before, as well as training aboard a sailboat in Baltimore, MD starting September 24, 2015.  All 9 candidates succeeded and are going to make this adventure of a lifetime flying to the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa at a later date.

A 15 year old from Chicago’s South Side is one of nine youths selected for this program.  He has been in the juvenile detention eight times in his life for the crimes of burglary, vehicle theft, and retail theft. In his case, he was not recommended by a judge for this program, but a priest on the South Side.

This is not to take “kids on a sailboat ride.”  Besides the sail training, seamanship training according to the press release, “the team will complete a comprehensive, onshore program where they will become advocates for a better juvenile justice system and receive job training and placement. They will learn to give speeches, write op-eds, and set meetings with lawmakers and politicians. They will become educated and well versed in the structures and socioeconomic factors that have shaped their communities and experiences in the juvenile justice system.”

“This isn’t about a sailboat race. This is about giving these young men a platform to prove that they are capable of change,” said Executive Director Michael Long, who also serves as an adviser to Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice. “This is their chance to stand in defiance of the status quo and demonstrate that there are more effective ways to bring about justice than prison.”


After his training is complete, and before he takes off to cross the Atlantic Ocean, I asked if he would write a guest blog here, and a second guest blog when his trip is complete?  Will we see a transformation?

Here are the two bottom line numbers:

  • More than 100,000 juveniles are sent to prison on any given day, and 75% re-offend and return to jail within a year of their release.
  • For the cost of incarcerating one juvenile for one year, this equals to the cost of putting all nine young sailors through this program. However, all funds for this program comes from private donations, no government funds are spent on it.

I wish the best of luck to this young man.  Not just in learning new skills, not just crossing an ocean safely, but to come out of the experience with a complete different perspective in life, one that conforms with societies standards of behavior.

Can it work?  There is no doubt in my mind.  I’ve seen it before.  On one sailing journey I made, we had a teen age punk on board.  We were sure he was carrying illicit pharmaceuticals – trafficking drugs.  We had no proof, but it was the only way that things added up.  Mid-ocean he infuriated the captain who called a crew meeting.  The captain said to all of us that the punk was out of the crew, had no more responsibilities (no watch standing, no galley cleaning, no food prep, was welcome to eat what others made, no responsibilities).  The captain would prefer that no one speak to him, but could not control this freedom.

Six months after this adventure, I heard back through the grapevine that the father of the punk was overwhelmed.  When he returned to shore, he had lost the punk attitude, gave up his illicit pharmaceuticals, and became a pleasant productive being for society.

Footnote – This Minor’s name in this story will be withheld at my personal discretion.


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