The Inside (and Outside) Job

I’ll catch you behind bars… bro

Nice environment to make a positive change, right?

There is really nothing like walking out of an hour and half lecture feeling anger, tension, energy, heat, and near-shaking frustration. You end up walking in silence and you head home to shake it off, workout, watch TV to drown out the thoughts in your head, or go to sleep. By the morning it worked. The thoughts are out of your head and you tell yourself you’re happy that someone, somewhere is taking the initiative to make some changes to those difficult issues. You’re too busy anyway, get on with your day.

Its a shame that sitting in a lecture about juvenile justice, grade school discipline policies, unconquerable racism, discrimination, re-segregation, and the school-to-prison pipeline, can make us feel like we are DOING something about any of these issues. If you’re a real Do-er, then being aware isn’t enough, and you can’t just sleep it off. The spell has been cast on you, you start seeing it everywhere.

The initial barrier to entry into ANY line of work that tries to resolve some of these glaring issue is that we learn (directly or indirectly) that we need special degrees, special certifications, and special skills to understand and attempt to remedy any of the aforementioned societal maladies. All of these maladies revolve around “people,” so if you have a human body with breath in it, i’ll tell you right now you’re halfway there with the tools you need to make a difference (cliché). The impressive research that helps identify these social maladies should invigorate viewers/listeners to make a change at some level. But instead people are scared away because the issues seem too complex. The solution is not to “dumb down the research,” the solution is to diminish the belief that a complex problem cannot be remedied by a simple solution. Complex problems have OFTEN seen resolution from the simplest of solutions. This is about “people,” not complex statistics and equations.

The purpose of writing this was so that I pitch out a simple “how to example” to resolve a portion of these complex issues, specifically juvenile delinquency: Develop programming that works both in and out of the juvenile detention centers. Programming (i’m going to be vague so that you can determine what type of “program” would best serve these kids) that initiates a positive support system INSIDE the detention center and the continues that support OUTSIDE of the detention center.

Without exaggeration, in the social service (non-profit) field it has been said to me by a young man (in many words) that “he looks forward to being in the detention center because at least in there he has people who want to help him build a better life for himself.” What an incredible concept: kids that find more positive reinforcement in the juvenile detention center than they do at school, at home, and out in their communities. This can be summarized in one acronym: WTF

Tackle this issue however you want, go after the parents, the schools, the detention center staff, the kids themselves, but think of SOMETHING that you could do. I propose something as simple as volunteering at the detention center one night a week to read inspirational books to the kids. Tell them that you do this with a small group outside of the detention center as well and tell them when/where to meet you. If they want help, once they get out they will meet you as planned. Just reading them an inspirational story might be all they need to get their life in shape.

If that example seems too simple or ineffective to you, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that you do not understand how effective a simple intervention can be in the life of these juvenile delinquents. While you are planning the latest and greatest intense therapy and programming, the real do-ers in the world will be out working with “people” and changes their lives simply by providing an accessible supportive structure for them. I’m proposing more programming that works in and out of the detention center, but maybe you have a better angle (I hope you do). I’d just like to see more “regular folks” discover how impactful they can be with simple solutions to these complex issues. As a community, can we really continue allowing a portion of our youth to find more positivity in the detention center than out on our streets?

Next time you attend a lecture or seminar on any of the aforementioned topics, give yourself a day to let the anger and frustration boil and bubble. You never know what simple solutions might rise up. Don’t discount ANY of the ideas that come up, you never know what little bud-of-a-thought might bloom. If you find a simple way to get involved, maybe instead of seeing kids behind bars, you’ll be able to tell them what I told that young man who spoke to me so honestly: “no, I think i’d rather see you outside of these bars… bro. Let me tell you where you can find me when you’re out.”