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September 25, 2007 12:06 AM   Subscribe

Kids Visit San Quentin: Four Oakland teens get a tour of San Quentin State Prison and listen to advice from inmates.
posted by fandango_matt (35 comments total)

 
32 percent of black males will enter state or federal prison during their lifetime.
If that's not a crisis I don't know what is. Crap.
posted by rouftop at 12:16 AM on September 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Keep thuggin'
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:10 AM on September 25, 2007


The links are wickedly cool in a morbid, pessimistic and sobering way. Liked.
posted by Phire at 1:15 AM on September 25, 2007


Personally, I tend to think that if you're locking away a third of an entire population, it's not the population at fault.
posted by Malor at 1:39 AM on September 25, 2007


Scared Straight!
posted by psmealey at 3:12 AM on September 25, 2007


It's nice to see them getting away from the old fashioned 'yell at them until they get it' method. This more sober approach seems to emphasize humanization over the cartoonish villainy of yore. My reaction to the original Scared Straight was always something like, "I am not as crazy as the guy who's screaming at me, so I will not end up in jail." It just strengthened my delusion of invincibility.

This doesn't do that. Good.
posted by Reggie Digest at 3:40 AM on September 25, 2007


Why fix any societal and structural problems that lead to crime (poverty, racism, fucked up criminal justice system) when you can scare the fucking daylights out of kids for fun? Yeah, in 8th grade an inmate came to our school to talk to us about why we should not commit crimes because if we did, we could end up where he was and get "Kool Aid smiles," or, be slit ear to ear with a prison-made knife. Other than us thinking this was creepily weird (we were 13), it had little effect.
posted by sneakin at 4:16 AM on September 25, 2007


The overall imprisonment rates are awful, but I bet the numbers are double or worse in certain places. How can you raise your kids not to end up in prison when perhaps the majority of the men in your neighborhood (and maybe in your family) have been there and are back to walk tough and tell the tale? How is a quick visit to a prison going to save kids living in places like that? Look for those four kids in a few years and I think you'll find that two or three them have been stuffed into those 4x9 cells.
posted by pracowity at 4:17 AM on September 25, 2007


Malor writes 'Personally, I tend to think that if you're locking away a third of an entire population, it's not the population at fault.'

Tell that to the Tutsi's.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:17 AM on September 25, 2007


How can you raise your kids not to end up in prison when perhaps the majority of the men in your neighborhood (and maybe in your family) have been there and are back to walk tough and tell the tale?

Endemic poverty, racism, the differential enforcement of permissive laws, etc. all obviously play some role in this, but much more interesting to me is what are the factors that cause people to *not* break the laws and go to prison when growing up in that environment? What is it about that kid, who, growing up in a family of ten kids to ten different daddies, none of whom paid child support, all of whom spent time hustling and in jail, what is it about that kid that says 'I'm not gonna do this' when all his brothers are taking the same path?

Sometimes, it's just dumb luck. If you manage to evade capture until your mid 20's, chances are that you'll make out OK. Alternatively, if someone decides to prosecute you at a very early age, even for some moronically trivial offence, then that will almost certainly have an amplification effect, leading to a string of ever more serious criminal convictions.

But what is it about those kids who, when growing up in those circumstances where reading a book is seen as 'acting white' and the thug life is seen as something to aspire to, what is it about the kids who reject all that and say 'I don't want to go that route. I want something different out of my life.'

Anyone know of any research into this area? It does seem a rather obvious place to start looking for your solutions.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:45 AM on September 25, 2007


Yeah, in 8th grade an inmate came to our school to talk to us about why we should not commit crimes because if we did, we could end up where he was and get "Kool Aid smiles," or, be slit ear to ear with a prison-made knife.

Those 'Kool aid smiles', prison rape, etc, don't technically have anything to do with actual judicial punishment, they're the result of the state failing to protect prisoners from eachother.

But really, I think that people let those things happen in order to make prison more scary and help keep the population in line. So basically we're recruiting our craziest and most violent criminals as de-facto torturers in order to keep the population in line.

America has really become a society where it really is possible to lock up anyone who gets out of line. In the past (and I'm speculating here) I think governments had more limitations, due to simple logistics in terms of the number of people they could lock up. So either they killed people, or did nothing, or whatever.

And, of course, the United States incarcerates a greater percentage of it's people then any other country in the world. There are more people in prison in the US then in China, despite the fact that china has four times as many people
posted by delmoi at 6:31 AM on September 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


And, of course, the United States incarcerates a greater percentage of it's people then any other country in the world.

It's good for business.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:39 AM on September 25, 2007


PeterMcD: Those kids either get caught up being fascinated by something (music? physics? literature?) or are too outcast in their own environment to play the same game as everyone else. Perhaps they are gay.

