I’ve been slacking on this blogging thing, but something has been heavy on my heart lately. I don’t talk much about my major or what I want to do with my life unless someone asks, and the same goes for most of my other opinions on what I would called “heated” topics.
Normally I stop myself when I go to post a link to an article on Facebook that pertains to one of these topics and nine times out of ten I just don’t post it or I find myself stumped as to what to say about it. I have feared offending anyone with what my actual thoughts were and I’ve backed down from criticism on something I strongly believe in. Too often I think to myself how pathetic it is that I even have to stop and think about what might offend someone when in fact my major and my passion is FULL of controversial topics that people need to be challenged with. I almost feel hypocritical when I question myself. My end goal is to give youth a voice. To give the underprivileged a voice. I want to give a voice to those that are too often silenced or ignored.
But how can I do that when my own fears are only inhibiting my own voice? How can I give someone else a voice when I am too busy silencing my own?
That being said, I’m done being afraid to offend someone. I don’t want to quiet the issues that need to be heard. As I said, people need to be challenged with issues that they can in fact play a part in helping right with this very moment.
I want people to understand why I chose the major that I did, and why I want to do what I want to do.
As high school was coming to an end I was pressured with the same question all seniors are…”Where do you want to go to college and what do you want to study?” I knew that I wanted to help people, and the obvious answer to that was to become a nurse. Because how else does a girl help someone? I started out on my journey, and the amount of roadblocks I ran into seemed infinite to someone who just wanted to reach her end goal. I wanted it so bad that I even took on a night shift at the hospital while still going to school so that I could get my foot in the door and start helping people in any way that I could. I started out as a patient sitter. For over a year I spent my entire 12 hour shifts sitting in a room with confused patients, violent patients, suicidal patients. In that time I was screamed at, swung at, smacked, bitten. But I was also humbled by those that thanked me, by the families that thanked me for caring for their loved ones despite the difficulties, and by the people who just needed someone to be there and to listen. Eventually I moved up to a care tech and for the last year I spent at the hospital I worked on a trauma/ortho floor where my eyes were opened to a whole new adventure I never knew I would be taking. I took a year off school after I realized that nursing wasn’t for me, but I continued to work at the hospital as it was a stable, well-paying job for the time being. In my time on the trauma floor I witnessed numerous amounts of victims that were stabbed and shot. They fell victim to domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and some of them ended up paralyzed for the rest of their lives. I saw children…yes, children…that ranged as young as 13 or 14 all the way up to their 20’s. I saw mothers and families and friends that suffered along side their loved one. I witnessed tears, I saw death, I heard cries of pain and suffering. And every single thing I witnessed made me see that there are issues that go much deeper, there are issues that lead to why these youth are coming into hospitals with bullet holes in their bodies.
I know what you’re thinking…they probably did something to deserve it. And you know what? Before I worked at the hospital, before I took care of these people, before I saw where they came from…I would have said the same thing. And while there are many different circumstances and situations and variables, there are so many of these people…so many of these children and young adults that are in these situations due to circumstances they either can’t help or don’t know how to help. Many come from underprivileged neighborhoods and broken families. Many of them are in gangs as a means of survival. Many of them have educational levels well below where they should be because of the schools they come from and the lack of resources they are provided to help them succeed. They have parents in jail and have seen or known one or more people that have been killed. As part of one of my juvenile delinquency classes I had the privilege to take a tour of our local family and juvenile court and got to speak with 11 teen boys that were in a unit awaiting trial. During our question and answer period the boys were asked what they thought the number one crime was that juveniles committed. The response was stealing cars. As one boy raised his hand I wasn’t really prepared for what he was going to say. He told us that it was safer for him to steal a car to drive somewhere than walk because it took longer and he would be less likely to be shot. My mind was blown. This 13-year old boy thought stealing a car was in more or less words the key to hopefully saving his own life. The boys were asked to raise their hands in accordance to the following group of questions, and when asked how many of them had known someone who had been killed every single boy on the unit raised their hands. There were eleven of them and not one of them kept their hand down. They were then asked how many of them had a male figure in their life that they could look up to, and only about 3 of 4 of them put there hands up. They were then asked what it was that they needed and what they need from us as students about to graduate…they all responded that they needed mentors. They needed safe and fun things to do. They needed someone to come to school with them. They needed someone to help them with their homework. And one of them simply responded that he wanted someone to take him out to eat. At that point I was nearly speechless as my brain was processing that something as simple as being taken out to eat was what this young boy was asking for. I go out to eat at least once a week, and it’s something I easily take for granted. The boys were then asked what they wanted to be when they grew up or what they wanted to go to college for. Police officer. Basketball player. Culinary school. Artist. Swat team. These children have dreams. They have goals. But their environments and their circumstances make the light on their futures very dim. Ironically enough there were several of them that wanted to be police officers. They are currently sitting in a lock-down unit because of a police officer, but they see the issues and they want to make them better.
Coming from the perspective of a criminal justice major, this might be a little easier to understand both the bigger and the smaller pictures. But here’s some information that most of you probably don’t know much about, or anything at all. There is this flaw in our system labeled as the school to prison pipeline. It starts with a lack of resources for our schools. Insufficient funding. Lack of qualified teachers. Overcrowded classrooms. These things, among others lead to a failure in our education system. Children are disengaged. Some dropout. And things like “No Child Left Behind” is a form of pure bullshit as there are numerous amount of children being left behind every day. These children have minimal to no motivation or incentives in these types of environments and a lot of them end up in the juvenile justice system. And while some of them only see the inside of a courtroom in regards to one offense, for many of them it may become a second “home.” Recidivism is a popular effect of these lifestyles that children are learning to live, especially since they are often denied reentry into traditional schools and will probably never see a high school graduation. And if you ask questions, you’ll probably find that some of these kids commit crimes like selling drugs just to survive…and not because they want to. You’ll find that these girls become prostitutes because they’re trying to escape their environment at home and at least it makes them money…but it also provides a “love” that they probably don’t find at home. And the older kids are often left in charge of taking care of the younger ones so they are unable to properly care for themselves. These children are forced into these roles and these situations and at 10, 11, 14, and 15 years old…how are they supposed to know how to help themselves?
Most people’s initial thought is to look to the parents to get their children out of these situations, because that’s what a parent is supposed to do…help their children. However, we often fail to look past this detail to the fact that in most situations…these parents are raising their children the same way they were raised. These situations are hard to get out of, and a lot of them stem from more complicated issues like the poverty level so often associated with the difficulties these families and these children are facing.
There are so many variables when it comes to issues with our urban youth, but I challenge you to look at things from a different perspective the way my major has forced me to. I graduate in about 3 months…and all I can hope to do is give these youth the chance they deserve at a brighter more positive future. Our justice system is terribly skewed, and we need to push more rehabilitative measures rather than throwing a kid into a cell and calling them a lost cause. We need to treat them as individuals, and we need to treat their surroundings. We need to help their families, their parents, and their communities. And the thing is…YOU can help too. I get it…our lives are busy. We have work. School. Children. Families of our own. Personal activities. But there are so many things you can do that take a minimal amount of time, but make the biggest difference. And if anything…just keep an open mind the next time you hear a story about a youth who committed a crime. Remember that while sometimes it seems cut and dry…more times than not it isn’t.
These children need love, they need support, they need help, they need safety…
…and most of all they need a future.