Category Archives: kids

longing to get away

I spent part of my evening in a juvenile correctional facility last night with a group of smart, articulate young women serving time for a variety of offenses and literally growing up while behind bars.  I spend quite a bit of my time teaching and volunteering in prisons and juvenile facilities, and I always enjoy talking with incarcerated young people.  While most have made some very serious mistakes, I very often come away impressed with their thoughtfulness and their resilience.

What particularly struck me last night was when several of the girls spoke about their dreams and fantasies about flying.  In doing so, they evoked – and perfectly quoted – the line from Forrest Gump, where young Jenny is praying to God to help her escape her father’s house and his abuse: “Dear God, make me a bird so that I can fly far, far, far away from here…Dear God, make me a bird so that I can fly far, far, far away from here….”

I’d seen the movie years ago, but that line never held the same resonance for me.  Lucky me.  I was fortunate enough to grow up cared for and loved, and as a child I never had to worry about protecting myself or getting out of the way of harm.  I wonder how many incarcerated youth can say the same?  How many children have their innocence destroyed and are never able to find a legal escape?

I think part of the reason these issues of youth, pain, and longing are lingering in my mind is because one of my favorite songs at the moment is “Take Me Away” which shares some of the sentiment of the girls’ discussion and Jenny’s prayer.  Some of the lyrics (written by Scott Alan):

Let me climb to the top
Of the highest mountain peak
Let me scream at the top of my lungs
Until I can no longer speak

Can’t remember the last time
I said live and let things be
And it’s just been way too long
Since I felt alive and free

So I’ll sail away
Until I reach the sea
So I’ll soar the sky
Until I feel the breeze

I am ready to return
To the place I last felt stillness
To return to the heart
I had when I was five

Where the only thing that mattered
Was making colors I can paint with
I’m much too young
To let my life hang out to dry

So I’ll sail away
Until I reach the sea
And I’ll soar the sky
Until I feel the breeze

If you have not heard this song, do yourself a favor and take 4 minutes to listen to Hadley Fraser sing it – his performance is absolutely brilliant:

“Take Me Away”

Home and Heart

home 021Here’s a short and, I think, uplifting story about some of the good work coming out of prisons.  Inmates in the Oregon State Penitentiary just donated $1000 to HOME Youth and Resource Center, a day shelter and drop-in center for homeless and at-risk youth in Salem.  That’s $1000 directly from inmates’ personal funds, where an average inmate may make $50 per month working in the prison.

Nearly a year ago, my Inside-Out class at the penitentiary chose to work as a group to sponsor a hygiene drive for HOME, in hopes of helping homeless teens and ultimately keeping them out of prison.  We were all amazed at the generosity of the inmate population as they donated brand new bottles of shampoo, toothbrushes, deodorant, razors, and socks from their own scarce supply.  As I wrote about in an earlier post,  we were able to deliver more than a dozen boxes of hygiene supplies and OSU tee-shirts to the shelter.  It was a great day.

The Statesman-Journal published an editorial that described our project like this:

Inderbitzin also challenged the 31 participants to “develop a small-scale, doable prevention project that we could put into action before the quarter was over…They came through in a big way,” she said. “There are a number of aspects to their project, but their main focus was to help homeless teenagers in the Salem area.”

OSU students updated a resource guide for homeless teens. These “outside” students also collected new hygiene products from inmates, prison staff members and even the OSU football team. The “inside” students collected a dozen boxes of products from the inmates and prison staffers. The “outside” students delivered the items to a Salem outreach program lastweekend.

Reflecting on the project, one “inside” student said: “Our group took this challenge to heart, and although not every individual agreed on the focus, every individual gave it their best effort. I watched the effect it had, within our class and in the prison, and I’m not ashamed to admit I had misty eyes when I saw the amount of donated goods that poured in from the prisoners. With only 700 jobs — and most with a monthly salary of $50 — these men gave a big chunk of their pay to kids they don’t even know.”

I’m glad to see the guys in OSP kept working all year to help the homeless kids in Salem.  It’s nice to be reminded that some good really can come out of prison.

