Steve Sydebotham: This is part of a letter I (Steve) received from a friend of Bennie Reed (Blade Reed's older brother). This young man is so dead on with what he says. I thought it right to post this, and if you are so inclined you may write him. Bennie and Blade are incarcerated in Wabash Indiana
Landis J. Reynolds
It has frequently been said that children are the key to our future. In them rest our hopes, our dreams and all our aspirations for progression. Children are the culmination of our evolution as a society; the wonderful outcome of all our hardships and subsequent triumphs. Our efforts to educate and mold them into productive citizens are essentially investments in our own future. The sad reality is that not every child is born into an environment that will mold them into being the Nelson Mandelas and Hillary Clintons of their times. Even though I believe, and I'm sure you share my sentiments, that every child has the ability to achieve success....even greatness. In some capacity, many of these lost and misguided children eventually find themselves caught in the web of our nation's juvenile justice system. But instead of recognizing these children's promise, it is further squandered by meaningless incarceration in adult facilities.
...Many have joined in on the "going green" movement in an effort to lessen the negative impact on our environment. Every day, with a little initiative, creativity and a touch of passion, we save refuse otherwise doomed to a landfill, and give it a second life. Salvaged milk jugs become bird feeders, nourishing wildlife. Rescued wood is refurbished and used to provide shelter for the needy through such programs as Habitat for Humanity. Gases that would otherwise be harmful. such as methane, are harnessed and used to power our homes safely and efficiently. With minimal effort we take undesirable, inanimate objects, give them new purpose, a second chance, and reap the rewards. We recycle trash, mere objects with no dreams or fears, things with no heartbeat, simple items with no soul. Yet each day a broken system strips a child of a second chance.
I'm sure we're all familiar with the disciplinary tactic "time-out," in which Children are set in a corner for a short period after misbehavior to reflect on their misdeeds. In many cases this is an effective tactic with children. Often times, incarceration is thought to be synonymous with a "time-out," a time in which people who have committed crimes are removed from society, given time to reflect and learn better habits. In some cases with juveniles, incarceration may be necessary...but juveniles are meant for juvenile facilities conducive to rehabilitation, and even then incarceration should be used sparingly. Some hard nosed proponents of juveniles being charged, sentenced and incarcerated as adults say, "If you commit an adult crime, you should do adult time."
What constitutes an adult crime? Isn't a crime a crime, whether or not it is committed by a child or an adult? The only discernable difference is the offender, and in this difference lies the heart of the issue. It is a scientific fact that an adolescent is incapable of reasoning and thinking as an adult. For this very reason, minors cannot enter into a legal contract, vote, buy or consume alcohol, view an R-rated movie alone in a theater, etc,---they cannot make adult decisions, or fully comprehend their actions and the inherent consequences of their actions like adults. So how can the system rationalize charging minors as adults, sentencing them to adult time and incarcerating them in adult facilities if it is psychologically impossible for them to think at the same capacity as adults? It absolutely does not stand to reason. Not only is it illogical, but it serves no ultimate purpose. It is the antithesis of justice. For some reason in our society, the word "justice" has become interchangeable with "punishment." And though punishment is a tool in the arsenal of justice, it is not justice. The Webster's Dictionary defines the word justice as "moral rightness, equity and fairness." Is it morally right to rob a child of a second chance because of the bad hand that life dealt them? There is nothing equitable or fair about turning a blind eye to a child in need. Would true justice not demand that the juvenile system make the best choice for society and child?
Most believe that the Department of Corrections is a favorable environment to a person making a positive change in their life, hence the name "Department of Corrections." Nothing could be further from the truth, especially for an adolescent. Due to an adolescent's natural innocence and impressionability, there are basically two likely outcomes to incarcerating a juvenile in an adult facility. One, they become a victim, which is a re-occurring theme in many troubled adolescents lives already. Two, they are corrupted even further and become infinitely more troubled. The reasoning behind this is simple. Prison is best described as a "predator-prey" society. Those deemed vulnerable physically or mentally are preyed upon. This makes adolescents, who many times are not yet mature physically or mentally, particularly susceptible to being victims of manipulation, physical assault, and in some instances, sexual assault. On the other hand, some do not become prey, but instead themselves turn into predators.
