Often times the impression of the incarcerated is negative. Truthfully speaking there are those who wish to perpetuate ignorance and anti-social behavior. Yet, there are men who desire nothing more than to be able to offer proactive, pro-social and effective suggestions to the problems that plague our communities. Communities that we, admittedly, influenced negatively.
Growing up in DC during the 1980s, up until my incarceration, was not easy. DC was a city under siege, known as the murder capital of the US, where the murder rate soared well into 300 a year. Many people, mostly young, lost their lives during this time. Many lives were destroyed, families torn apart and homes broken. I am sure long time DC residents remember those trying times.
The positive changes we have seen over the years shows the efforts of the people here tonight have not been in vain. The job of securing public safety is never easy and often times goes un-noticed. But at the end of the day we have to appreciate the work of those who effortlessly strive to make DC a safer place. Thank you for that.
I have had the chance to read the recent Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016. I must say I was very impressed by what I read. The strategies mentioned will produce positive results. As a youthful offender who was just put into the adult system with no guidance, as someone who had to figure it out along the way and got it right. I am sure that current offenders with the help that is being extended to them stand a better chance of being successful.
It is well documented that crime is a result of social disparity, economic inequality, marginalization, disenfranchisement, and most importantly lack of education.
I strongly believe that there are two systems within our society that operate hand and hand: the educational and criminal justice system, for whatever flaws they may have.
Failure and success, within society, depends on ones approach to education. Those who take advantage of the educational opportunities provided to them almost NEVER end up in the criminal justice system.
Those who fail within the education system almost always END up in the criminal justice system. It was mentioned in the bill that 81% of DYRS committed youth are male and 100% are African American. That is startling, to say the least.
Education extends beyond text books. It begins with the values, morals and lessons we are taught by those around us: parents, guardians, teachers, community leaders and community members. What they teach us is what we take out into the world.
What are the youth being taught?
Some of them are taught in order to survive in this harsh world they have to be harsh. They are taught they cannot trust those who do not look like them, act like them or are of a different skin color.
They rebel against authority and are not held accountable for their actions. They are taught in order to survive they have to be uncaring, unsympathetic, and un-empathetic towards others.
They are taught that violence is used as a means for survival. They are taught that when all else fails they have to fight dirty, using weapons, or anything else to gain the edge. These are some of the lessons they learn from their care takers. These are the lessons they take into the world.
Violence is everywhere. We see it on TV, video games, hear it in music, read it in books. It is almost impossible to escape violence. They have become so desensitized to violence that they don’t understand the full repercussions of harming others.
What is violence?
Violence is fear perpetuated and fueled by anger, desperation, and ignorance. Couple that with drug, alcohol and mental health abuse you have a bomb ready for destruction. The more fearful a person is the more desperate they becomes. This fear and desperation will provoke violent behavior.
Reducing crime and violence calls for targeting its roots causes: fear being one of them.
We, also, have to consider the way we view our communities. The word in itself is made up of two words, Common-Unity. In order to restore the community we must unite and restore those elements that have been removed from it.
Why do we call our community the hood? If you take the word “hood” and put it in the middle of a sheet of paper and write the words father, mother, sister, brother, neighbor, and servant you will see they are tied to the word “hood.”
When we take these human qualities out of the community we destroy the neighborhood. Therefore, we are left with the “hood”. When there is no fatherhood, motherhood, sisterhood, brotherhood, or servant hood left in the neighborhood we are left with victimhood.
We have to unite and restore our communities by putting those human elements back in order for the community to be productive.
We need to remain hopeful that our communities can be restored. Those of us who believe there is hope have to continue acting on this hope. Hope is that thing that propels us each day. Hope is the light that shines in darkness. Hope is the armor that we use in the battlefield as we defend those who are preyed upon and unable to defend themselves: the desolate, hopeless, elderly and children.
An important question that needs to be asked…”What is it that these young men and women need”? Do we even know what they need to change their behavior? Not what we think they need, but what they know they need. We will never know if they are not included in the conversation.
One would be surprised how much is learned by simply asking, “What do you need to become a better person”? We need to find out the needs of the youth. Most of the time we try to assume what they need. While in fact we are just as clueless as they are. Not knowing the answers to these questions could cost someone their life.
I often ask myself how my life would be if someone, during my time of rebellion, would have sat me down and simply asked, “Talib what do you need… What do you need to be successful? What do you need to feel loved? What do you need to feel safe? What do you need to be the best you can be?” In all of my years of delinquent behavior and experience with DHS, Oak hill, Cedar Knoll, Residential placement have I ever been asked any of those questions. Rather it has been we have assessed you and this is what you need. Most of the time they got it wrong.