(photo is an actual picture of the HOME center, where youth proclaim in the window that “HOME Rocks”)

trying to do good

i’ve been spending a lot of time in the oregon state penitentiary lately. i’m currently teaching my fifth inside-out class and it continues to be an inspiring, rejuvenating experience. it’s amazing how much good will can be generated in a tiny room on the fifth floor of a maximum-security prison where 15 oregon state university students come together with 15 (or so) inmates in order to learn and work together. the inmates in the group are men who are working hard to change their lives and to make their time behind bars meaningful. of the approximately 2300 men in the penitentiary, i’ve selected about 60 to participate in inside-out classes; as such, i’m well aware that i’ve worked with a skewed sample of the best citizens in the prison. we’ve received good press for the program and i’ve been singled out for some honors for my part in the process, but what i appreciate most is knowing that these classes have offered hope and motivation in a place where both can be very hard to find.

this quarter, we’re focusing again on the topic of preventing delinquency, and i’ve challenged the class try to figure out what action(s) they can take to make a difference. they’re trying to come up with small-scale projects that can be implemented relatively quickly and with no budget. a challenge, to be sure.

and so, i’ll offer my own small-scale project as an example. i applied for a “literacy grant” from a national program last year and did not get it. because i thought the idea was a good one, i pitched it to administrators at the penitentiary and they agreed to fund a pilot program (two inmate clubs are also providing funding). it’s a simple enough idea, but it just might make a difference: incarcerated fathers will have a chance to sign up to read the same books as their children. with help from the lifer’s club (and others), we’ll start with a volunteer group of fathers and their children. with help from local librarians and bookstores, i’ll choose age-appropriate, interesting books and give one to the father and one to the kid. reading the same book(s) will hopefully give them another chance to connect, another topic to discuss, whether it’s in person, on the phone, or via mail. the fathers are enthusiastic about the idea; presumably the kids who agree to participate will get on board if we choose good books.

simple, small-scale, do-able. i’m hoping this little program succeeds and grows. i don’t know if it will make a difference, but at least we’re trying to do good and we’re working to translate our good intentions into action.

if anyone has suggestions for the program, for projects for the inside-out students, or recommendations for interesting kid/teen books, i would love to hear them.

parents urging kids to diet: refuse to dramatize the evil

there are strong labeling implications to a new longitudinal study in pediatrics by minnversity epidemiologist dianne neumark-sztainer and colleagues, summarized today in the strib. the punch line is that “parental encouragement to diet predicted poorer weight outcomes 5 years later, particularly for girls.”

the results parallel predictions by tannenbaum, lemert and becker with regard to delinquency: maybe the less said about it, the better. should we refuse to dramatize the “evil” of childhood obesity? here’s the abstract:

Accurate Parental Classification of Overweight Adolescents’ Weight Status: Does It Matter?
Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH, RDa, Melanie Wall, PhDb, Mary Story, PhD, RDa and Patricia van den Berg, PhDa

OBJECTIVE. Our goal was to explore whether parents of overweight adolescents who recognize that their children are overweight engage in behaviors that are likely to help their adolescents with long-term weight management.

METHODS. The study population included overweight adolescents (BMI 85th percentile) who participated in Project EAT (Eating Among Teens) I (1999) and II (2004) and their parents who were interviewed by telephone in Project EAT I. Cross-sectional analyses were conducted with 314 adolescent-parent dyads, and longitudinal analyses were completed with 170 dyads.

RESULTS. Parents who correctly classified their children as overweight were no more likely than parents who did not correctly classify their children as overweight to engage in the following potentially helpful behaviors: having more fruits/vegetables and fewer soft drinks, salty snacks, candy, and fast food available at home; having more family meals; watching less television during dinner; and encouraging children to make healthful food choices and be more physically active. However, parents who recognized that their children were overweight were more likely to encourage them to diet. Parental encouragement to diet predicted poorer adolescent weight outcomes 5 years later, particularly for girls. Parental classification of their children’s weight status did not predict child weight status 5 years later.

