What does it mean to be a man-child? In the context I am talking about it means to be a child who is dealt with life a man within the criminal justice system. If on where to deeply reflect that will see this to be a strange, complex and hypocritical concept. We tell our children they cannot drink until 21, smoke until 18, drive until 16. They cannot even join the armed services until they are 18. We do this to show there is a distinct difference between adults and juveniles. Yet, we send them to prison, at ages as young as 13, or the rest of their lives. We charge them, put them on trial, and sentence them as adults for crimes they have committed while the human brain has yet to fully mature.
We send them to places where they have to learn to fend and fight for themselves. We send them into the prison complex, without a clue, to learn what it means to be a man within the prison system. Often times they go into these situations believing what mainstream pop and media culture teach/show them. The experience of prison is not something that can be learn from watching TV or listening to rap songs. These outlets leave out the realities of prison, the part that you really suffer from: being locked in a cell 23 hours a day, eating low grade food, lack of health services (mental health etc), lack of communications with family and love one, the broken ties of father and motherhood. There is not a song of a show that can prepare one for that.
To be a man-child in prison is to one day wake up and realize that there will be no graduation, no prom, no college, no spring breaks, no grand children. It means that mom and dad are going to die and I am not going to be there. It means that my son or daughter is going to be raised by another man. It means that if my baby mama and I are not cool my kids is going to be calling slim dad. That is the moment one wakes up and says to himself, “they said what it was going to be, but they did not tell me it was going to be like this.”
How do I know this? Because I one was this man-child. I recall when the judge told me I was going to spend the next 20 plus years in prison. Had I been a man I would have understood what that meant. But, being a child it went over my head. What the hell I said. It was no different as everyone of my men were in the same position I was in…headed to prison.
It wasn’t until I got back down Lorton, Occoquan (or the Quack as we called it), that it hit me. “Dam this is going to be long 20 years.” What was so messed up about this situation is that at no time did anyone (officials etc) pull me to the side and offer any help. At that time you were just like everybody else. In fact, I got found guilty on a Monday and was headed to Lorton a few days later. It was as if someone somewhere was waiting, as if they had a secret line, where they are waiting for dudes to get found guilty so they can have them shipped on the first thing smoking to the “country.”
So many of my comrades failed. They got lost in the system. They did not have the right guidance and did whatever was shown to them. They got hooked on drugs, boys, caught new cases etc. They were influenced by the wrong people at the right time. Yeah, at the right time. The time when their minds were so impressionable they were easily influenced. Now they are the true epitome of the Man-Child. Where there was a time when they were dealt with like men in a child body; now they are children trapped in the body of men. Their minds are still under-developed, they are still immature and emotional unstable. Why? Because what they powers to be forgot, when they washed them up in time, is that these are juveniles and still need to be treated as such.
If you want to produce a generation of long-term offenders lock them up and leave them be. If you want the experience of incarceration to be one where, unfortunately, people have to go to learn what it means to appreciate freedom you have to teach them what it means to be men.
You have to teach them, while they are still young, about responsibility, hard work, fatherhood, how to deal with their emotions, and how to channel that young negative energy into positive and productive energy. If not these men will never grow and reach their full potential, which can happen in the penal setting. It may not be ideal but it can happen.
As I grow more and more each day I understand, more and more, that it means to be a man. The journey to man-hood is not one where one day you arrive. It takes time, understanding, education, trail and tribulations, to get there. The journey doesn’t end. There are a lot of people that have a long way to go to get to the starting line.
I leave you with this. I like to refer to this analogy when I talk to people. All of which is true.
Out there, somewhere, in the world are people who train fleas. They evidently have a flea circus and the fleas need to be trained. Naturally a flea wants to jump. The trainer puts the flea in a box with a lid on it. The fleas jump and jump but they can only reach the top of the box. After while they become accustom to jumping this height and will not jump higher. The trainer will, after some time, come and check in on the fleas. When he sees they will not jump higher than the top he knows he can take the top off and the fleas will not jump out the box. They are trained.
That is an example of what happens when you put a man-child in the joint. He will get stuck in that box. People need to wake up and understand the need to make sure that these men don’t get stuck in the box. If they have to be in prison there has to be a lesson and meaning behind it.
In order for our communities to thrive again we have to put the “Man” back in the “Hood”, likewise we have to put the “Father”, “Mother”, “Sister”, and “Brother” back in the “Hood” if we want out “Neighborhoods” to grow.