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Friday, October 12, 2007

Why are we so damn good at destroying young lives?

I do not know if I should apologize first or not for this post. I have been stewing on some issues lately that quite frankly, piss me off. So today, I decided to post on it and see what you all think.

For 26 years I have been trying to make a difference in a population commonly know as "At-Risk" youth. This journey of mine includes employment and volunteerism with: faith based programs, mental health institutions, wilderness experiential education programs, law enforcement based programs, community based programs, "inner city" programs, and privately funded efforts. I have a fair amount of college courses under my belt, and I have been flown all over the country to look at and learn from many great organizations. I do a fair amount of consulting on juvenile intervention for some rather large institutions. I have five doctorate level professionals that loosely mentor me. I think it is safe to say that I have developed a pretty decent level of experience and knowledge on the matter.

Recently I was asked to sit in on a "think tank" type of a meeting that was exploring the high school expulsion process. This meeting lit a fuse for me that has extremely angered me. The topic that lit my fuse was the fact that this school district expels the 'poo-butts' and sends them to a continuation type program. That is the normal process. However, there was this common knowledge that when the kids showed up for school, the teachers did not come to work, which left the kids unsupervised. What does an unsupervised poo-butt do? More importantly, what does that tell the kid about what the authority figures think of them? “Every child has inside him an aching void for excitement and if we don’t fill it with something which is exciting and interesting and good for him, he will fill it with something which is exciting and interesting and which isn’t good for him” Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States

I started to think about this madness. Please understand that I am currently engaged in a serious effort to save these lives. We recently had a 13 year old boy fatally shot in the back as he walked home from Jr. highschool. *Median age for beginning to associate with gangs was 13, Median age for actually joining was 14 – as well as the median age for first arrest. The FBI reports that 3.3 million kids (17 and under) were victims of a crime while at school. *About 1 in 4 male and females with delinquency records were first referred before the age 14. We are screaming for help and I swear every one thinks its a joke.

I was directed to go to the faith based organizations in the community for help. Surely Christians would help. I went to a large (2000+) local church to try and recruit mentors. We just wanted to get some good role models involved in these extremely impressionable lives. We could not get one church person to show up. I went to a local Southern Baptist university to try and get some of the students to donate some time to tutor these kids. Not one person volunteered. These churches are populated by middle/upper middle class people. Maybe they just let fear dominate their response when it comes to poor kids? After all, God can only protect you so much, right? Juvenile Justice policies have historically been built on a foundation of myths. From the “Dangerous classes” of the 19th century to the super predators of the late 20th century, government responses to juvenile crime have been dominated by fear of the young, anxiety about immigrants or racial minorities, and hatred of the poor ( Platt, 1968, Wolfgang, Thornberry, & Figlio, 1987).

I had to deal with a case where the child was arrested for a knife on a school campus, and now has a juvenile record. What these professionals considered a knife was only the nail cleaning part of a pair of finger nail clippers. Have we totally lost our common sense? Is the only tool we have left to address these issues a jail? *Allowing one youth to leave high school for a life of crime and drug abuse costs society $1.7 - $2.3 million. I understand the need for structure and discipline. But when we see every problem as a nail, we will always use a hammer to deal with it. We can not arrest our way out of this mess anymore. We are not allowing youth to leave school, we are telling them to leave.

We expel kids every day from school for acting up. The current trend is that less than 50% of a freshman class will graduate 12 grade. We put a 14 year old in state prison walking main line with hard core convicts. **By age 12, up to 40% of later serious offenders have committed their first criminal act. We have kids shooting up school campuses. ** By age 14, up to 85% have committed their first criminal act. Juvenile crime is steadily climbing up the stat charts. And we are cool with that, as long as it does not affect us? Well, I am not!

We have parents killing their entire families. Law enforcement is now tracking "thrown away kids". We have parents that honestly do not care. *Study findings revealed that persons who had been abused or neglected as children increased the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile by 59%. I get calls weekly from a parent that just wants us to take their kid away, forever. You had the kid, you need to step up and raise the kid.

The media openly supports every thing that is against any value that once formed a moral foundation for this country. Kids mimic what they see, and the blood runs down the street gutters while every one looks around to see who, or, if anyone will notice their apathetic do-nothing mind set. The silent majority would rather watch a kid bleed out rather than risk a moment of compassion.

I am so pissed off at this mess. I get so aggravated by adults who gloss over societies huge black eye; the destruction of younger generations. Most of the kids I deal with do not care about global warming, health insurance, higher education opportunities, or how their behavior will effect their future because they SERIOUSLY believe they will not live past 20 years of age. And we (society) keep affirming that. Can someone please tell me why are we are so damn good at destroying lives? Societies crime tolerant apathetic attitude is killing your children America.

