a blog so you can keep with him

SBR 4: Through the Eyes of the Judged

Through the Eyes of the Judged is a compilation of autobiographical writings from incarcerated youth who have worked with Evergreen’s “Gateways” program. Gateways is a collaboration between the college and some of the juvenile detention institutions in the area. At its core is the class that is held every year and enrolls both Evergreen students and inmates to work together academically on issues related to social justice and incarceration, which also acts a credit-earner for inmates who can use this to begin attending Evergreen after release. Along with this, Gateways has mentorship programs for Evergreen students to collaborate with some of the younger inmates and provide one-on-one support. In other words, Gateways is amazing, and I think a huge part of what I hope the Evergreen community strives for.

This collection is about a decade old now, and was loaned to me by a friend who is working a similar work to be produced in relation to current inmates and Gateways volunteers and students. While it’s important to resist reducing these people’s lives to each other, many parallels creep up in the reading of these 8 stories. All of the young men (this collection is from only one of the male juvenile prisons) here talk about being lonely as children, going through periods of isolation, abuse, and frustration that ended up surfacing in larger problems ranging from drug and cutting addictions to permanently leaving their parents at 13. What surprised me was how much I was able to see some of the early issues in myself and other friends – I suppose it’s not shocking to think that some children are socially awkward at a young age, but it should be alien that that sets you on a path towards a loss of your childhood and imprisonment. There are several points where my story obviously breaks with many of these men. As they continued to express feelings of loss and a lack of support or guidance (along with a disengagement with unsupportive institutions like church, school, or even family sometimes) I saw how I moved myself into these exact categories more. Through the Eyes of the Judged was a reminder of the privilege I face in being motivated and excited in school, regardless of feelings surrounding loneliness, against the breakdown of any academic motivation on the part of some of these guys.

Again, I don’t want to be reductive. These men are fully individual, and it’s difficult to narrow each story enough to provide a universal solution or even analysis. These are immigrants, residents, drug users, pimps, urban youth, alcoholics, fathers, sons, brothers, popular kids, unpopular kids, hustlers, and young men. Society criminalized them long before they were locked up for many reasons, and Gateways remains exciting to me because of its abilities to connect with inmates in a variety of ways. These are creative, earnest young men who are being engaged through Gateways programs, and in the process describing how this allows them to give value to themselves. Gateways is an organization with varied approaches to inmate empowerment, and the results apparently show – the last stat I heard was that the recidivism rate (% of inmates who, after release, will be arrested and imprisoned again) is reversed from 75% for the larger inmate population to 25% for youth involved in Gateways.

It was important to me to read these stories, and I only wish I had more energy and time to provide more of the support I think Gateways and incarcerated youth deserve.


Filed under: Books, Evergreen

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