Monday, Oct. 17, was not an ordinary day at Borah High School for junior Talon Owens.
The day before, an Idaho Statesman story told how, six months earlier, Talon had planned to take his life by jumping from the eighth story of a Downtown Boise parking garage. His plan was interrupted when he saw a woman jump off a lower floor. Watching the stranger fall shook him out of his morbidness. He stepped away from the ledge.
That Monday at school, teachers told Talon that he was brave, and they were thankful he’d shed light on a dark topic. All the feedback he received was positive, he said. Students he didn’t know well approached him to offer encouragement and ask how his day was going.
“I think it’s opening new doors,” said Talon, who turned 16 in June. “Schoolwide, if everyone knew everyone’s story, that could change things.”
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Since then, more than a dozen students have told Talon their own struggles. “They told me stuff they’d done — self-harm that led to attempting suicide, popping pills, stuff like that,” he said.
Several students told him they had tried to talk to their parents about their problems but felt brushed aside.
“They said when they talked to me, they felt like they could open up about it, because they knew my story,” he said.
Borah social worker Becky Woodland said she and the West Boise high school’s five counselors lean on teachers to spot students showing signs of depression, such as withdrawal or personality changes.
Some students referred to Woodland and the counselors do not want to talk to adults. Others burst into tears and seem relieved that somebody has noticed them, Woodland said.
Knowing that a classmate has overcome a similar struggle can go a long way. For another student to talk about something that seems taboo or unsafe is a “weight lifted off their shoulders,” Woodland said.
“Teens respond to teens,” she said. “They think, ‘Here is a peer that is struggling, and he’s OK to talk about it, so maybe it’s OK if I talk about it.’ ”
I hope that the message is there that the world cares about them. At Borah and everywhere else, when they are ready, there’s always a caring adult. There’s always reason to reach out for help.
Becky Woodland, Borah High School social worker
Soon, Talon will have a new forum for telling his story: an event hosted by Story Story Night, a Boise nonprofit that features speakers telling raw stories drawn from their own experiences.
Jodi Eichelberger, artistic director, had already lined up two speakers for a Nov. 29 event at Jack’s Urban Meeting Place titled (base)JUMP(in).
The first speaker, JUMP Executive Director Maggie Soderberg, will talk about the J.R. Simplot Foundation turning the concept of a Downtown multiuse building into a reality. The second, Twin Falls base jumper Tom Aiello, will talk about how a three-month stay in the hospital changed his life.
Eichelberger said he was inspired by Talon’s story and thought it would complement the other two. He reached out Talon’s mom. Talon, his mother and two younger sisters met with Eichelberger.
“Talon was really composed,” Eichelberger said. “He said that, as a result of his experience, he wants to be an advocate for teen suicide prevention. He said he imagined part of that would be public speaking.”
It’s a lot to ask a teen who has never spoken in public to get on a stage in front of more than 300 people, especially when the topic is so personal, Eichelberger said.
Talon is able to state the events of his story that are really monumental and extremely intense in a very matter-of-fact kind of way. But I think, for people in the audience, it will be a very emotional experience.
Jodi Eichelberger, Story Story Night artistic director
Eichelberger said Talon allayed those concerns when he calmly ran through his story in the exact 10-to-12-minute range allotted for the event.
“Sometimes, a sister would cry a little bit,” he said. “Sometimes, his mom would cry a little bit. It was pretty amazing to experience the family going through this together.”
Talon said he’s not nervous — at least not yet.
“I know everybody in the room will connect with it in one way or another,” Talon said. “I just want to make it more real.”
Hear Talon speak
He will speak at (base)JUMP(in), hosted by Story Story Night, on Thursday, Nov. 29. The time is to be determined.
Tickets cost $12 and are available at storystorynight.org.
The woman who jumped
The woman who jumped off the parking garage in April survived. Talon Owens’ mother, Tawnia Owens, said she has wanted to meet the woman to thank her, in a roundabout way, for being the angel who saved her son’s life.
Authorities have not identified her, but Owens said she has exchanged messages with the woman’s sister.
“I think we’ll meet eventually,” she said. “I definitely feel like I have a really strong bond with that family.”