Bonner Springs Jeff Fouquet teaches American literature at Bonner Springs High School. But his formative years were a little rocky, to say the least.
At age 13 and for several years after, Fouquet knew firsthand what it was like to be a troubled teenager. His parents’ divorce and an unstable home life landed him in foster care and even, Fouquet recalls, homeless at one point.
“I was really scared being homeless and not knowing where I belonged,” Fouquet remembers. “I was really scared.”
That fear drove Fouquet to carry a concealed weapon and, at the age of 19, break into somebody’s house. For those crimes, he was sentenced to two years in prison.
But what could have defined his life in the worst of ways actually turned out to be a turning point from which Fouquet says he is still seeing the benefits.
“It was both the worst and the best thing that happened,” Fouquet, 34, said of his time in prison, noting that he was released after serving only four months due to good behavior and overcrowding. “It was incredibly terrifying. When the lights go out, you don’t know the people around you, and you know they’re in there for awful things. … But it’s what got me to change. Nobody’s words got me to change.”
For his students, however, Fouquet says that he hopes it will be different and that words will have the same, or even greater, impact on youths’ lives than a stint in prison had on his. The words are his own and they come in the form of a book he wrote based on his experiences called, “The Birdhouse Project: Finding Peace After a Difficult Past.” The book is the second in a series of books he and BSHS industrial technology teacher Kris Munsch created. The books utilize the analogy of building a birdhouse to demonstrate the ways in which difficult times can be overcome when tackled through a step-by-step process.
The first book, titled simply “The Birdhouse Project,” dealt with how to cope with the loss of a loved one, but Fouquet says that same analogy can be applied to any area of life.
“It’s the same metaphor, it’s the birdhouse again, but it’s just everyone has a story and the steps are universal, no matter what your story is,” Fouquet said.
Fouquet’s story has a happy ending, it turns out. He did turn his life around after his time in prison, going to college at Fort Hays State University and eventually earning a master’s degree from Kansas University. He says he originally saw “Finding Peace After a Difficult Past” as being a guide that would help teenagers going down the same path he once did. And helping young people is still an important aspect of the book, but Fouquet said writing it became the method by which he was able to find some healing and guidance, as well.
“I had to leave behind the life of being a convicted criminal,” said Fouquet. “I thought I had already done that, but the book really showed me that I hadn’t yet. And so, by being open about (my past) … I’m not hiding it from the world anymore. There’s no shame attached because I’ve told people and I’ve been forgiven. I’ve paid my debts.”
Having been at BSHS for five years now, Fouquet says he has seen a handful of students go through similar experiences as he once did, and he says it is those troubled youths he wants to reach out to the most through his book. One of the most important points of the book, Fouquet said, is that one mistake doesn’t have to define who you are. That concept is one Fouquet has struggled with himself throughout his life.
“I talk a lot about the shame of trying to be a teacher and knowing that I had this past,” he said,
The best one can hope to do, Fouquet says through his book, is to deal with the past, learn from it and, just as he has done, move on.
“The Birdhouse Project: Finding Peace After a Difficult Past,” will be released Nov. 22. Locations for purchase can be found at thebirdhouseproject.com.