The lives of children are severely affected when one or both parents are locked up. What happens to these lives as they grow up to be young adults? Do they follow in the same path because they see it as normal, thinking it will also be their future? Black children have been confronted with more of their relatives going to prison than the average white child. Do they accept it as inevitable because no one taught them there was another path they could take – before it became too late?
I want to tell you a story about my own childhood which explains how a child could think the course of their life followed a plan. Looking back on it my mother and I had a good laugh, but at the time it wasn’t so funny. When I was quite young, I learned my mother was raised by her grandmother, not her mother. She was only four years old. Both of her parents remarried. Neither new step parent wanted her to live with them because admitting there was a child from a previous marriage meant their spouse had been married before. Being divorced was shameful, so she was raised by her grandmother. When she was 11 years old it went to court for a custody battle and her grandmother was given full custody. Having to go to court was a horrible experience for her, sitting alone in a back room. and it remains a bad memory. At some point she told me about it when I asked her why she wasn’t raised by her parents. I must not have understood it because afterward I was convinced everyone had to go to court when they turned eleven. I had several years of being afraid because the closer I got to eleven the more was scared I became of having to go to court. By the time I reached eleven I matured enough to know I wouldn’t have to go, but not once did I confront my mother about how I felt because I thought I already knew the truth. It may sound silly, but at the time I thought I had no choice. This is the way a young child thinks.
How do children deal with life knowing their father mother, or both, is locked up? How many children grow up and the only visits they remember are in a prison visiting room, often behind a panel of glass with a telephone to speak into? Do we assume they know how to mentally process that? Are they more apt to think what happened to their parent will be part of their life if they see it all around them? Why would they think their life would be different? Even the act of “stop and frisk”, which was condemned in New York City as racial profiling, are acts children learned by watching what happened by cops who crossed the line by stalking black people for no other reason than because they were black and hoping they would find something on them that warranted an arrest. Is this all black children? Of course not, but it affects far too many.
In addition these children need to get a worthwhile education in schools that are often underfunded or perhaps closed because they are in disrepair or don’t have books and even qualified teachers. Going to a school far away is not easily accessible. Low income families often don’t have enough food and kids only have school lunches too rely on for food. I could go on. Many of these kids do not graduate. They fall in line with what others kids do and the cycle continues on. Many youth end up in juvenile detention and even truancy from school is one of the reasons they are put there. They become part of the school to prison pipeline. That becomes the prison to poverty pipeline. No education means no job. They have no life to go back to when they get out. They have to eat. If they want to be “rehabilitated” there has to be an open path to do that. There are few options. We need to stop this cycle and concentrate on raising capable people. But who cares? “They are just black kids and they get what they deserve,” is the thought of too many people. This is why there are more black kids than white who are locked up, and more black men than white in prison.
Blacks have long been sought after to fill the prisons starting with juvenile detention. Teachers have admitted they suspend black children much more often than white children. Is it too late to re-educate teachers about this treatment? Is it too late to re-educate cops? How many teachers would not be able to say out loud that they have been unfair? Their own education probably began with how they were raised and how their own family felt about blacks. But even today many people still believe black people are are less able than white people. They think blacks do more crimes, consume more drugs and the reason there are more blacks than whites in our prisons is because they were born with a gene that makes them want to commit crimes. This has been proven to be a fallacy, but it was what the media has reported and some people believe anything they read if that is what to believe.
But the real reason is so many children were raised themselves with one one parent or relative – if they were lucky – and the foster care system if they weren’t. Mothers can’t be fathers and young boys need the guidance of a man. So many didn’t have the experience of having a family who provided stability. That isn’t a guarantee, but sure helps. Kids look around them and follow the course they have been exposed to and that often leads to prison. At the same time that very system is doing everything they can to lock them up whether they are guilty or not. If this were not true, how could most of the people given pardons be able to prove they are innocent, even after they have 20 plus years imprisoned – and most of them are black people. This is the race that has been blamed for crimes and imprisoned even if they were out of town when the crime was committed. It didn’t matter. The police only needed someone – anyone – they could pin the crime on not caring they were ruining not only that person’s life, but the lives of their children.
Can these children now go out into the world as adults and lead a life they have never lived that makes them acceptable in society? Many don’t even have a GED or work experience and have to look for manual labor jobs. Many test with low IQs – not that they are retarded but because they don’t have enough education to pass simple tests. Children grow up to be adults and they have to live their lives still shackled. Finding a landlord to rent them an apartment is harder than getting a job. So it all goes back to their childhood and not having many of the advantages other children have. The children of inmates become the next generation of parents whose children are on the other side of the fence.
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