The ones locked up.
They’re sex offenders.
They’re addicts and dealers.
They’re locked up so we’re safe.
Except that they are people. They are kids who grow up, and in everything they see, life is expendable. Life isn’t sacred. Life isn’t protected, and childhood isn’t innocent. Childhood is being force-fed spoiled food, watching your mother be a prostitute in your home, visiting every male figure in your life behind bars, being left at a firestation, learning that violence has to be acceptable because it’s the only way to protect your mom from her boyfriend or your siblings from your dad, figuring out that school isn’t as important as your job, because otherwise your family will be homeless.
Every odd is against them. But they are people. They are children. He is a child who shot someone because life has always been expendable in his world, and his reality is shoot or be shot. She is a girl who is addicted to heroin because the addiction train started rolling when her mom offered her a cigarette at seven years old. He’s a sex offender because no one in his life taught him what consent is, especially not the family member who abused him when he was four. She’s locked up because she has nowhere else to go – no family member will take her, and she’s too dangerous for placement, but her crimes aren’t serious enough for commitment.
Charles Dickens believed that you could judge a society’s morals by the way it treats its children. We judge our criminals and then forget about them, so we can feel safe. We would rather be oblivious to the reality that a childhood happened that failed to form their conscience, or enable them to make good decisions, or empower them to have more choices, or present them any other viable opportunity… what it did do was present them a limited reality, led them to their crimes, and further into the trap.
They were children. My students are those children. What does that say about our society?