“How’s freedom?” Came a voice from behind me. I heard it, pretending I did not. For once I did not have an answer. Coming from a place of privilege where we tend to take things for granted, I can’t imagine what life without a basic thing like freedom is.
For the last 6 months, I’ve been going to Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall every weekend and spending time talking to kids for hours and leading workshops on entrepreneurship and self development. I’ve never had a more engaged audience or experienced a deeper desire and willingness for transformation. It has become the most important part of my week and my calling. Some of the deepest and most meaningful conversations I’ve had have been with kids between the ages of 14 and 18. One of my very dear friends James Anderson is a great example and role model for many.
Imagine all the love and security stripped away and your childhood slapped out of you. The very thought is scary. As I spend my time talking to the young kids at Barry J. and their families, I realize it could have been me or for that matter anyone. We need more empathy and compassion in understanding the root cause and the life circumstance that leads anyone to where they end up in life. Children most often don’t get to choose. Whether good or bad, a choice is made for them. It’s important to dig deeper before we form our opinions.
James Giligan wrote— “the most violent men I have worked with over the years have described to me how they had been humiliated repeatedly throughout their childhoods, verbally, emotionally, and psychologically (taunted, teased, ridiculed, rejected, insulted). They had also been physically humiliated by means of violent physical abuse, sexual abuse, and life-threatening degrees of neglect (such as being starved by their parents, or simply and totally abandoned, as in coming home to find that their parents had absconded from the family’s apartment, leaving them behind). It appears to be difficult if not impossible for a child to gain the capacity for self-love without first having been loved by at least one parent, or parent- substitute. And when the self is not loved, by itself or by another, it dies, just as surely as the body dies without oxygen.”
Here’s some food for thought (data gathered from multiple books and working with people in prisons) -
· America is the world’s largest jailer, with 2.3m people behind bars. We’re 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prison population
· About 3700 Americans who have never committed a violent crime are serving 25 yrs to life in CA alone
· 1 in 31 adults or 7m are under some form of correctional control
· About 25% of the prison population suffers from some form of mental illness
· Most of the prisoners are serving long, hard times for drug offenses. In federal prisons that’s 51%, only 4% are in for robbery, 1% for homicide and in the state system 20%, larger than any other category of offense
· Our country considers juvenile too immature to vote or buy alcohol, but mature enough to live in adult prisons. 1 in 10 of these kids is sexually assaulted
· 94% of the children in America’s family court system are Black or Latino
· There are about 165,000 people serving life in the US as compared to 59 in Australia, 49 in England and 31 in the Netherlands. 2000 serving life for crimes committed as juveniles. The rest of the world has ever locked up only 22 children without a possibility of release
· Money spent on prisons has increased at the rate of 6 times the money spent on higher education. It costs $233,000 to incarcerate a young person (14–18) and $10,856 to educate them
How does it impact us and why should we care?
· Putting 2.3M behind bars hasn’t done much to eradicate crime
· Most times second chances make better human beings than one can ever be
· In the universal healing, lies our healing. Like Baz Driesinger (Author of Incarceration Nations and founder of the Prison-to-College-Pipeline) says — “in a world without prisons the pain of victims and survivors can be healed in reimagined ways”
· It’s unfortunate to allow some of our brightest minds (yes, they are) to languish away in prisons
· Economically (if that’s what matters to us) education and rehabilitation is much cheaper than incarceration
· And lastly, there’s no greater satisfaction than being a stand for someone’s transformation
Here’s what you can do and where I need help
I co-founded a company America Innovates with Christine Lu, where inclusion, impact, access and opportunity have been an important part of our mission and foundation. We’re partnering with the Justice work group at UCLA (Founded by Danielle Dupuy and prison activist Bryonn Bain) to bring programs to prisons. Special shoutout to my friend Daniel Dart for bringing us together!
THE ASK— We’re looking for laptops that are in good working condition (used or new) and can be used for programming, preferably with Office and Adobe installed on them. Appreciate any introductions to companies that would be willing to donate laptops to the program. Any feedback and guidance would be truly appreciated!