Last weekend, I was doing some readings for school and came across this passage,
Take a spiritually underdeveloped person, for example, a criminal. Such a person will use self-will in a very obvious way to serve his immediate seeming advantages, disregarding all laws—spiritual as well as human.
And I felt my blood begin to boil.
A couple of years ago I spent time working in a youth custody facility with teenage girls.
Each girl I worked with had had an incredibly challenging childhood. There was violence in their homes and then they were taken away from their families by the Children’s Aids Society. They ended up with foster families or group homes that treated them poorly. And soon, usually at age 12 or 13, they turned to alcohol or drugs and from there ended up in the criminal justice system.
They were teenage girls. Some were shy, some were sassy. They giggled about who they had a crushes on.
And they wanted to help others who’d been through what they’d been through.
There are many words I would use to describe these young women: strong, resilient, passionate, kind and caring. Criminal is not one of them.
Did they make mistakes? Yes.
Did they commit crimes? Maybe. Some were just accused and awaiting trial and I honestly don’t know details of why each girl was in custody.
Were they doing the best they could with the resources they had access to? I wholeheartedly believe that they were.
And the criminal justice system doesn’t treat all races equally.
According to National Geographic you’re much more likely to be pulled over if you’re black than if you’re white and according to the Toronto Star Aboriginal youth are more likely to get a harsher sentence than their non-aboriginal peers for the same crime.
So who gets convicted of a crime depends on many factors that are out of the individual’s control.
Lastly, when you use the word criminal, it makes it more difficult to see the person you’re talking about as a human being.
It makes it more difficult to be empathetic.
And I’m not saying that there should be no consequences for committing a crime.
I’m asking we don’t dehumanize those who end up in the criminal justice system.
To learn more about the problems with the US prison system, check out Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th on Netflix.
I know this is a diversion from the topics I usually talk about in this newsletter so I’d love your feedback. What did you think? Do you want more newsletters like this?
Take care and have a great weekend,
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