A Million Things Run Through My Mind, You Ain’t Gotta Be In Jail To Be Doin Time….
Like i tend to do on an almost daily basis, i went out for a brief ride. It clears my mind even through smoke clouds. I try to make it a productive event, as much as possible. But honestly, most times it is simply a guilty pleasure, where I can zone completely out and immerse myself in thought.
I like to watch the ongoings as well. “The movement” on the streets.
The energy in the air on any given day. At times its peace energy. At others it is death energy. I especially enjoy the excitement energy. While the desperation energy, I find the most anxiety provoking. But nevertheless, I suppose I do just appreciate the sensation of energies overall.
I take much joy and interest in the observation of people in my community, as well. The chaos and griminess of the streets. The cars that speed back n forth. Young people posted, or either making their way to and from.
All the connections and distinct cultural facets that create the reality we share in. Even the recognition of the elements and our weather all around.
I soak it all up.
Savor every stimuli that I can take in with my senses, as I find so much beauty in just these simple moments. Simple moments, soundtracked by any number of potential melodies accompanying my ride.
This is the process that has the potential to be enacted during any given smoke ride.
And this day as I made my way down Foothill Blvd. I happen to glance out the car window and saw one of youngstas from work out there, near a bus stop, there was a young lady also in his company. This youngsta was in the program probably a year ago, mandated to Group Counseling as a condition of his probation.
I saw his face rather quickly as I drove by. It was almost an instantaneous flash, except things slowed down well enough for me to really look into his face.
To recognize, “awwww that’s my youngsta right there.” But deeper than that.
I noticed his attention was on a car, an ol skool Cadillac Coupe, Candy Apple Red wit gold accent and trim, which drove a few carlengths ahead of me.
All dudes, 4 deep and they goin.
2 the new Snoop. Need to get that myself actually…but I digress.
I saw my youngsta watching the vehicle intently, with a look of vigilance on his face. It was not a look of interest at a clean scraper. The look conveyed that he may have recognized the dudes and yet does not necessarily have an affinity for them.
It was all just a quick flash of a moment. I saw the non-verbal interaction and recognized his face.
At that second, I was flashed back to the various memories I have of our interactions.
I recall the 1st time I met him, he came for an intake appointment. He showed up alone, with no parent, in attempts to handle his responsibilities and face his consequences independently. No true sense of parental support, as I would later come to find out.
He had a quiet presence about him which was also reflective of a certain hesitance as a young man caught up in the Juvenile Justice System. There was also a mature insight and confidence that he naturally exuded. He hadda brown skin tone, big exressive brown eyes, which appeared heavy and to be reflecting deep emotions. A hardness that was really soft. He was soft spoken, and serious. I noticed he had a slight gap in his teeth, it was between his front n lateral incisor, which added a great deal of character to his features.
Strictly based on appearance, he had a rough look to him and yet he was very a handsome young man. He had the typical hood uniform on, black hoodie, black beanie cap, LRG jeans, and less than fresh Jordans on his feet. The typical, “OPD please racial profile me as young thug” attire, which no doubt communicates rather loudly for itself. However, I could sense immediately that his behavior didn’t match the visual image of this young man.
We talked briefly. He told me he came alone because his family had no bus fare to get to the intake appointment. So he came to get his paperwork on his own, to take it home to be completed …by the adults that represented him in life. I was immediately given much to work with in terms of assessment, just based on this interaction and contact alone.
When group began, the 1st night, I recall him in group. His mother as well, she sat in the back row and near the low counter against the wall, where she had decided to partially lay out, with her upper body, while the rest of her lower body was positioned in a chair. I could see the young man’s discomfort due to his mother’s behavior. She was irritable and negative, disengaged and passive-aggressive, if not outright, resistant.
She appeared to be under the influence of whatever her preferred drug of choice may have been. It was most likely heroin, just based on her specific behaviors. She was noddin out, head hangin, totally unfocused, slurred and disorganized speech.
