Have we normalized the genocidal practice of caging our youth?

Child-in-isolation-by-Richard-Ross-juvenile-in-justice.com_-1, Have we normalized the genocidal practice of caging our youth?, Behind Enemy Lines
Neurological research and sociological studies confirm what common sense tells us: Isolating youth for days and weeks at a time has devastating long-term effects on their health and development and is hence genocidal. – Photo: Richard Ross, juvenile-in-justice.com

Editor’s note: The themes of the letters we receive are often painful, but none so painful as the genocidal incarceration of our youth. Children subjected to the torture of solitary confinement; children given death sentences of various kinds; children sentenced to adult prisons; Our children…

Below are two indictments on this continued crime against humanity, the expression of which should be a beacon of light towards our own humanity.

Locking me up at 14 for non-violence cost me my whole life of freedom

by Robert Clark

My name is Robert Clark. I am currently imprisoned in the state of Kansas. I got locked up when I was 13 years old. The year was 1968. I was sentenced to a school for boys for the charge of vandalism. My sentence was only four months, but little did I know I’d never be free again. 

When I arrived at this youth prison, I had some adjustment problems which eventually led me to a max security prison in Lincoln, Nebraska at the age of 14. As a scared youngster I parlayed a 4-month sentence into 222 years for a series of assaults. 

for the charge of vandalism

When you are that young, and in an adult prison, you have to fight for your life and honor. I’ve been locked up 53 years because of this. I’m 66 years old now. I’ve never had a relationship with a female, never been to a mall, never been fishing, never had a car. 

I’ve never done anything in society. Hope my story will reach out to anyone out there that thinks the petty crime they are committing in society does not matter. It really does. 

I was locked up for non-violence, but it ended up costing me my whole life of freedom. After years of violence and solitary confinement, I was transferred to the state of Kansas. Hope no one makes the mistakes I made. 

Will correspond with all.

Respectfully submitted, 

Robert Clark

Send our brother some love and light: Robert Clark, 44032, Norton Correctional Facility, P.O. Box 546, Norton, KS 67654. Check out Richard Ross’ photo essay: “Life inside a juvenile detention center for girls,” at https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/girls-justice.

Female-juvenile-in-solitary-confinement-by-Richard-Ross-1, Have we normalized the genocidal practice of caging our youth?, Behind Enemy Lines
T.L., age 16 – Central Juvenile Hall, Los Angeles. – Photo: Richard Ross

We are a nation that prosecutes children as adults yet displays an appalling lack of interest in protecting them

by Tasha Brown

Prisoner. That term evokes a painful dualism of feelings. As an individual who has violated the law, I fully comprehend that my incarceration is a consequence. 

After nearly 19 years behind the blockade of brick and razor wire, I have had a tremendous opportunity for growth. 

My commitment offense occurred when I was 15. I was sentenced to 37 years to life. 

Life. That has an indisputable permanence to it. We are a nation that prosecutes children as adults yet displays an appalling lack of interest in protecting them. 

Of the 2 million plus people in U.S. penal facilities, over 60 percent were sexually abused as children. The abuse being a precursor, of course, does not absolve offending behavior, yet arbitrary laws and mandatory minimums in sentencing disregard this factor.

We’ve heard it before, “school to prison pipeline.” What we don’t hear is that racist policies are strategically woven into our education system, which creates fundamental inequalities. 

Impoverished children dodge bullets and bullies to make it to an underfunded school, to receive a substandard education. Adolescence is a stressful time as it is; add to the equation the compounded challenges of children in marginalized communities. 

Twenty-two percent of children in the U.S. still live in poverty.

The conditions no doubt propel these children onto the conveyor belt of the criminal justice system. It is called “affluenza” when a privileged child commits a crime, to negate consequences. Poverty itself is criminalized, so the impoverished received a politicized form of justice: a rendition of lynching – institutional lynching.

Mainstream media, with its fear mongering approach to reporting, does not properly contextualize Black and Brown crime. The public relies on the outlets for news, but what passes for news has a doctrinal slant.

News like the Tulsa Race Massacre gets suppressed. As off-putting as Black bodies littering the streets is – it is truth. 

Truth is rich and poor people live in a parallel universe. Truth is, mass incarceration has roots in Black codes. Truth is, police brutality has roots in slave catchers making an example of runaway slaves.

I keep hearing, “racial reckoning.” Can there really be a racial reckoning when the criminal justice system is reinstituting slavery through mass incarceration? 13th Amendment. 

Until there is a radical transformation of this system that is predicated on slave labor, all discourse rings hollow. Nuances of language scratches itching ears yet produces no meaningful change. 

Twenty-two percent of children in the U.S. still live in poverty. And due to systemic race discrimination, a disproportionate number of prisoners come from poverty. 

Further, 90 percent of persons in prison for drug offenses are of color, which exacerbates disenfranchisement.

An adolescent offender deemed a throwaway to society, too young to purchase cigarettes or alcohol, obtain a driver’s permit, vote, consent to sex or sign a legally binding contract, but not too young to be prosecuted as an adult and sentenced to civil death in prison seems a flagrant violation. 

A violation as egregious as discrimination: discrimination by race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation, physical challenges – and even a felony conviction. 

The capacity to change is within us all. The season is ripe; don’t let its fruit be simply another artificial high. 

Equality for all.

Send our sister some love and light: Tasha Brown, XO8560, CCWF, 506-08-03L, Chowchilla, CA 93610.