I Don’t Wish Nobody To Have a Life Like Mine: Tales of Kids in Adult Lockup (Beacon Press)
Recipient of the 2010 PASS Award given by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in recognition of the author’s efforts through the media to change the public’s understanding of crime and the social problems that cause it.
Since the early 1990s, thanks to inflamed rhetoric in the media about “superpredators” and a wave of get-tough-on-crime laws, the number of juveniles in prison has risen by 35 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, and their placement in adult prison has increased by 208 percent, according to a 2007 survey by the Campaign for Youth. Since 1992, every state except Nebraska has passed laws making it easier to prosecute youth under eighteen as adults, and most states have legalized harsher sentences for juveniles.
David Chura taught high school in a New York county penitentiary for ten years and saw these young people—and the effects of our laws on them—up close. Here he introduces us to the real kids behind the hysteria: vibrant, animated kids full of humor and passion; kids who were born into families broken up and beaten down by drugs, gang violence, AIDS, poverty, and abuse. He also introduces us to wardens, correctional officers, family members, and doctors, and shows how everyone in this world is a child of disappointment.
We meet Wade, who carries a stack of photos of his HIV-positive mother in his pocket to take out and share with pride. Khalil has spent all fifteen years of his life in foster care, group homes, juvenile detention, and mental hospitals, yet has channeled his inner demons into poetry. There’s Anna, a hard-nosed one-time teenage drug baroness who serves as a tutor to students and older women alike; Dominic, a father of two who only reads in jail, and only the Harry Potter books; and Eddyberto, a bright student and self-taught artist whose wildly creative drawings are confiscated and used to accuse him of being a potential terrorist and threat to national security.
Then there’s O’Shay, a big, burly, snarling Bronx-Irish classroom officer with a surprising protective side for the underdog, and Ms. Wharton, a hallway officer with a spiky demeanor but a soft spot for animals.
In language that carries both the grit of the street and the expansiveness of poetry, Chura breaks down the divisions we so easily erect between us and them, the keepers and the kept—and shows how, ultimately, we as individuals and as a society have failed these young people.
Available in hardcover and paperback from Beacon Press
Praise for I Don’t Wish Nobody To Have a Life Like Mine: Tales of Kids in Adult Lockup…
“David Chura’s powerful book is beautifully done, rich with devastating narrative and leavened nonetheless by the warm personalities of many of the kids — America’s throw-aways, a shame to the nation. I hope some of the leaders of the Obama administration will pay attention to these gripping stories and will wake our country up before it is too late.”
—Jonathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalities
“In thick and unvarnished descriptions, David Chura takes us into the growing gulag of American youth prisons and shows us the fractured faces and bruised spirits of children who seem almost condemned to destruction by the structural ecology of class and race and ancestry. These young people—hurt and hardened—have become the icons of our times, and they cry out for Divine intervention. But it’s not what God has done to them, finally; it’s what we’ve done to ourselves. Read this book and know we must do better.”
—William Ayers, author of A Kind and Just Parent
“A painfully honest window into the hearts and minds of youth who are incarcerated and the ‘keepers’ who are responsible for their safety and security. David Chura has crafted a terrific book: it’s at once riveting and enriching, and by its end, you’ll insist upon a more humane and effective approach to young offenders.”
—Sunny Schwartz, author of Dreams from the Monster Factory
“I Don’t Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine is a light shining in the hearts of locked-up kids sleepwalking past the buried treasure they are and may never find. From his long and devoted work in prisons trying to breathe life into these hearts, ‘Mr. C’ is able to speak with authority and eloquence about how the American correctional system can almost bring the saintly to their knees. A book for anyone interested in the hardship and struggle, and (strangely) innate joy, involved in human transformation.”
—Dennis Sullivan, coauthor of Restorative Justice
“David Chura’s timely book ought to destroy our complacency. It takes us inside the locked-down world of neglected and abused youth who’ve been cast away into adult jails and reveals, through its succession of haunting vignettes and surprising turns, a truth that ought to shame us: when youth fail, it is most often because we adults have failed them again and again.”
—David Kaczynski, executive director, New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty