Early bird

I think better in the mornings. I always have. In fact, I have never had an issue with getting up early, getting ready and heading off to school, college or work. I am not sure why, but I have always enjoyed the start of a new day.

Today’s new day has me reflecting on conversations and happenings of yesterday – namely, prison reform. Due to my involvement with Br. Mike Murphy for many years (and still, to this day), I have found myself in relationship with folks whose ability to earn a second chance seems slim, to none.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend who is a district 2 police officer and she was lamenting that one of the boys in her district will never have the same choices in life as boys born elsewhere.

This is not to say that my conversation was void of hope – in fact, hope is the only thing that truly keeps me going. Yet, I do live in the real world and this is how it is: Some children are born with less choices, end up making the wrong choices, get punished for it, get a record, get released and have a truly difficult time finding their way again.

Our prisons are filled with desperate people who feel they do not have any other options. Whether they do or don’t is not the issue – the issue is that they are made to FEEL as if they don’t. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in self-responsibility and accountability – the choices we make are OURS to own – and own, we must. However, what does it say about us, as a society, when we so blatantly turn the other cheek when it is so painfully obvious that certain folks are not allowed to reach their true potential? What does it say about us when we spend more money incarcerating the youth than educating them?

Let’s look at the economics of incarceration for a minute:

  • In 1980, the USA had roughly 500,000 folks in jail – now we have roughly 2.3 million folks in jail.
  • The USA accounts for 5% of the world’s population, but claims 25% of the world’s incarcerated.
  • We spend $70 billion annually on the cause of incarceration.
  • 75% of that incarceration happens at the State Level where funding comes from a pool of dwindling resources that is also used for other public benefits – education, health care, housing, etc.
  • Many, if not most, of the Cincinnatians we incarcerate are from communities with failing schools – not a coincidence, to be sure.
  • It costs roughly 1/3 what it costs to incarcerate a young person to keep him/her in school.
  • In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, stated that “spending 45% more on prisons than universities is no way to proceed into the future. . .What does it say about any state that focuses more on prison uniforms than caps and gowns?”

Morally, I find the incentivization of incarceration appalling. Economically, I find it idiotic. If we have the ability to keep kids in school, and thereby curb their desperation and train them to find meaningful work, then it is about time we committed to doing so.

Want a great way to fuel the economy? INVEST in education. SPEND money now and watch it come back to us tenfold in the years to come. Conversely, want a great way to destroy the economy? Keep letting wayward youth roam the streets, shoot down school levies, keep locking up the kids and detain our future’s workforce behind bars. Oh, and spend more money in the process.

I spend my day educating the youth. I have worked with every kind of student in the land – and I can attest to the fact (not because I read it in a book or saw it in a movie) that we are NOT all born with the same opportunities.

I was born on third and I am grateful for that. Sometime around my 19th birthday I decided to dedicate my life to helping others reach the same potential that was given so freely to me. In my journey of education I have seen things that make me laugh, cry and hope for better for our children.

One sure way to aim higher is to expect more of schools and rely less on incarceration. It will save us money, build a better tomorrow and ensure Cincinnati’s vitality.

Proactivity is the only way to govern a community. Reactivity is the tool of the shortsighted.

In the end, I would like to return to the idea of hope. Hope, as I stated earlier, keeps me going. Optimism, not so much. Optimists end up pessimists – it just takes a little longer. I am hopeful for tomorrow and for education’s future in our city, state and country. I will let one of my heroes, Vaclav Havel, end this blog by saying what I want to say – only more eloquently. It should be noted that the following excerpt is taken from a letter that Havel wrote while in prison – where he was incarcerated for his beliefs in a communist-free Czechoslovakia.

“the kind of hope i often think about i understand above all else as a state of mind, not a state of the world. either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul; it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. hope is not prognostication. it is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. . .hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. . .i think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it where, from ‘elsewhere.’ it is also this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now,” – vaclav havel

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