While the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program has one stated goal—visits for prisoners and their children—Troop 1500 goes far beyond that, taking a holistic approach to the mother-child relationship.
Since its inception in 1998, Troop 1500 has brought some 50 girls together to discuss their hopes, fears and aspirations—both with their mothers and among themselves. Troop 1500 not only facilitates regularly scheduled visits with the Scouts and their moms, but has tackled the difficult and fragile psychological issues of prisoners and their children.
Troop 1500 leader Julia Cuba and Girl Scout Jessica
Jasmine and her mother Melissa on a prison visit
Begun and led by social worker Julia Cuba of the Girl Scouts of the USA’s Lone Star Council, and evaluated by Dr. Darlene Grant, an associate professor of social work at the University of Texas at Austin, Troop 1500 makes a group visit to the Gatesville Women’s Prison once a month. Back in Austin, the troop stays active with weekly meetings, allowing Cuba to keep close tabs on the girls’ family life, school and social activities, as well as their mothers’ progression through the penal system.
Once a month, Troop 1500 also meets for group therapy, giving the girls a place to express themselves and support one another in a structured and supportive environment. When the mothers matriculate from prison, their daughters stay on with Troop 1500 as long as they like, serving as mentors and role models to their friends and new members.
Addressing the emotional needs of these at-risk Scouts has paid remarkable dividends. In a 2003 Texas Monthly interview, Cuba said that 96 percent of the girls in Troop 1500 have stayed in school, and 98 percent have stayed out of the penal system.
The statistics are remarkable, but Cuba sees the human faces behind the numbers every time she takes Troop 1500 behind the walls of Gatesville Women’s Prison. As she reflects in the documentary TROOP 1500, "I don’t think the girls will leave there with a romanticized idea of prison…because they also have to watch each other being ripped away from their mothers. That, I don’t think they would want to recreate for their own child.” And that’s what Cuba, Grant and even the mothers are fighting for: a brighter future for a generation of girls who could just as easily be dismissed.
Troop 1500 on a Girl Scout outing
Beyond the serious issues, Troop 1500 isn’t just about therapy. It’s a working Girl Scout troop, complete with badges and uniforms, get-togethers and campouts—because fun is an important part of healing and coping.
And, yes, come February the girls of Troop 1500 get down to business and do what every other Girl Scout in America is doing: selling cookies.
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Top photos (L-R)
Mikalea films an interview with her mom, Kenya
Girl Scouts (L-R) Mikalea, Ashley, Jasmine and Jessica during an outing