CONCLUSIONS. Accurate classification of child overweight status may not translate into helpful behaviors and may lead to unhealthy behaviors such as encouragement to diet. Instead of focusing on weight per se, it may be more helpful to direct efforts toward helping parents provide a home environment that supports healthful eating, physical activity, and well-being.

age-by-passenger interactions in driver death rates

wcco tv offered a terribly sad story on a young woman who died in a two-car collision yesterday. the piece followed-up with a brief discussion of graduated licensing, which places restrictions on the youngest and least experienced drivers.

one such restriction is the number of passengers that new drivers can transport. the wcco report showed a striking figure, similar to the department of transportation graphic shown below. for 16 and 17 year old drivers, death rates increase dramatically with the number of passengers in the car. for those aged 30 to 59, however, the number of passengers is unrelated to death rates.


distractibility is the hypothesized mechanism linking passengers to death rates for young drivers. i’d throw substance use into the mix as well, since the number of passengers is likely associated with alcohol and other substance use. in addition, i’d bet that peer passengers have a different effect than parent or sibling passengers — disaggregating by type of passenger might shed further light on the mechanism. as a 30-to-59 year old, my passengers today are often my kids. i still drive more recklessly with my buddies than i do with my kids, but i now spend much less time driving around with my buddies (what buddies?) than i did at age 16 or 17. if i’m correct, passenger type might be just as important as passenger numbers.

while i’m not sure whether a legal limitation on the number of passengers will reduce teen driving fatalities, the bivariate association is clear. when the figure flashed on the screen at my house, i couldn’t help overhearing the lad’s phone conversation. he was arranging to pick up a buddy or two before school. drive safe and keep the music down, dudes.

school suspension gap

speaking of school discipline, james walsh offers a nice analysis of the race gap in school suspensions:

Black students in Minnesota are being suspended at a rate about six times that of white students, according to a Star Tribune analysis of state Department of Education data. Some are sent home for serious misbehavior, like fighting or drugs. But most are suspended for lesser incidents, such as talking in class, goofing around or challenging teachers — offenses for which there is more disciplinary leeway…

no touching at armatage elementary

these are desperate times for school administrators. the strib reports that armatage elementary in minneapolis now maintains an official “no touch” policy:

Originally the rule, circulated to parents Thursday, banned even casual touching such as hand-holding and hugging. But Principal Joan Franks has now refined the policy to target aggressive and “unsafe” behavior such as play-fighting, pushing and shoving. And tag.

yeesh. wouldn’t banning hitting be sufficient? as an administrator, i certainly understand the motivations here. as a parent, however, i see how kids need much touch just to get through a long, alienating day in the classroom. for esperanza and her middle-school friends, this takes the form of hugging in the hallways and packing in close together in the lunchroom. for tor and his buddies, this sometimes takes the form of behaviors specifically outlawed: play-fighting, pushing, and shoving (not to mention football, rugby, and wrestling).

i can’t make a strong causal argument that touch improves mental health — perhaps there is a literature addressing this question — but i can see a clear correlation. when my kids do more touching they seem more socially connected and happier. when my large lad puts me in a headlock or punches my shoulder, we’re usually both laughing and i’m feeling pretty good about our relationship.

but those are just my views as a parent. as a sociologist who studies rules and their enforcement, i’ve got another observation. creating such a no-touch rule will likely create a new class of rule violators and a new cause of action for school discipline. given the gender distribution of behaviors such as play-fighting, pushing, and shoving, i would predict that boys will be disproportionately subject to such discipline. given the race and class distribution of those disciplined for other school misconduct, i would predict that children of color and those from working class families will be disproportionately subject to such discipline. when the minneapolis schools do the next round of hand-wringing about race and gender gaps in school achievement, they might consider the impact of disciplinary practices such as the no-touch rule.

day of silence

just before midnight, esperanza said g’night and handed me a slip of paper. it indicated that for the next 24 hours, she’s participating in the day of silence. from the website:

The National Day of Silence brings attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools. This year’s event will be held in memory of Lawrence King, a California 8th-grader who was shot and killed Feb. 12 by a classmate because of his sexual orientation and gender expression. Hundreds of thousands of students will come together on April 25 to encourage schools and classmates to address the problem of anti-LGBT behavior.

