From the Mouth & Mind of My Baby Girl

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. JTPrison

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 you think everyone in prison should be there?
A: Maybe not everyone because maybe some people have been there too long, or some people didn’t actually do the thing that the people thought they did.

Q: Do kids go to prison/jail?
A: I think they can. But I’m not sure how old you’re supposed to be that you can.

Q: Do you think kids 8 or 12 should go to prison?
A: If they did something really bad.

Q: Do you think prison will help people get better?
A: I don’t know; it’s a bad place to be, and there’s other bad people in there but they might learn their lesson because they’re in there.

Q: Why do you think kids go to prison?
A: I really don’t know. Maybe not a crime, but they hurt somebody or something. 

Q: Do you think kids should be treated different?

Q: Why do adults go to prison/jail?
A: Because they have committed a crime.

Q: Are you afraid of prison, why?
A: Yes; when I watch shows with you like “Law and Order,” it seems like a really bad place.

Q: Do you know what I do at work?
A: You help people get out of jail or get less time in jail.
Q: Why is that important?
A: Because if they didn’t do it [commit offense], then they shouldn’t be in there. And if they did do it and they have life [sentence] or something, they still should get out sometime.


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:


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