My time at the Sacramento Juvenile Correction Facility

Yesterday I had the pleasure of sitting down with about thirty young black and brown men, ranging between the ages of fifteen and seventeen. I talked a bit about my life, where I grew up, my family, and the writing (some of them had read WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST.) At the end of the session, one of the young brothers raised his hand and said,

“There’s is nothing that I’ve ever done that I didn’t think was the right thing to do at the time. And now I’m in here, and I know that the path I’m on ain’t gon get me nowhere, but it’s hard. What am I supposed to do? They tell me to cut my hair, and talk different. They want to change me, so how do I change but still be me?”

My answer was a simple one. I looked him square in the face and told him that no matter what anybody says, he’s valuable. He’s valuable. Even in lockup, he’s valuable. Even with long hair and tattoos, he’s valuable.

But that wasn’t the kicker. The kicker was that after the session, the librarian told me that this was a maximum security system (she hadn’t mentioned it before.) These young men were going to be there on lockdown until they were eighteen, and then they were going to federal prison to complete there sentences. Some were in for a decade. Some shorter, some maybe even longer. These were all the kids that everyone was afraid of. Yet, I didn’t know that. I couldn’t tell. Because despite the labels that weigh heavier on them than their guilt, fear, and anger, they were still…kids. And the innocence and purity of childhood was undoubtedly the thickest energy in the room.

Young fellas, I know you all can’t read this because you can’t use the internet. But trust that I’m with you all. And I’m waiting, eagerly, for your letters.

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3 comments

  1. Bob

    There is value in spending time with these young men and listening to them. There is also value listening to their victims. Will that be done next?

    • iamjasonreynolds

      There absolutely is value in listening to their victims. If anything, I’d argue that their victims are free to tell their stories. The prisoners, are not. I’m not justifying or pacifying what they’ve done. Some of them have murdered people. Those families will forever mourn. I’m just trying my best to ensure that they know there are other options, that they are still humans, humans who’ve done bad things. But not monsters. That’s all man. But I hear you.

      • Bob

        Sounds like we largely agree. On occasion I become concerened when there does not appear to be a balance in representing all sides of an issue. More often than not victims remain silent for a variety of reasons. Providing prisoners with other options is a good way of reducing the liklihood of them offending again. I appreciate and respect your intentions and wish you well.

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