Archive for the ‘At-risk kids’ Category

I wanted to re-post this piece about the physical limitations of a solitary confinement cell in light of Albert Woodfox’s memoir, “Solitary”, about his 40 years locked up in solitary in Angola. Just the physical limitations alone can break the human spirit. Woodfox’s courage and strength are remarkable.

Kids in the system

I’ve written a lot about solitary confinement and the terrible damage it does to anyone–but especially young people who are still physically, intellectually, psychologically unformed, vulnerable–children. I’ve seen kids in solitary lock-up; in a very small way I’ve experienced the sensory deprivation that they experience 24 hours a day, and witnessed what that deprivation does to them. There have been calls, pleas from all kinds of organizations both nationally and internationally, for the US to end the practice of putting kids in isolation. To no avail. Why? I can’t help asking. Why?

Solitary Watch is our watchdog site that won’t let us forget what goes on in these rooms of isolation. They recently had a graphic that brought back to me the times I’ve been able to visit young people in solitary. I share that graphic.

This is what we are talking about when we talk about “solitary confinement.” Imagine…

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An in-depth look at how unions can help teachers and parents support public education and save their schools from “corporate think”

gadflyonthewallblog

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In the fight for public education, the forces of standardization and privatization are running scared.

They’ve faced more pushback in the last few years – especially in the last few months – than in a decade.

The Opt Out movement increases exponentially every year. Teach for America is having trouble getting recruits. Pearson’s stock is plummeting. The NAACP and Black Lives Matter have both come out strongly against increasing charter schools.

So what’s a corporate education reformer to do?

Answer: Change the narrative.

They can’t control the facts, so instead they try to control the story being told about the facts.

It’s a classic propaganda technique. As Malcolm X put it:

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

Their story goes like this – yes, there is a battle…

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gadflyonthewallblog

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The United States is no stranger to stupidity and ignorance.

A significant portion of the population doesn’t know basic science facts like that the Earth revolves around the sun.

We only learn history and geography by going to war or drone striking countries usually  filled with brown people.

And when it comes to basic math and English, just read the poorly spelled placards at our political conventions calling for more trickle down economics.

Heck! We’re the country that elected C-student George W. Bush President!

Twice!

And lest you think that was a fluke, Donald Trump, a xenophobic reality TV star with zero political experience, is the presumptive Republican candidate for the same office RIGHT NOW!

Yet whenever so-called intelligent people bring up these and countless other examples of American idiocy, they invariably simplify the blame.

We’re a country of more than 320 million people made up of various…

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This powerful quote from Dr. King contradicts the current rhetoric about “thugs” and “thieves.”

I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”

This Martin Luther King Day I’ve been thinking a lot about the racism of our prisons. It’s a truth that Americans seem determined to ignore. Celebrating the life of this great man should be more than heartwarming ceremonies. As a nation we must act to stop the mass incarceration of people of color particularly young men of color. With this in mind I decided to re-post a piece I did about racism and criminal justice.

Kids in the system

It was one of those rare afternoons in my jailhouse classroom. Twelve or so teenaged boys dotted around the room, their heads, some shaved bald, others wild and wooly with neglect, bend over their desks doing something. Reading a book; writing an essay—or a love letter to a shorty.  Whatever they were doing, they were quiet. It didn’t happen often over the ten years I taught high school at a New York County jail, years that I chronicle in my book I Don’t Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine: Tales of Kids in Adult Lockup.Usually, chaos rules in jail.

But that day Ms. Polland, the classroom correctional officer, and I were standing at the front of the room looking over the sea of orange jump-suited, brown-faced students, enjoying the peace.

Then, “Do you really think the criminal justice system is racist?” she quietly asked.

