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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Teenagers in trouble with the law can often turn their lives around through art. But it takes someone with the desire, passion, and vision to help those minors clean up their lives.

That’s what long-time educator and artist German DuBois does for the boys and girls locked up at the Miami-Dade Juvenile Detention Center.

“As the artist of their future, why not use art as a way to kind of motivate them to realize they can still become whatever they want,” explains DuBois.

For nearly a year now, Dubois and featured artists like Carlos “Zulu” Culbertson, have transformed the detention center’s courtyard walls into visions of a hopeful future. They are the creative visions of the minors jailed there.

“Hope Murals is a nonprofit organization that started with the idea of using art as a platform to engage young people in a process of self-reflection and a way to kind of talk to them about the concept of hope,” says DuBois. “What hope is as an idea. What hope means to them. And really begin to have a dialogue around hope as a life skill.”

Each month a featured artist heads a mural project. And with each one a different group of kids is involved from beginning to end, starting with a workshop.

“It starts off very simple, music and chips,” DuBois explains. “And just sort of, ‘hey if you had to explain hope to someone that never has heard of the concept, what would that sound like?’ And kids just start talking and we are recording and scribbling and I’ve got markers and sketch pads out.”

Dubois says stick figures start emerging, and little by little the featured artist is sketching the children’s own ideas.

“Kids start, ‘oh, I like that idea’, ‘can you add that?’, ‘can you edit that?’, ‘oh no, I don’t like that color’, ‘let’s add dreads’. And they own it and then we take it into a deeper level on our own. Then we bring it back, they approve, everybody likes it and then we start the process.”

Zulu’s mural in the J.D.C. courtyard is that entire process becoming reality.

“The Hope Mural Project has continued to inspire me to see that there is opportunities to help kids,” says Zulu.

He explains the figure in the painting has overcome a seemingly impermeable wall. That figure is now opening a fluid curtain, revealing what lies ahead.

“The kids can figure out within their own lives how to move that obstacle and find themselves in a better place in the future without dwelling on where they are now,” says Zulu. “Looking forward to the future and taking it into their own hands. It was really great to sit down with the kids and get to know them. And get to find out what they thought hope meant to them.”

The Miami-Dade County J.D.C. houses hundreds of kids as young as nine and up to 18 years old.

DuBois walked around the courtyard showing the CBS4 crew the other Hope Murals painted throughout 2018, including one a group of girls created with a female artist. The end result featured legendary writer Maya Angelou. The girls learned about Angelou and her own hardships for the very first time.

“One of the girls talked about this idea of self-love,” he says. “And she would receive a lot of criticism about some of the mistakes she made and why she ended up here. And her thing was, yeah, I messed up. But I still think I’m a good person.”

Pain and regret were expressed. Tears flowed. And as a sense of pride set in, “hope” was born.

Latest numbers from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice show the average minor who re-offends and ends up back in the system does it in the first five months after release. Fourteen percent of those who do re-offend do so within the first month out.

DuBois’ own hope is to break that cycle and help these kids never to return behind bars.

“Getting to these young people early enough where they can avoid having the adult incarceration experience, then we could truly say we’ve made an impact.”

Dubois says with donations, his goal with Hope Murals is to create one each month to cover the entire facility. He calculates that’s easily two more years. He also hopes to work with the other 24 juvenile detention facilities across Florida.

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— By Donna Rapado

Rudabeh Shahbazi