It was over a casual dinner with one of our residents, a young man who went into prison at age 18 and was released to us three years later at 21, that the conversation got personal, and very reflective. “I think if I had had parents like you, I might not have gone to jail.”
I asked him, “What do you remember about your life when you were say three or four years old?”
He responded, “Well, I spent a lot of time with my grandma and auntie. But we never really knew when. We bounced around a lot, and grandma didn’t always want us. We ate, but not well. We didn’t know whose house we would be at most of the time, and when we were with my mom, it was kind of a mess. Lots of people around we didn’t know; we were in the way.”
I went back and asked a prominent business school professor, a close friend of mine, “What do you remember about life when you were three?”
“Hmm, let’s see, at three I started golf lessons.”
And there, at three years old, their lives were already plotted out, with forces almost as powerful as divine predestination – the forces of race, economics, and class.
Not long ago, someone asked in a zoom interview if our residents gave back to the community by going into schools and trying to keep younger kids from following the path that led our guys to prison. It immediately struck as wrong. A three-year-old, who doesn’t know where he will sleep, or what he will eat, is essentially homeless, a plight similar to that of the orphan, young, with nobody to take care of them. He was in the system as a juvenile, and in jail by the time he hit adulthood. This is not an attitude problem, this is poverty. Until we realize that our prisons are filled with orphans that we neglected, we will be blaming the wrong people, and our solutions will fail.
– Dr. Sonya Cronin