We often describe children and adolescents as "sponges" because of their innate ability to absorb information and learn from their surroundings. Queen Elizabeth II once said, "I learned the way a monkey learns...by watching my parents." Though humorous, it is quite true. We adopt all our morals, values, beliefs and many of our habits from the people and environment in which we are reared, whether those values be good or whether they be bad. This intrinsic impressionability truly makes adolescents products of their environment. Instead of serving as a place to rehabilitate and correct negative behaviors, adult facilities can serve as a "criminal college" of sorts for juveniles. The fact they are at an age in which they are still forming their own personal morals and values makes them substantially susceptible to negative influence in an environment that, at it's very core, is negative. Many individuals incarcerated as juveniles experience a mentally arrested development in which their mental reasoning and maturity remains at the level that it was at the point of incarceration. This arrested development coupled with the adaptation of antisocial behavior is the perfect recipe to create serious career criminals. What was once simply a broken, misguided adolescent is transformed into a depraved and, often times, violent adult, with a warped sense of right and wrong. Once an individual reaches this point, rehabilitation, though not entirely impossible, is grossly unlikely.
What many don't take into consideration is that the vast majority of juvenile offenders who are incarcerated , even with substantial sentences , will be released back into society. Clearly, you can see how incarcerating juveniles in adult facilities is contradictory to the justice system's model of "correction and rehabilitation." It is even more antithetical to Article I, Section 18, of the Indiana Constitution which states, "The penal code shall be based on the principles of reformation and not vindicitve justice." Simply put, incarcerating juveniles as adults in adult facilities creates a breeding ground for criminal degenerates who will inevitably be released back into society.
Indiana and many other states across the nation have, in effect , given up on troubled youth. Troubled juveniles have become collateral damage of the "get tough on crime" mentality that has become prevalent in America's broken justice system. Members of the justice community have yet to acknowledge that the juvenile justice system is ground zero in America's war onj crime. Today's juvenile delinquents are tomorrow's adult offenders. The key to stopping criminal behavior is dealing with it at it's genesis.
First, we must stop waiving juveniles to adult court so liberally. It serves no constructive purpose, but rather victimizes and criminally indoctrinates juvenile offenders at the taxpayers expense. Secondly, we must reform our juvenile justice system and facilities. The majority of men currently incarcerated with me said their criminal behavior began as juveniles. Many were incarcerated and felt that incarceration was merely a stepping stone to their incarceration as adults. It served not to discourage criminal behavior but actually, in many cases, was a catalyst to further criminal behavior. Troubled behavior is a manifestation of underlying issues in adolescents. There is always smoke before there is fire. It is up to mus as a society to recognize this. If your driving and see your engine light on, you don't drive straight to the junkyard to have the car destroyed. You take the car to the mechanic, identify the problem and fix it. The same should be true of juveniles. The very innocence3 and impressionability that make incarcerating juveniles as adults so fundamentally wrong make them excellent candidates for rehabilitation. By tackling the problem at the juvenile level, we can drastically reduce the amount of juveniles who become adult offenders. This, in turn, would both significantly reduce the criminal population and the costs of incarceration.
It was Albert Einstein who said "We can't solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." It's blantantly obvious that our system is essentially broken, and it's clear as it becomes progressively worse that the problems won't solve itself. We as a society must approach this issue with the same bravery and ingenuity that made the civil rights movement a success...with the same persistence and conviction that afforded us the victory in the battle for women's suffrage. It's that type of forward thinking and unity that will allow us to overcome this and other obstacles as a nation. In the words of Henry Miller:
Life goes on whether we act as cowards or heroes...everything we shut our eyes to, run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind.
If you saw a child who was lost, would you allow him or her to wander, dejected and alone? If you saw a child hurt, could you turn your back on their suffering? Yes, as Henry Miller said, life will move on whether we act as cowards or heroes. But we hold the key to correcting an injustice and saving troubled adolescents from a life of loneliness, hardship and suffering. We can recycle their futures
I am currently conducting research for a proposal that I believe will be instrumental in correcting this disparity. My reason for writing this essay is to bring awareness to this issue. By doing so, I hope to prevent countless adolescents from being doomed to a life of crime and subsequent incarceration. I welcome anyone who would like to assist or contribute in any way. You may contact me at the following address:
Landis J. Reynolds
Carlisle, In. 47838