*= U.S. Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 1999 National Report.

Welfare League of America: Programs: Justice Division, Child Maltreatment and Juvenile Delinquency.

**= What Works and What Doesn’t in Reducing Recidivism: The Principles of Effective Intervention: Edward J. Latessa, Ph.D. ,Center for Criminal Justice Research ,Division of Criminal Justice ,University of Cincinnati

If you have lasted this far on this post, thanks for hearing me spew my frustration.



Anonymous said...

I agree that we are turning our kids out. But When are we going to start holding the PARENTS accountable for their kids? You can, teach, preach and train kids to do just about anything, but if its not reinforced at home, it does little to no good. I am not saying that all of this rest on the parents, the kids also have to be held accountable. But the garden grows only as good as the gardeners tools.
Where are the training classes for the parents on how to BE A PARENT?
It amazes me that when you buy a new watch, a new radio, a new anything, it comes with a booklet of instructions, but when we have a new kid, nothing. Just a wheelchair ride to the door.
"See ya!"
My take on this issue is that it has to start at home.
Gangs? Kids are just looking for love and to know that they belong, that some one cares about them and everything that incompasses. By the time they get to be 13 and 14, the damage is done. Yes, it can be turned around, but it is harder. ( as you know)
What happened to the classes in school that taught us how to be a human being? To show compassion?
I had them when I was in school ( granted that was YEARS ago). I think that we are trying to put the horse before the cart.
It makes me sad to read that when you called for people to help, no one came. " let it be some one elses problems, as long as it doesnt touch me" mentality.
I live in a very small town, but deal with the some of the same issues. Here it is a spirit of poverty,(mental and financal) that kills these kids. No one before them has ever done anything, or has had anything good, so why should I? Babies having babies, because thats what happens in their family.One of my daughters friends is having a baby. She just turned 15!! Her mom thinks its great!She was 16 when she had her first kid.
I have some friends that are on the force here, and to hear the stories about these kids. When told that he was going to jail, this 15 year old, replied "good, than at least I will be with family". His father and two of his brothers are in jail.
Just wanting to be long and be loved.
If we dont invest in out kids, some one will!! If we arent talking to our kids, some one is.
How do we fix this? Where do we start?
I know the answer is one at a time, but its all so over whelming. I want to reach all of them.
I am greatful that there are passionate people like you who care enough to get pissed off and to try and change things.
My heartfelt thanks and gratitude go out to you.
Just one....if we can reach just one...

Talking Bear said...

FNL, You are right!!!

I spoke with a parent today and she wanted us to create harsher punishment for kids. I asked her to what end? The goal is not to destroy her childs future, although we can. The goal is to redirect her child. She said they tried by giving him a summer job to earn money to pay off tickets. I asked how much did he earn over the summer. She said $50.00. I came unglued. I asked her, what do you think you taught him. She looked dumb founded. I advised her that in no uncertain terms, that she had taught him the exact oppsite of what she set out to do. I asked her, how long would you work for a dollar a day? It is a lot easier to just go sell dope.

storyteller said...

I'm heartened to know you're out there paying attention and doing what you can to make a difference. I've left the arena ... retiring early 7 years ago after 34 years in the classroom, watching things crumble ... needing to "regroup" and consider how I might affect change on a wider scale.

I've long viewed children as "mirrors" for the rest of us ... "reflecting what they're learning day to day ... demanding we teach them better ways to deal with challenges and temptations (among other necessary life lessons) ... and one day I'll write this book (gradually taking shape in my mind )of Small Reflections ... hoping to shed light on these issues.

A Course in Miracles teaches, "Whatever the question, love is the answer." Love is not for sissies! This teaching calls each of us to measure our daily responses to everything against the standard of love as we understand love to be.
Is it loving to let kids be disrespectful and destructive?
Is it loving to save them from the natural (and/or logical) consequences of their choices?
Is it loving to throw kids away in a "continuation school" or "jail" ... out of sight and mind ... forgetting the "cure" adds to their problems and we'll need to pay in untold ways (thinking here the law of unintended and often unrecognized consequences)

I could go on endlessly, but you get my drift. Another lesson of ACIM is that "giving and receiving are the same" ...(like we reap what we sow, etc.) It boggles MY mind to consider that our current family, community, and world problems demonstrate what we've cultivated (perhaps unconsciously). Awareness is the first step. Once we know better, we'll do better. Paying attention and listening to inner guidance will show us our next steps ... and inviting others to join us brings us back to the concept of community. It DOES take a village to raise a child.

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