A Different Point of View
by Rhonda Leland

 children-of-prisoners  motherhood  prison-life  public-policy

Today, I watch newscast: “Teenager Shoots and Kills Students,” I notice parents as well as victims searching for answers, along with the rest of America. I was surprised to hear statements such as, “what went wrong?” And how no one has any idea why?

“A teenager is recovering from a gunshot wound and another teen is behind bars accused of attempted murder.”

Parents need to wake up. We are living in a society that has passed Proposition 21 . As if it’s not enough we are already living in a state that sentences juveniles to adult prison. If you are wondering what Prop 21 is, and you have teenagers, or you are a registered voter, “find out!” Juveniles in adult prisons already make up 5% of 2 million incarcerated in U.S. prison.

As a mother of a teenage son and two daughters, it scares me to think of the teenagers who will be affected by this in the future months and years to come. My heart breads for those teens that are currently serving time in adult prisons. The conditions for teens in these prisons are beyond what most of us, as parents, could ever imagine our children having to endure.

I am an incarcerated mother. No doubt many of you have a lot to say after that statement. Regardless, I feel it is important to say. For the fact I am not home with my children as most of you. However, I am very much a part of my teenager’s lives. I am well aware of their day-to-day struggles, and feelings. Maybe even more so than when I was right there. Because of the fact I am not there, I have to work even harder at paying attention to everything they say. I spend a lot more time thinking of solutions, and paying attention to problems, even the small ones they endure in their day-to-day lives. With every letter I write, every call I make, every problem we face, I deal with it by taking the time to think of not only a solution, but also their feelings. I pay close attention to warning signs, “they almost always show.”

My heart goes out to the parents of teenagers who are in this situation. I have no idea what I would do in your situation. I only know the harsh reality of what our kids face being a teen in today’s society. When I see warning signs, or what is going on with other teens. I spend a lot more time writing letters, I teach my children consequences, and there is always a price to pay for your actions. So many parents believe kids learn from what they see on TV and hear from their friends. Kids pay more attention to their parents, then we give them credit for.

In a society where we spend so much on self-help books, and so much time watching Dr. Phil. I have to wonder if parents feel they are better parents because they have worked so hard on themselves?

I do not see a lot of parents working hard to develop better relationships with teens. I wonder what it will take for parents to, wake up!

When our children are young we teach them the consequences of getting hit by a car if they are not careful and to look both ways before crossing the street. As they become teens we teach about safe sex, teen pregnancy, but how many of us teach them about being involved in gangs, carrying weapons, or hurting someone? How many of your children know they could spend the rest of their life in prison? Not only by committing one of these acts on their own, but also by being in the present of a friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend. How many of you realize if your son ends up in a men’s prison he can expect gangs, stabbings, and rape? These are all common events of everyday life. We live in a different world then when we were teens. We need to teach the truth, the facts, and “the reality.”

We need to pay attention to the struggles of teens, no matter how small they seem to us. Teens develop huge issues from the tiniest problem, and this is normal. As parents we need to be more understanding and more involved. To say your are a good parent is one thing, to believe it, quite another. To experience the work and diligence to understand your teen and be the voice of reason, is not only responsible, but worth the effort. When you watch your teen develop into a young adult working towards his or her goals and dreams, you will not think twice of what it took to reach this day. You will be thankful you do not belong to the special group of loving parents standing in line to visit their son or daughter only to see this take place from a prison visiting room.

California Proposition 21, known also as Prop 21, was a proposition proposed and passed in 2000 that increased a variety of criminal penalties for crimes committed by youth and incorporated many youth offenders into the adult criminal justice system. Major provisions of the proposition, as summarized by Attorney General of California are:

  • Increased punishment for gang-related felonies; death penalty for gang-related murder; indeterminate life sentences for home-invasion robbery, car-jacking, witness intimidation and drive-by shootings; and a new crime of recruiting for gang activities; and authorizes wiretapping for gang activities.
  • Requires adult trial for juveniles 14 or older charged with murder or specified sex offenses.
  • Elimination of informal probation for juveniles committing felonies.
  • Required registration for gang related offenses.
  • Designation of additional crimes as violent and serious felonies, thereby making offenders subject to longer sentences. The proposition received considerable controversy and was subject to vigorous protests by youth and human rights groups, but was eventually passed.