I…

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On Trust

Posted: January 17, 2014 in At-risk kids

Gayle Saks-Rodriguez has been a guest writer for  “Kids in the System” a number of times. She writes  about the incarcerated women and men of all ages that she teaches. In this piece which originally appeared on the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange Gayle tells the story of a young woman who from a very early age had to face the kind of challenges that leave a life wrecked and almost irreparable, a life that ended up in the criminal justice system.  Gayle’s piece is indeed a moving demonstration of why  we must give much more support to young women caught in the system. You can read more of Gayles writings on her blog “My Life in the Middle Ages” .

Girls in the Juvenile Justice System Need Our Support

I just returned from the Adult and Juvenile Female Offenders Conference in Portland, Maine, where Piper Kerman, author of the memoir “Orange Is the New Black,” — the inspiration for the wildly successful Netflix series of the same name — gave the keynote address to the 400 or so attendees all with some connection to the offender population.

In her book and as a consultant to the writers of the show, Kerman’s fellow inmates are shown in vivid back stories that humanize them all. She has stayed in touch with some and lost track of others. She attributes all of the success stories to a strong support system on the “outside,” post-release.

For the past three years, I have been volunteering at a New England county jail leading a mandatory goal-setting workshop for newly incarcerated women. They cycle through in two-week batches. My best guess is that I have taught at least 1,500 women in those three years. Generally their crimes range from drug and sex trafficking to assault and battery to a smattering of white-collar crimes. They are of all races, ages, socio-economic backgrounds and most are repeat offenders.

I enter my classroom from the top of a set of stairs where I can look down at the women waiting for me in their rows of plastic chairs. Last week, I could never have braced myself for seeing “C,” who I have known since she was 10, sitting with the other inmates. Never.  Ever.

I froze (truly, I did) and watched as she ran to the back of the room and fell to her knees in body wracking sobs. I took a deep breath as I walked down the stairs, and instead of taking my place in front of the group, hurried back where I crouched down, watching her shield her eyes as she said over and over again, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

The other women were curious as to what was happening and I think they caught on that the two of us were deeply connected in some way. I got her up off her knees and hugged her tightly breaking every single jail boundary rule imaginable. I didn’t care. How could I have cared?

I had been out of touch with her for several years, losing track after her first baby, born when” C” was just 15. I first met her when I worked as a fundraiser for the largest child welfare agency in New England. The administrative offices were steps away from the residential group home where she lived. I was able to have lunch with the residents and she took to me in a way that she didn’t with other staff. Hers is a common story — no known father, drug-addicted mother — shunted into the system at 10. She was a hardened kid, often needing to be restrained and kept from bolting out the doors of the residence and adjacent school.

She moved along the trajectory of the system, aging out of one residential program and moving onto the next. I was part of her team of decision makers having been designated as her “educational surrogate,” monitoring her grades and progress while she was pregnant and attending a public high school while still living in a residential program. I was part of her life and she was part of mine.

She was 17 the last time I saw her. My husband and I went to visit her at the apartment she shared with her baby’s father and his mother. There was a huge and splintered hole in front of the toilet, easily big enough to fall through, porn, bongs and empty booze bottles all over the place. The mother was lying in bed, chain smoking, barking orders through a drunken haze. Someone in the system, someone who had to have made more than one home visit, had made the decision that it was acceptable, that it was OK, for “C” to be living in this environment.

Back in the classroom, after soothing her and telling her that it was OK, everything was going to be OK, she sat through my class, participating and smiling, looking again like the teenager I remember her as (she’s now 22). I found out after class that she had another baby and was awaiting sentencing for stabbing her most recent boyfriend in apparent self-defense. According to her case manager this is only the latest in a string of violent crimes. She and I are not allowed to sit down and catch up, not allowed to exchange pictures of our children, while she is there and I am still a volunteer.

Sadly, unlike the success stories that Piper Kerman cited in her keynote address, I don’t think that there is a strong support system waiting to boost up “C”—and so many other young women like her — when she’s released. It takes many people to wrap their arms around a girl so full of shame and anger to prove that there are other options, ways to avoid abusive boyfriends and repeat pregnancies, and even more likely, a life of crime.