By Zerline Hughes
The organizations I’ve worked for and partnered with in the past supported the idea that “scared straight” programs do not work. In fact, it was their sentiment that such programs do more harm than good. Instead of turning around the lives of at risk youth by showing them where they could, in fact, end up – in a prison with corrections officers barking at them, making them cry – these types of programs make youth fear police, and statistics show these program don’t necessarily keep kids from matriculating through the juvenile and/or adult criminal justice system.
Nonetheless, when I saw a pattern of behavior in my kids that I didn’t want to turn more serious – a white lie here, a fib there, a stretching of the truth soon after – I called on a friend for intervention.
Preceded by a “softening up” lunch at Fuddrucker’s in Gallery Place, Washington, D.C., complete with conversation, Michael took these two to Washington, D.C.’s Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency’s (CSOSA) urine collection facility.
Truth be told, Michael looked into taking them to see the confines of the D.C. Jail, but gosh darn it, the kids are too young for a tour, to be really scared straight. Maybe next time. Actually, the hope is that there is no next time. Having them see and understand that when people lie, cheat, steal, they become part of a system that no longer trusts them, and requires them to line up to pee in a cup to prove they’re worthy of rejoining a community, will help alter their behavior.
Of course, these two may not fully understand that once you become part of the justice system, you can never really leave; the stigma will follow them, their civil rights will forever compromised. The collateral consequences are never ending. Have you ever investigated the consequences of a criminal conviction in your state?
So, when I asked these two how their field trip went, they seemed to get it:
“I’m not gonna’ lie anymore because I want people to trust me,” said JT.
“Today showed me what I need to do so I don’t end up there,” said JD.
One of my many messages to them: they’re no longer cute and cuddly. They’re not at that age when they can tell a lie and people will just point and laugh and say “outta’ the mouths of babes.” My boy turns 12 in February. He regularly gets confused for a teenager. Put a black hoodie on him, and he could get confused for a lot of things. My girl turns 10 in about 20 days. She’s tall for her age, and her mouth spouts that of a street smart young adult. As a result, any punishment for at-risk behavior may be compounded because they’re 1.) Black 2.) appear to be quite cognizant 3.) look or present themselves older than they appear and 4.) they’re targeted by a criminal justice system that seeks to make examples out of youths by delivering harsh sentences, including punishing them as adults in too many cases.
This intervention also includes old-school punishments: no electronics, a slew of non-stop chores during week two of their winter break, non-stop lectures, the leaving of their most coveted Christmas presents with their dad in New York, and a few ‘what have you learned’ writing assignments.
St. Michael, has assigned these two the task of reading books he purchased for them and writing about what they’ve learned. My daughter, not too fond of reading couldn’t seem to put her book down: “Don’t Behave Like You Live in a Cave,” by Elizabeth Verdick. The boy will be sharing with his sister, “How to Behave and Why” by Munro Leaf.
What a great opportunity for these two to straighten up and fly right with the loving support of people around them – rather than a bunch of uniformed strangers yelling, barking orders, instilling more distrust and inflicting abuse. Not these two … it’s not happening to them. Not with a support system in place that includes people like Michael. It’s all about collective works – Ujima. You know, it takes a village.
Habari Gani! Happy Kwanzaa.