The only black man I've known well, that wasn't gay, was raised by his grandparents (in Detroit, no less) in an extremely strict environment. This was enough to set him very much apart from his peers, and he did well. (Anecdote is not data, and all that jazz).
posted by Goofyy at 6:40 AM on September 25, 2007


years ago I had visited that prison and was taken to see the gas chamber...not nice
recidivism is big issue not discussed sufficiently
posted by Postroad at 6:40 AM on September 25, 2007


I think the problem with these sorts of exercises, along with the Scared Straight program, is they ignore one very prevailant factor:

the importance of Keeping it real.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:56 AM on September 25, 2007


The key word here is Institutionalization. Young black men that have entered the system face an uphill battle to leave it behind. Whatever slender window of opportunity they may have had prior to first incarceration (whether it is juvenile lock-up or adult) slams solidly shut after the first serious scrape with the law, and it takes remarkable will power and support to force it open again. Over the years, these men become psychically institutionalized, and they can never leave the system even when they are not physically incarcerated. Our penal system is designed and manage to Institutionalize poor young men, not to rehabilitate them.
posted by Mister_A at 7:22 AM on September 25, 2007


Personally, I tend to think that if you're locking away a third of an entire population, it's not the population at fault.
posted by Malor at 3:39 AM on September 25


Of course it's not the population at fault... but it is the individuals of that population's fault.

We've had this argument to death on mefi in years past, so without bringing too much to the table, and being as cordial and respectful as I know how: for reason(s) unknown (or at least, not agreed to), young black males commit crimes at a rate, depending on the crime, of 2x-5x more than other groups (as defined by the FBI).

The numbers are irrefutable. It is an epidemic. But, there is no value in quibbling over whether it is occurring or not. The value is in trying to discover why.

What people are touching on here are some of the reasons, perhaps, but it can't be that simple. If it were just "emulating thug life" and all of that, surely it would have been broken by now. For God's sake, 1/3 of the "thugs" they know are getting locked up. In the inner city, I bet it is closer to 1/2. It's not like they can't recognize that there is a more than negligible chance that they will be locked up too.

At any rate, any discussion that tries to deny this is occurring is harmful and detrimental to the real work to be done of trying to find out why, and fix it.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:39 AM on September 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


And I absolutely agree with Mister_A that our institutions are not at all geared towards rehabilitation.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:40 AM on September 25, 2007


The term "keeping it real" is sooo thuggy. The thing to do is
be a nerd. Reading and education. Keep you nose clean.
Stay out of trouble.
posted by doctorschlock at 7:49 AM on September 25, 2007


Keep your nose clean, kid.
posted by doctorschlock at 7:49 AM on September 25, 2007


But really, I think that people let those things happen in order to make prison more scary and help keep the population in line. So basically we're recruiting our craziest and most violent criminals as de-facto torturers in order to keep the population in line.

You really are the reverse of Occam's Razor, huh? Anything to comment. Does the system suck? Yes. Is it by design? Unlikely. The fact we've overloaded it with a zillion drug arrests no one saw coming and saturated it to a point that appears unsustainable seems more likely than Strother Martin sitting back, shining a shotgun and coming up with ways to make it more awful.
posted by yerfatma at 9:47 AM on September 25, 2007


It's good for business.

It sure is. It's also another way for public funds to end up in the hands of private enterprise without having to call it "socialism".
posted by psmealey at 9:57 AM on September 25, 2007


Those kids either get caught up being fascinated by something (music? physics? literature?) or are too outcast in their own environment to play the same game as everyone else. Perhaps they are gay.

If one third of all black men are sent to prison, surely the remaining two thirds can't all be gay/geeks or even outcasts? Of course, I don't know what proportion of US black men live in poverty/ghettos, so perhaps it's fully one third, and those all go to jail?

My own feeling is that it's about the possibility of hope, and believing that you have a realistic prospect of achieving your dream goals. If the only realistic outcome that you see for yourself is the possibility of a few years flipping burgers at the Golden Arches, followed by a long stretch as a janitor or some such, then it's hard to tell a kid that he shouldn't sell crack as crack sales may well be the sole possibility that he has of accomplishing those dreams. Whereas middle class kids can see the value of deferring gratification all around them, every minute of every day, and can be pretty secure that it will pay off in the long term.

My own background probably isn't too dissimilar to that of these kids who mess up. Both of my parents worked soul destroying factory jobs that, in my mothers case, killed her the year that she retired, and left my father with terrible tinnitus. After a childhood conviction for a relatively trivial matter, I came to believe -- mainly because that's what I was told -- that I'd never get a decent job and would be considered lucky to do what my parents did. I decided that with nothing left to strive for, why bother? Why not take the short cuts that lead young kids to prison? And not surprisingly, that's where I ended up.

When I look back, I can see that it could have been very different had I known somebody that could testify reliably to the achievability of goals that I might have realistically held. The problem for me was that the only people that I knew who would make such claims were teachers, and I just didn't find their testimony credible. What did they know about my life or the world that I lived in?

I guess this is what Jesse Jackson and people of his ilk are attempting to do through slogans like 'I am somebody' and 'Keep hope alive', but I'm guessing that most poor black youth feel about Jesse exactly as I felt about my teachers.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:10 PM on September 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


By the way, the video -- created by journalist James Irwin -- won an Emmy yesterday.