the other larry king offers a psa and helpful introduction. though she will not speak all day, esperanza won’t be completely silent. she’s negotiated a singing-only class with her music teacher.

urban institute live audio webcast on children with incarcerated mothers

via the urban institute’s Justice policy center:

Broken Bonds: Understanding and Addressing the Needs of Children with Incarcerated Mothers
Thursday, February 14
9 am ET / 8 am CT / 7 am MT / 6 am PT
Program length: 1.5 hours

Register Now
Description
As the population of incarcerated women grows, so does the number of children whose mothers are absent from their lives. Current estimates indicate that on any given day, more than 150,000 children have a mother in prison, yet far too little is known about these children and their needs and experiences. What are their home environments like before, during, and after incarceration? If they are in foster care, when did they enter the system, and what are their prospects for family stability? What are the barriers to healthy mother-child relationships? What emotional and behavioral challenges do these children face? What can charitable organizations, service providers, and policymakers do to address those challenges?

With these questions in mind, this panel seeks to cast a bright light on this often invisible population of children. The discussion will illustrate the scope of the problem; explore the challenges these children will likely encounter as they negotiate new living arrangements, family relationships, and financial circumstances; and highlight programs and policies that hold promise for better serving this vulnerable population.

Speakers:
Sandra Barnhill, executive director and CEO, Foreverfamily
Amy Dworsky, senior researcher, Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago
Thomasina Hiers, director of programs and services, Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services
Nancy La Vigne, senior research associate, Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute
Moderator: Laura Sullivan, correspondent, National Public Radio

Register for the Webcast Today!
The audio recording of the webcast will be available online at http://www.urban.org/Pressroom/events/index.cfm by February 19.
The webcast is free. To join the webcast, you need a computer with a high-speed Internet connection. The audio for the webcast is available over the Internet only (no telephone connections).

Resources
Families Left Behind: The Hidden Costs of Incarceration and Reentry (pdf)
Prisoners Once Removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families, and Communities
Audio recording – Racial Disparity in the Child Welfare System

the first rule of fight camp is that everybody talks about fight camp

the local press are abuzz over derek boogaard’s saskatchwan summer “fight camp.” mr. boogaard is the designated enforcer of the minnesota wild, our professional hockey team.

fighting is clearly the camp’s focus and mr. boogaard’s most marketable professional asset. as the blood-spattered t-shirts make clear, this is not your typical skills camp with a little demo discussing fighting as a necessary evil. this is a fight camp.

i’m most interested in the parents of the 12-18 year-olds in attendance. real hockey moms and dads truck their kids to rinks and camps year round, but savvy parents are probably sending their budding rocket richards and dominik haseks to stickhandling camp or goalie camp. so, who sends their kids to fight camp? a few hypotheses:

1. parents who give in to their kids might reluctantly sign off on fight camp. i can certainly envision some young lads making the camp a real priority and working and/or whining hard to attend. this seems the most likely scenario to me.

2. parents who can only afford fifty bucks might send their kids to fight camp. they get a chance to interact with a famous and/or infamous hockey player but needn’t break the bank to do so.

3. parents who think their boys should be doing a bit more masculinity might send their kids to fight camp. if the little nipper has a nice hockey skill set but shrinks from the violence, the parents might see mr. boogaard’s camp as an efficient karate-kidlike corrective.

4. parents who think their boys should discipline their violence might send their kids to fight camp. if the young palooka has shown a propensity for wanton violence, a fight camp might be seen as just the thing to discipline or attenuate it before the authorities step into the picture.

i could spin off a few hypotheses on family structure (frustrated hockey dad or single mom?) and social class (emasculated middle-class or working-class focal concern?), but i’d need to know more about hockey and fighting to do so effectively.

a few more questions: do you think attendees are likely to get into more fights next season relative to last season? would participating in a one-day $50 fight camp have any effect on behavior on or off the ice? do teammates view attendance positively or negatively? i imagine that my lad would ridicule any teammates who thought they needed summer school remediation in this area. i know that he’d ridicule any parents who thought that such a camp could toughen up their kids.