By Zerline Hughes
This week my girl turns 9.5 years old. (Yeah, we celebrate half birthdays to a degree!) To compare her thoughts and perspective with those that I promote reform to, those that I try to reach in my daily work in criminal and juvenile justice, I decided to give her drawing prompt.
I asked her: “Draw whatever comes to your mind when you think of prison or jail.” Her image, similar to my son’s, has prison bars. Her’s is enhanced with the infamous barbed wire around the prison cell. Watched by a bald prison guard with mean, furrowing eyebrows who dons a large gun, the person behind bars is saying “Help Help Help.” I then asked her a series of questions to follow up on the details of her illustration and thought process.
Q: What is prison? A: It’s a place where bad people go. It’s a bad place to be. You don’t have anything to do there so you’re really, really bored.
Q: Do kids go to prison/jail?
Q: Do you think kids 8 or 12 should go to prison?
Q: Do you think prison will help people get better?
Q: Why do you think kids go to prison?
Q: Why do adults go to prison/jail?
Q: Are you afraid of prison, why?
Q: Do you know what I do at work?
I wonder what would happen if we asked these same, simple questions of our policymakers, prison employees. More education — across the board — is needed. Now (and not by watching “Law and Order”). I say Not These Two kids of mine are going to be part of the justice system, nor will they have a cloudy understanding of it.
Let’s learn more together:
BET’s 10 Things You Need to Know About Incarceration in the U.S.