In my opinion, one way to hear from them is to have a summit that emphasizes the idea of non-violence. Where they are included in the discussion. The theme is simple. “What do our DC youth need to become successful in life?” I am not talking about fun and games or a concert. I am talking about a summit of serious conversation and discussion, a place where people can speak their fears, broker peace and become informed.
It would beneficial to organize city leaders, elected and appointed, parole, probation, teachers, parents, mentors, pastors, Imams, directors of the various organizations that exist in DC, white, black, Hispanic, Muslims, Christians, the entire DC community needs to be involved. One would have to utilize available resources to sponsor a summit such as this. In order for any of these measures the community has to be involved and supportive of the goals of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.
A summit of DC residents will be a good place where the victims of crimes get to speak. In most cases victims are like blank sheets of paper. These youth need to hear how crime and violence effect the lives of others. They need to hear how lives are destroyed by their actions. They, themselves, need to tell others what role crime, neglect, and violence has played in their lives. Often times the victim becomes the victimizer.
I have facilitated and participated in victim impact courses for many years. Participation in these courses led me to acquire certification in Victim Advocacy. The most emotional moment I have had in prison was during a victim impact seminar. To hear the stories of these victims soften a lot of the men to tears. It is often the catalyst needed that moves them from seeing themselves as the victim. It helps them reframe and understand who the true victims of crime are. For this reason we would begin all of our courses with a victim impact seminar.
A summit will allow other successful citizens to show themselves to the public and share their stories. Where they can share their stories of triumph. They can speak of breaking barriers and achieving goals despite the obstacles surrounding them. These stories can inspire.
A summit will allow law enforcement to express their willingness to work with the community, not against it. One of the downsides of wearing a uniform is we forget that beneath the uniform there is a human being. Most of the time we judge each other by the clothes and uniforms we wear; we don’t give people the benefit of doubt they deserve as human beings, based on the clothes, outfits and uniforms they wear.
When people talk of law enforcement most of the time they are talking about the uniform, and what it represents to them. They sometime fail to realize these people are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. They are human and the community need to see them as human beings.
Which is why it is moving to see an officer challenging a young girl to a dance-off in the middle of the street, as a means to ease the tension of anger. This is the type of community and law enforcement interaction that reminds us that law enforcement are human too.
We all could benefit from respecting one another as human beings and not products of our environments. We cannot continue to ostracize people from community affairs while expecting the best from them. The only way we, as a community, will be successful in reducing crime and violence will be determined by our willingness to stand together.
I am at one of the closest prisons to DC, FCI Cumberland. The DC population here is high, and young. These young men are in need of a lot of help. Some of the stories I hear are hard to believe, as it concerns some of the choices they have made in life.
I hear them talk on the prison yard and in the prison kitchen. I see them when they first arrive at the prison. I teach them in GED classes. I see the side effects of drug use. I listen to their stories. Stories that end with them back in the communities they come from. Some of them, when they are released, I follow up with. I call them and try to continue to encourage them. Most of the time they are back on the block or on their way back to prison. They tell me things like, “it’s just a matter of time before I’m back in the joint.”
It was once said that the measure of society can be judged by entering into its prisons. If that is true society does not look to promising.
I want to close with a true story. The story of my last cell-mate, a young man from DC. As an infant he was left in a crack house by his mother. He was left there to die. After a few days of being left in this house someone realized he was there and took him to the hospital. In short his grandmother was given custody of him. During his formative years he acted out and became increasingly violent.
He was later diagnosed with severe mental health issues and a learning disability. He was prescribed medicine but could not afford it so he turned to heroin. Now on top of being bi-polar he was abusing drugs. His violent behavior increased, he began carjacking and robbing people. By the time he got to prison he was on the brink of self-destruction.
We lived together for about 2 years. By the time he left he had a different outlook on life and had goals, was clean and healthy. One month after being home his grandmother, the primary care taker, passed away. He sent me a message saying, “she is gone, what am I going to do now.” In this desperate state it was only a matter of time before he returned to his old behavior.
Maslow hierarchy of needs suggest that when one’s basic needs are not met they cannot survive. They will resort to whatever means to meet their needs.
In order to find out what best suit their needs..simply bring them in on the conversation, and listen. Once you know what they need you can act effectively.
From personal experience I know that change is possible if given the right opportunities. I am hopeful.
I close with this “If you treat a person as they are, they will stay the same.
If you treat a person as they ought to be or could be, they will become what they ought to be and could be.