Brothers, I'm sure that you've read all the stories, seen
all the documentaries, and have watched more episodes of 'COPS' and 'America's
Most Wanted' than you would want to admit. Nevertheless, our young men--and now
our young women--are being shipped off to 'do time' in the juvenile justice system.
And, we can't seem to stop them.
*Many have friends who 'have a taste for crime' and draw them in.
*Others have been 'soft handed' by 'sympathetic' judges, case workers, and cops.
*Still others have parent(s) who quickly 'take their side' against ANY authority
figure; be it the school teacher, the police, or the courts.
Sometimes, the best way to reinforce truth is to let nature take its course.
The Bible has truth; but so does the street. Especially the Old School maxim: "If
you do the crime, you will do the time."
Now, I've seen the news stories concerning juveniles who kill, rape, and maim,
and their parents and communities are shocked when they are handed huge chunks
of time for their actions. Remember all the complaints about two Florida cases?
Both young offenders were black, under sixteen, and drew big stretches of time.
Even with Florida's good time rules, they STILL face a minimum of a decade behind
bars--or more. Call in all the social experts, ministers, and family friends you
want to. When the gavel goes down, it's down, period.
Forget the Appeals court! That takes PLENTY of money, and a low chance of success
to overturn a trial court decision.
What's the solution? Get the kids to wake up and go to school and stay out of
trouble NOW; BEFORE the police and the system get hold of them. You can use this
column to, hopefully, point out to your teens--and to friends of your teens--about
the realities of crime and punishment.
For the rest of my column, I'm going to let an insider of the juvenile justice
system from my part of the country share his take on juvenile crime.
WHITE MAN'S WORLD:
I'm a Probation Officer, and crime is my business. Adults and Juveniles.
On any given day in my state, the Juvenile courts do a booming business. Kind
of like my own take on that line Damon Wayans uttered in 'Major Payne': "Crime
is my business, children, and business has been GOOD!"
I'm on vacation now. Kind of a pre-determined exile, one might say. But soon,
if the Lord blesses, I'll be heading back to 'White Man's World'. That's my own
slang term for Juvenile Criminal Court; or, I should say, Juvenile Hall. Many
of the judges are white, and many of those who appear before them are black.
On this particular spring morning, I get to sit through at least a dozen cases
before my 'clients' come up. Many of the judges are white, and many of the kids
who appear before them are black. Defiant black.
Won't-go-to-school black. Won't look-the-judge-in-the-eye black. Won't-apologize-or-make-restitution-for-their-crimes
black. Ignorant of their own history black. Love Rap Music and the thug life black.
Like to be 'beat in' and not 'jump out' black.
By the way Mike, I'm Black.
From the 'tank'; where the kids appearing for hearings are locked up--some in
full trip gear--I have to get my 'game face' together. How many of them are going
to be assigned to my caseload? What did they do? Will they even be allowed to
stay in the county, or, will they get a present from the judge--a non-erasable,
non-returnable prison number? A number for the rest of their lives.
What of the parents? I've had both two-parent, and single-parent homes speak with
me. Momma wants to further her 'career', and is upset to be spending time in court.
Well-heeled parents don't want the neighbors to know that their son/daughter is
in trouble with the law. Some parents actually WORK in the system and are hard
pressed for words to explain why their son/daughter decided to skip school, and
go on a crime spree.
I think back, because I have spent the earlier part of the week talking with former
and present clients. One black girl just couldn't keep her butt in school, keep
her mouth shut, and finish the terms of her probation. She later gets a prison
number. Seventeen years old. High School. Honor Roll Student. Been before the
court only two other times for stupid stuff. Now draws a number.
This ain't no lottery number. We're talking about a prison number.
One black boy; middle school kid. Charges as long as your leg--three times. Been
in and out of the system, and has the know-it-all mentality. He's spent more time
between schools and locked up, than in school. Momma always takes his side, and
even covers for him. Too bad. If he continues to skate, he'll either wind up in
the Adult system, target practice for the street cops, or an informant, because
he likes to lie, and he likes the drugs.
And he thinks that the girls like him.
THE TOTE BOARD:
I think back to the 'tote board' on my office wall. Black Kids. White Kids. Now,
Hispanic Kids. Girls. Boys. Under sixteen. One month's time. All now have state-issued
numbers. Numbers that won't erase. Numbers that will follow them into high school.
College. Keep them out of good jobs, good relationships, and good neighborhoods.
Can't hide--numbers. Can't get a date--numbers.
It's kind of funny. Teens won't go out with jailbirds of any kind, color, or race.
Many of them have good sense to stay out of trouble. But, many teens have their
own brand of racism, sexism, and isolationism. They cheer when a friend does something
wrong; UNTIL they get to come to court and 'face the music'. They 'rat out' their
friends faster than you can get a $20 bill from an ATM machine.
What of the penalties to the kids in the system? Fill out an application and don't
mention your record--FIRED for lying. Fill out an application and MENTION your
record? Not Hired! Teens don't like to think about five, or ten years from now.
THEYonly live for the moment. The moment they break into a car. The moment they
break into someone's house. The moment they rape, or beat up someone. The moment
they are initiated into a street gang.
Prison, or state-issued numbers? Won't erase. Won't get lost. WE see to that!
Who's to blame? Crime IS an equal-opportunity employer. Two-parent families? Nope--got
a few of those kids in my caseload. Single-parent homes? Nope--got a few of them
too. Poor? Got 'em. Runaways? Got 'em. Lack of church? Got non-church kids, and
church kids on leg irons, home detention, and electronics. Drugs? Booze? Peer
Pressure? Nope--just plain stupidity in too many cases. Bright parents can have
stupid kids. Check my files.
THE LETTER CONTINUES:
Mike, tell 'em for me. Follow the rules, I don't sign a warrant. Don't follow
the rules, and you get a state-funded vacation: No swimming pools, and plenty
of scars. I don't cry, nor react to tears when I sign a warrant. We have more
juvenile facilities around my state than McDonald's. They don't get fries with
prison issue: They get time. Many figure this out when the judge bangs the gavel
and says: "Upstate".
Some have been in the system since they learned how to use the bathroom. Others
just got into the system for one, or two stupid things. Others have been 'waived'
to Adult court for their crimes--guns, battery, robbery, drugs, sex crimes, rape.
At sixteen years old. Wrong friends. No honor among thieves. Guess who took the
fall? The 'smart' kids. The 'bangers' walked--until they cross into 'Adult' range.
Momma and Daddy can't help a kid getting his butt kicked behind prison walls.
LETTER ENDS ON A BRIGHT NOTE:
On this, my particular spring day in White Man's World, I get the chance to smile.
Two of 'my kids' followed the terms of their probation to the letter. Black Boy.
White Boy. Single Parent homes. Just about ready to graduate High School. I don't
have to sign a 'bad order' to have them locked up, or sent up.
They showed up in court, clean, polite, and repentant. I've already turned in
a signed 'good order'. Judge looks at me, then the kids; and says, "A few
months...and you can get your record shredded--if you tow the line. Next case."