And at one point she got irritated with me because we were having a dialogue as a group and she had lost her thought from before, when she had answered a question I posed to her about her son. Between that time, she nodded off again. Therefore, she lost her total bearings on the conversation when it had come time for her to participate again.
She was the last person to be called upon again, and when she snapped into answer mode, I was like, “Remind us what u said previously regarding your goals and expectations for DM.”
She couldn’t remember what she’d said to me before.
To which she replied, “You cant remember what I said??????” with a raised voice and a straight real life attitude. lol
I felt myself, almost knee jerk react, versus thoughtfully respond. But I took a moment to respond, I looked down the line of 15 + families that I had been engaging prior to her, one by one, slowly. And then I scanned passed them yet again with my eyes before I came back to eye contact with her.
I just made the statement, “No actually I dont recall what you said specifically. But I would like to hear it again if you can remember.”
She struggled for a minute, and I believe I was able to help her get back to her initial thoughts, from there we went on forward and she was able to participate. It was interesting because it was one of those situations where I could have anticipated that this family would not make it through the eight weeks.
I started to, in fact. I had a thought that this family would not be returning the following week. Simple interpersonal interactions such as those are quite enough to cause highly unstable or in-crisis clients to start running from the help they need. I knew I had responded to this mother in the appropriate way, genuine, empathetic, non-judgmental.
Nevertheless, sometimes, many times, being met with that type of acceptance can be even more difficult to accept and tolerate for some my clients, than it would be for me to respond negatively or reject them. So I know that there was a side of me that saw the potential for that expectation.
But the opposite couldn’t have been more true. It wound up being that I saw the most growth in this particular mother during that group. Over the course of 8 weeks, I saw a great deal of progression and reconnection between mother and son, as well.
I grew to know the young man quite well, in addition. Actually much better than I knew his mother. Her and I connected from a distance, her receptivity towards me was there from that 1st week’s session onward and she took knowledge and wisdom from me in ways she saw fit. But she maintained a certain level of space that allowed for the continued pursuit of drug addiction. Which basically means that she didn’t attend any family or individual therapy sessions. She avoided instances where her substance abuse issues could be outwardly addressed. Yet that issue was not one that could be treated and dealt with fully in the context of our program regardless.
So in cases such as those, and there are many, the focus is ultimately on the youth and how to aid them in “getting out of the system, and staying out of the system,” as well as, learning to navigate through sometimes extreme family dysfunction. Much easier said than done.
So if there is extreme dysfunctional or destructive patterns within the family, such as a drug addicted mother, for example, the most that I can ever hope to do, in terms of the parents, is to attempt to give them as many tools for more effective parenting as I can. This requires much tact and diplomacy in aiding the parents to see how many of the times, the dysfunction is in the parent/family system, and that their child’s behaviors are nothing more than very explainable manifestations of the discord and imbalance. This can be very difficult for parents to accept and own. As they are all well-intentioned, even those that are often deemed less than competent parents, are most always well-intentioned, even when these intentions are warped or skewed.
In that regard, DM and I worked together individually also. He had much to say, and to be so quiet, he was very open and forthcoming. As if he had been waiting for someone to come along that he felt was worthy enough to hear his story. He was not a talkative young man by any stretch of the imagination. But in session, he talked rather freely. He described to me how he lives day to day.
What lessons he has learned, his insights on what he felt was missing and why the youth are in these types of situations. He told me what he knows specifically about how he wound up in this situation, what factors have contributed. He was similarly expressive when it came to his hopes and aspirations, and they were powerful and vast.
He described his motivations for breakin the 2 “migos” that day. He said that he was tired of being hella broke. Tired of being hungry. Tired of not having nuthin in his pockets.
He walked me through the incident step by step. As he did I could see how the actions of the youngstas that I work with can really reflect 2 different sets of motivations. Many of the male youth who are mandated to our program these days have been ajudicated for robbery. This is the norm at present. One point is that robbery is the most common charge for male youth right now, whether or not it is actually real cases of robbery.
However, there are also very many valid cases of robbery as well, at varying levels. Whether its the youth premeditating a robbery on another person. Or a fight where the loser gets their belongings removed from their person, just to name a couple common scenarios.
