Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Where are they from? Where are they going? - Part 3

Part of my research for my film project temporarily titled The Assassination of a Citizen takes me into the Southern Youth Correctional Reception Center and Clinic in Norwalk, CA (SYCRCC). This is a 3-part report of my experiences there.

For some of the youth at the SYCRCC, especially the more serious offenders, the ones with a gang background, it’s like college, or maybe high school. Federal Prison is college. Some say it’s a summer camp compared to what’s going on in adult institutions. I mean, it somewhat is. It’s a surprisingly pleasant, easy-going atmosphere, which is what you’d want for a rehabilitation environment for the youth. But there’s tension in the air between the brown, black, white and yellows. It’s a fragile peace but everyone is trying to get along, pass the time, endure all the do-gooder patting to get back out and for some back to business.

But they’re not who the positivity of the Incentive Program (IP) is for. It is for that 30% fraction of young inmates (report as a PDF download) that actually seek it and for those who don’t know they need it but have to warm up to it. And for those it is a haven, a place to find a purpose again and to prepare themselves as good as possible for what’s to come after they’re released, which in most cases is even harder to endure than being incarcerated.

I found it incredibly rewarding, almost addictive I have to admit, to take part in the events and to wander a different world hidden from us. A great number of the inmates you wouldn’t want to run into outside. And some of them you really wonder what brought them INSIDE. Where are they from? What have they seen? What did they do? Your imagination really knows no boundaries there, and it can’t because what some of them experienced in their life is beyond our imagination.

There are the ones who come from a solid upbringing who have still found a destructive lifestyle, probably through their peers and I would argue those are the ones who have the highest chances of rehabilitation. There are the ones who come from a dysfunctional family, a problematic circle of friends but learned a basic level of healthy human interaction, which I would argue are the ones who still have a chance at a constructive life. But there will always be those who seem to be lost. Lost forever. Those are kids who had to endure parental neglect and a particularly unstable, violent and abusive childhood.

In the end you are a product of your environment, and depending on how troubled that environment was you’ll either have the mental ability to find a way out of it, or not. That doesn’t vindicate anyone of their deeds and sympathy is not always called for but it must inform the justice system, the treatment process that follows and the attitude one has towards offenders, especially youth offenders. I recently had to give up hopes of collaborating with Tony and Will, two former gang members that showed interest in consulting jobs on the Citizen film project. Eventually, after months of meetings and conversations, it seems they backed off. More on their story in an upcoming post.

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