The piece, and those kids, put me in mind of the last season of The Wire. I imagine that these boys' Oakland neighborhood likely offers the same lack of opportunity, dearth of positive role models, compromised school system, and seductive drug culture as shown on the series. What was the success rate of those four young characters by the end of the season? One now a killer, one slinging on the corner, one apparently beaten to death, and one -- the lucky one -- saved by caring adult. Sadly, that rate seems fairly true to life.
posted by william_boot at 2:22 PM on September 25, 2007


Four. Why that should shift things immeasurably. Or, rather, could this be yet another police-state passion play?
posted by telstar at 2:29 PM on September 25, 2007


Of course it's not the population at fault... but it is the individuals of that population's fault.

We've had this argument to death on mefi in years past


And apparently you feel you're, like, totally right and can simply declare that and move on. After all, you've hashed it out before and everyone else is, like, totally wrong.

for reason(s) unknown (or at least, not agreed to), young black males commit crimes at a rate, depending on the crime, of 2x-5x more than other groups (as defined by the FBI).

Right, but many of those things (anything relating to drugs) wouldn't have been illegal 80 years ago. But back then segregation was legal. So, if you illegalize something formerly legal that one population group engages in, suddenly you can lock those people up!

How convenient.
posted by delmoi at 2:34 PM on September 25, 2007


posted by delmoi if you illegalize something formerly legal that one population group engages in, suddenly you can lock those people up!

Wrong.
posted by fandango_matt at 2:40 PM on September 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Great post Peter.
posted by Ynoxas at 2:43 PM on September 25, 2007


delmoi: You're misunderstanding my sentiment.

I was trying to avoid a derail over the veracity of government crime statistics and stay focused on the bigger picture.

That's why I was bending over backwards to gingerly put forth the subject, not any sort of "I'm right, you're wrong". And especially not "everyone else is wrong" considering the last times it was "hashed out" there only existed a couple of holdouts among a thread full of people acknowledging the obvious.

For some people there never exists enough proof. But for people who are at least attempting to be reasonable, it is clear that young black males commit crimes at some level disproportionate to their makeup of the entire population.

My point is, noone does any favors by refusing to accept that young black males commit more crime than their percentage of the population would suggest. Quit arguing over the what and start addressing the why.

Without venturing too far from the subject, I agree with your implied statement that US drug laws are insane. There are far, far too many people, of all races, that are in prison because of relatively minor drug infractions. Add "3-strikes" laws and you have a recipe for disaster.

As I've said perhaps 20 times on MeFi, I support legalizing almost all drugs, and regulating their sale and distribution, and taxing them, just like all our other legal vices (alcohol, tobacco). Same goes for prostitution.

Funny thing is, I've never even had a joint, much less any harder drugs, and yet I recognize the insanity of US drug policy. Even if drugs were legalized, I still would not partake, but I think existing intoxication laws could handle public consumption. You can't drive drunk, you can't drive high. Done, and done.

So, please take my comments at face value, and don't assume any kind of hidden agenda. I really wish we would spend more money on prevention, giving young poor youth of all races more education and more opportunities. And I wish, especially in the juvenile system, there was more emphasis on rehabilitation and non-recidivism.
posted by Ynoxas at 2:57 PM on September 25, 2007


..someone admits to knowing only one black male well. WTF ov!
posted by shockingbluamp at 4:35 PM on September 25, 2007



..someone admits to knowing only one black male well.


Well, he only knows one straight black guy well, is what I think he said.

32 percent of black males will enter state or federal prison during their lifetime.


I wonder if the numbers are similar for lower income whites and hispanics. That would add a lot of credence to the argument that a lot (but by no means all) crime involves economic factors.

Scared Straight!


I remember seeing that on TV as a 16-year-old half-assed delinquent. I remember that white guy with the striped shirt scared the fuck out of me. Didn't exactly make a model citizen of me, but convinced me that I'm too pretty for prison.
posted by jonmc at 4:49 PM on September 25, 2007


This guy, Jon?
posted by fandango_matt at 5:04 PM on September 25, 2007


I wonder if the numbers are similar for lower income whites and hispanics.

If not, economists should pack up their slide rules and go home. If you're making bank legally or have the possibility of doing so, why risk it? Didn't The Wire teach us anything, Stringer Bell?
posted by yerfatma at 5:06 PM on September 25, 2007


Nah, fandango this was a white guy with blond hair and a mustache who told a kid who wouldn't stop moving that he'd take his one of his 'pretty blue eyes' out and squash it in front of him so he could see it. Then after he was done he said 'I talke dto ya nice, didn't I?' in this dead voice. Gave me the willies.
posted by jonmc at 5:21 PM on September 25, 2007


If it's not about racism inherent in the system, why are dark-skinned blacks more likely to receive harsher penalties and longer prison sentences than light-skinned blacks?

Oh, I see - it's because the darker your skin, the more likely you are to commit crimes. Absolutely nothing to do with the conviction rate.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:52 PM on September 26, 2007


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