But in the particular group, in which DM was a participant, I could identify how his motivations for robbery, were based upon survival and a hunger. While other young men on probation for the same charge could honestly convey to me that they weren’t in need of anything. Their parents provided for them well. They admitted that they robbed people for the thrill, the excitement, the perception, and status they have amongst their homies for doing it, etc.
So when DM unfolded the story of his life to me:
His struggles, his traumas, his losses. His lessons, his resiliency, his triumphs,
I listened intently and shared in his suffering (= compassion).
Then he went on his way.
I haven’t seen his face since then until the other day.
And I caught a glimpse of him in motion. In his zone. I was flashed back to earlier that morning to my current group. How the parents expressed their fears for their children.
How much the youth are at-risk, living and functioning in a war zone everyday. Suffering from post traumatic stress disorder with no real awareness of their own. And definitely no treatment for it.
But even more than that how the system is a trap for the youth. A process of institutionalizing them.
For me, the mission is to help the youth get themselves out of the system and to keep themselves out of the system.
This is a simple enough statement. However the practical application could not be more difficult when dealing with a system that is designed for their failure. Beginning with the fact that the majority of these youth are doing nothing more than typical adolescent boundary testing. However they just so happen to reside in a dangerous environment, where they have been deemed the enemy. Where any false move, holds unjust long term consequences.
Yet children are supposed to make mistakes and learn from them.
One parent made the point, that the system is set up to get them as early as possible and to keep them as long as possible.
The youth are arrested 9 times out of 10 on trumped up felony charges, for things that are actually nothing more than misdemeanors, if even real charges at all.
It’s a set up because these families are not familiar with the system most of the time, and they are often simply manipulated by it. The youth don’t understand that once you are introduced to the system their parents really hold no legal rights over them anymore.
Of course we all know that most of the families can’t afford a lawyer. But the system is designed to discourage the parents from wanting to take these cases to trial because the offense was actually so low in contrast to what they are being charged with, that if they were to lose at trial, their child’s whole future is straight in the toilet.
The child just wants to get out of jail, the parents just want their baby home. So they take these deals that wind up giving them misdemeanors a lot of the time. But the charge was a 1st time misdemeanor to begin with, 90% of the time, so shouldn’t it actually had been dropped altogether?
If your skin tone is brown or black and you reside outside of this City, it probably does.
But our youth are then given these terms of probation and this is their 2nd chance, their test.
It’s a catch 22 in so many ways. The parents are punished and required to fulfill requirements for their children’s mistakes, while also being stripped of a large majority of their rights as parents.
The youth are placed on probation which often does seem to reign in some of the immature risk taking behaviors, at least temporarily. In some ways, this can serve to alleviate some stress in the parents because their children are much more controllable, they have curfews or are on Electronic Monitoring, they are less likely to get into trouble, be harmed, or killed out in the street with so much less freedom.
However, at the same time, it is a powerless feeling as a parent because u are not the actual person exerting this control that your child is abiding by.
And it also begs the question, if the youth are having external control mechanisms placed upon them, while simultaneously being institutionalized, all during a time when they are supposed to be learning this process internally, exactly what are the expectations for the youth?
Failure. Basically. I would say.
For the youth, many times, the view is so close that they can’t see the forest for the trees.
However, from the inside it does become quite apparent quite fast, that all the odds are against you.
Can you imagine what it feels like to be 15-years-old looking at 15-20 years in jail? I wish we would all just stop and try without any judgment, to consider just what it FEELS like to stand in that place.
The likelihood for most of them is that they are going to graduate right on through this institutionalization process, with highest honors.
But the truth is, if that is failure, the adults and this society, set them up for failure. Fostered it, in fact. And have failed in our duties to the youth.
These are present observations being that I have stood on both sides, I have mos def been that youth that people had no expectations for, but the worst. Now I stand in a position to support and advocate for those that reflect me to myself, while also reflecting a potential back to them.
I’ll end with another quote that this topic brings to mind,
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”