Unless you have a child – or know a child who is “at-risk” you don’t give it much thought. We read a lot about gangs and the violence that comes from it be we don’t understand why it happens or about the kids that get caught up in in it. The violence has increased so much over the years and the court system that is to take care of it can’t deal with it so the easiest thing to do is to just lock them up and get them off the street.
States have gone back and forth over when it is okay to try kids as adults, especially when they do adult type crimes. It is easy to see that all this does is make certain when they get out they will be full fledged criminals because they have no concept of how to live and have more than likely never experienced anything close to having a normal life. I say “more than likely” because there has been a greater trend toward children coming from “good” homes and still deciding that the life of a “gansta” has more appeal and excitement. But just like the sentences given out to older criminals, those children are looked at as having more promise and worth rehabilitating and get more breaks within the system. What helps this is they have family support who show up at court hearings and typically hire real attorneys who have gone over their cases and planned a strategy so they don’t end up in prison at 16. Most juvenile offenders don’t get to see their attorney until the are sitting at a desk in front of the judge who will decide whether they stay in the juvenile system or proceed to prison.
If they go to prison they are subject to the same system as adults, which means, no rehabilitation and being subjected to adult predators. They come out with a felony record they will never escape from. Education becomes extremely hard to get and their spiral down goes down fast. The law isn’t set up to benefit the minor. Juvenile courts are not allowed to consider why the child is there. They can only look at the offense. But where do this kids come from? Why did it get to the Point it was hopeless. Why wasn’t the child helped when there was plenty of time to do it, but feet were dragged and nothing was done. Help was never given. These kids became a lost society, kept out of view. They eventually became found a home with their gangs in prison, friends back with friends. They never had anyone who cared so they gravitated to the only people who loved them, people like themselves. Of course there are exceptions. There are kids that just seem determined ruin any chance they had. They go against what their parents tried to provide for them who don’t understand what they did wrong or couldn’t see in time to fix. Maybe there was nothing that could be done. But I want to talk about those who had no choice. Those who were born into a life that pushed them into a life of crime because it was all they knew.
I talk with several inmates about their life and how they feel about where they are. I want to tell you about one who recently confided in me:
“I want to explain the way culture and the environment I lived in all my life formed my outlook. Blacks are not the only ones being racially targeted. Growing up I remember if white people in cop cars saw you there were going to pull you over. I remember that no matter what you would be searched. Driving, they’d pull you over. It didn’t matter if there was a reason to pull you over. If you ran and they caught you they’d beat you, so you ran faster and you didn’t get caught. Staying there to find out meant you would probably go to jail. Innocence is not a factor. Never was, and it still isn’t.
I’m from the ghetto. There were foothills nearby. At times we’d see the KKK burning crosses in front of black people’s houses. That stopped in the 80’s. In 1992 there were the LA riots because Rodney King was beat up by cops. Only when I received my first prison sentence and reached my 20’s did I learn about the laws. They weren’t even supposed to be allowed to stop and search us for no reason, but the law never seems to apply to the police.
In prison, on paper, they saw there are rehabilitation programs. They say that, but in reality there aren’t any. I wanted to go to school. I wanted to learn a better of living but I soon learned that it didn’t mean me. There was no rehabilitation for people like me.
There is a mentality you learn growing up and living like that. The chances of people escaping that life is small. Most don’t. I’m one of the ones who didn’t escape. all those programs for “at-risk” kids never existed back then. I don’t know many kids benefit from them today. Everyone went to jail. Punks went to jail. I accepted that mentality. It was all I knew. It didn’t scare me. In fact, jail was a vacation from an abusive home. Violence was normal to me, so gangbanging was no biggy.
When you see very few people you know not go to jail and many of them die, it become normal. When I got out of jail the first time all my good intentions faded in a second. I got out wanting to do good, but when you encounter a hugh problem, who you really are comes out. Your intentions disappear. It’s engraved in you.
So you ask, why did I go back to prison? Why is it that if I knew the consequences, why am I here? Because that is how it was. I had no place else to go. It is the only experience I knew.”
This man was raised in a violent home where he got beat every day. There was violence all around him. He didn’t have parents who made sure he had good food every day and went to school. There was no Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny. There were no family Thanksgiving dinners and birthday parties. The kids I grew up with all had these things. We had families that cared. I’m sure violence existed but it never entered in my life. If you had his life what would you do? You would bond with other kids who had a life who could relate to yours. They were your family. You never really knew there was any other kind of life you could experience. There was no choice. You would end up in prison.
There many kids who don’t have families. Maybe the state took them away because of drugs and neglect. May the parents died and there was no place for the kids to go. We have all heard horror stories. The juvenile system is overloaded with kids who have no place to go. They get shifted between multiple foster home which are also rife with drug abuse and violence. There aren’t enough case workers who can take the time to care even if they wanted to. Nothing is done in a timely manner. Even when there is someone who is willing to take these kids in, the paperwork is insurmountable. The kids get lost in the system. They find themselves in and out of court until eventually they get old enough to prosecute. One more person locked up. Another one to take his place.
80% of those incarcerated went through the foster care system. Those are scary numbers. Doesn’t that tell you that if there were a better way of dealing with these throw away kids the prison population would go down? Isn’t it time something better should be done? Haven’t we had enough generations of throwaway Kids?
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