my summer inside-out class at the oregon state penitentiary ended last week. this was my fourth time teaching an inside-out class at osp and my second topic, so i was fortunate to get to work with a number of repeat inside (inmate) students who are deeply invested in the program. it was an interesting experience, bringing together 15 inmates and 15 college students and asking them to think hard and to think creatively about issues in crime and justice. the focus of this summer’s class was on preventing delinquency.

i challenged all of the students (in an intensive six-week course) to break up into small groups and to try to design small scale prevention programs for kids in the community or young people in the juvenile justice system. because each individual cared deeply about the topic, i left them a lot of space to find their passion and figure out how to channel it into realistic group projects. the “chaos” bothered the university students, but most of them figured out that this was a glimpse into the workings of the real world, and that compromise and making hard decisions is part of the process.

in the end, we’ve got a few projects that hold promise if the students can stay motivated and keep working on them after they’ve been assigned grades for the class. i’ll write about one of the ideas later — and another project i’m working on with the inmates and their children — but for now, i wanted to share a piece written by one of my inside students. it’s a letter to the editor of a local paper. it’s a fairly conservative publication, so i’m not sure it will ever be printed, but i wanted to put his message out there. if anyone has any advice for the writer/father, please leave a comment and i’ll pass it on.

Dear Editor,

I am a long time Oregon resident. I am writing this letter in hope of finding a solution to a community problem. My 16-year-old son has been arrested 3 times in the last year. The reason I say this is a community problem is that I believe it takes an entire village to raise a child, and I need help. I am currently incarcerated at the Oregon State Penitentiary. My son lives with my mother along with his little brother and sister. My mother takes on this responsibility at age 62 on top of taking care of my little brother who has Down syndrome.

After being arrested a few times, my son was referred to the probation department, where my mother was told that my son did not really fit into their system. My son has cerebral palsy and is considered a “special needs” child. So what system does he fit into?

I am not looking to the community to help me, I am a grown man and I have made my decisions. I am asking for help for a child who is a part of Oregon’s community. His arrests have been for assault (fighting with his brother), stealing, and possession of marijuana. He has problems with anger. His mom left when he was a baby, he constantly battles with his cerebral palsy, he has had several operations on his legs, and his father is in prison. Wouldn’t you be angry if it was you?

What I want to know is, is there some type of community program designed to stop children like my son from coming to prison? Where will this cycle end? Will my son have to write this same letter to the community twenty years from now?

Maybe I am just uninformed. If there are programs out there to serve this purpose, could someone please send me a list of resources? I have faith in this village. Let’s come together and do what we can to raise this child.

any thoughts? advice?