This is excerpts from the Children’s Defense Fund report “America’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline Report” that documents the intersection of poverty and race that puts Black boys at one to three lifetime risk of going to prison. Tens of thousands are sucked into the pipeline every year.
My blog will be dedicated to dispersing this information over the next month in digestible chunks.
“It is easier to build strong children than to fix broken men.”
– attributed to Frederick Douglass
Children Born into the Pipeline 1
Eric came into the world on April 26, 2004, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and already is in the Pipeline to Prison before taking a single step or uttering a word. In early May, when he was two weeks old, he was a tiny brown bundle lying across the lap of his 19-year-old mother in the Wynton Terrace housing project on the north side of the city. She was staying temporarily in a unit rented by one of her sisters because the electricity and gas had been turned off in her aunt’s house, where she had gone with Eric and his brother, 19-month-old Tae, when she left the hospital. She doesn’t have a phone or child care or access to a car so “it’s kind of hard to do anything.” The closest store is ten blocks away. She said she would like to finish high school and get a job. She liked school but “I had a lot of problems. I was running away all the time. I wasn’t getting along with anybody,” she explained, describing ongoing fights between her and her siblings and her mother, who once called the police to take her to juvenile detention. She lived with the boys’ 26-year-old father until he punched her in the stomach when she was eight months pregnant with Eric. She called the police and he went to jail. “He didn’t get as much time as I thought because his lawyers said he had some kind of mental illness.” He does not have a job and has been in jail before.
At two weeks old, Eric should have all possible futures open to him in America, a culture that believes life outcome is determined by the individual alone. In reality, this infant boy already is not in the trajectory that leads to college or work; he’s at the beginning of the pathway to prison—or, if not incarceration, a life on the margins. If Eric is imprisoned 18 years from now, no one is likely to look at the risks he faced in his early years or the disadvantages of his childhood circumstances. He will be another bad youth to be punished for his criminal acts. It will be too late then to think of what could have been done back when Eric lacked stimulation and proper nurturing at two weeks old or when he began having behavioral or emotional problems at school or when he fell behind, got suspended and dropped out, or when he received little positive attention or guidance from the adults in his community. It will be too late then to realize that interventions known to make a difference might well have neutralized the risks and put him on the path to a productive life.
Prayer warriors – pray for our boys!