By Guest Contributor Alton Pitre, cross posted from Juvenile Justice Information Exchange
Exhilaration jolted through my body when I stepped back onto the grounds of Central Juvenile Hall for the first time since my release. I finally knew what it felt like to come back as a free man and not as a detained juvenile. I cherished how different it felt. Now, I was wearing my own clothes and not the dull gray uniform of the hall. My arms dangled freely as I walked without anyone telling me to walk in a line with my hands behind my back. I even had a chance to chat with some of the juvenile hall’s probation officers, who were surprised to see me. The last time they had I was sitting in my cell.
My first day of freedom after 18 long months of captivity was Oct. 8, 2010. That was when reality quickly settled in. I was sitting at a table with my father and a few friends at a Denny’s restaurant, eating some bacon. My chest was poked out and my shoulders were buffed up. Noticing this, one of my friends jokingly said “Al, you out. You can relax and quit acting hard now.” I found that really funny because I was not trying to look tough. After being in jail for so long I had picked up the habit of trying to look like a thug while sitting at the dinner table. I was institutionalized. I did not even remember the proper way to use a knife and fork to cut my pancakes.
Reader Keisha tipped us to a new joint initiative between Michael Bloomberg and George Soros. The New York Times reports:
The administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in a blunt acknowledgment that thousands of young black and Latino men are cut off from New York’s civic, educational and economic life, plans to spend nearly $130 million on far-reaching measures to improve their circumstances.
The program, the most ambitious policy push of Mr. Bloomberg’s third term, would overhaul how the government interacts with a population of about 315,000 New Yorkers who are disproportionately undereducated, incarcerated and unemployed.
To pay for the endeavor in a time of fiscal austerity, the city is relying on an unusual source: Mr. Bloomberg himself, who intends to use his personal fortune to cover about a quarter of the cost, city officials said. A $30 million contribution from Mr. Bloomberg’s foundation would be matched by that of a fellow billionaire, George Soros, a hedge fund manager, with the remainder being paid for by the city.
Starting this fall, the administration said it would place job-recruitment centers in public-housing complexes where many young black and Latino men live, retrain probation officers in an effort to reduce recidivism, establish new fatherhood classes and assess schools on the academic progress of male black and Latino students.
Talk about a jump start. While many of the experts quoted remain overwhelmed and slightly pessimistic at the turn of events, there are some really great ideas in the initiative: a focus on practical needs, like payment for participation in programs, retraining parole officers, and creating school based initiatives around the achievement gap. I hope Bloomberg and Soros can make a dent with this plan – however, they are throwing millions and millions of dollars at what is a billion dollar problem. The racial wealth gap and the opportunity gaps take an outsized toll on children of color, and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development has published dozens of studies on how everything from access to child care to the nature of low wage work contribute to many of these issues. And even if this program succeeds in NYC, is there enough political will to replicate it in needed areas?
Still, it’s easy to get overly worried about the future. Bloomberg’s other initiatives have done exceedingly well and translated to other, nationwide projects and legislation – here’s to hoping the program is successful and it reignites a national conversation on the resource gaps in our communities.
(Image Credit: New York Times)
by Latoya Peterson
I thought I knew Oedipus Rex.
The first time I read Sophocles’ masterful Greek tragedy was in the 11th grade. There, scribbling out an analysis as part of a 40 minute timed writing, I focused on what epitomized Oedipus for me – the struggle between fate and free will. After hearing from the Oracle that he was fated to murder his father and to sleep with his mother, Oedipus does what any rational person would do – he tries to put as much distance as he can between himself and the only family he knows. Unfortunately, prophecies are not so easily averted – Oedipus never knew he was adopted, and thus did not know the man he slew on the road to Thebes was his father; nor did he know the beautiful widow he would eventually marry was his birth mother.
Back then, I wrote about the icy hand of irony in Oedipus’ journey - how he closed himself to what would have revealed the truth because of his hubris, but once he finds out he literally blinds himself. But what really stuck with me was the idea of fate. If your life is predestined – and all roads will lead to your eventual path – what is the point of having free will? Life never promised to be fair, but the fates are needlessly cruel, especially in Greek mythology. And so, when I heard about a retelling of Oedipus Rex, set in the barrios of LA with a Chicano protagonist, I could immediately see the connection.
Indeed, the idea of being trapped by larger, unseen forces makes a lot of sense when thrust into a modern context. Oedipus El Rey bases its narrative in California’s penal system, with the title character Oedipus (also nicknamed patas malas due to the torture inflicted by his father at his birth) growing up in juvenile detention. At one point, Oedipus confesses that after he was released at the age of seventeen, he robbed a Costco without a gun, just so he could be returned to jail. It was a powerful admission – that so many boys who go into the criminal justice system at an early age come out without any sense of what it means to function in society, that there are people who come to prefer the steady monotony of incarceration than be forced to cope with the unstructured chaos of real life. The idea that regardless of your own intentions, one might still end up ensnared in forces beyond your control resonated with me. I could understand that.
So, playwright Luis Alfaro threw me for a loop when he replied to one of my questions, saying the play, at its core, was “about love.” Continue reading