This week, 14 youth at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility sat quietly in a room together for two hours straight, concentrating hard on the chess boards in front of them.
The youth were of diverse backgrounds that might not typically interact with each other, and might even be antagonistic, in the case of those with past gang involvement. But in that room, they played with respect and good sportsmanship, shaking hands at the end of each match.
They also learned how to accept loss and continue to move forward. As one youth said, after losing a match, “Chess is a lot like life. Hard stuff gets thrown at you, and you have to deal with it.”
The event was a practice tournament hosted by Chess for Success, a nonprofit organization that has had a longtime partnership with the Oregon Youth Authority to bring chess into OYA facilities.
The event was initiated by Hope Partnership — an initiative through Janus Youth Programs that creates community connections for incarcerated youth through arts, life skills, vocational training, and transition services programs — as part of efforts to expand access to chess for youth at the facility.
At the end of the event, each youth received a prize, and some received books to help them continue their chess study.