Post 2: The Importance of the School to Prison Pipeline

The work I’m doing with Transition H.O.P.E. is directly related to the coursework in a legal studies class I took this most recent semester. This class was taught by Professor Rosalind Kabrhel and it’s titled “Juvenile Justice: From Cradle to Custody.” I believe this is the first course of this nature taught in the legal studies department at Brandeis. Across the country, the faults of the criminal justice system are becoming an increasingly discussed topic since we’ve seen the issue of mass incarceration becoming a controversial issue in politics. In this course, we discussed, in-depth, the school-to-prison pipeline and how early on it is decided on behalf of children what path they are destined to go down. The population of youth that are more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system, in a negative way, are youth who are involved with the Department of Children & Families (DCF), who are homeless or living in low income neighborhoods, who have family members who are already incarcerated or come from single-parent households, or who do not have the option to attend school in high-performing districts. The list goes on and on and on.

Alongside the history of how youth of color are disproportionately reprimanded and criminalized in their daily lives, I was also lucky enough to learn about the psychological damage to youth who have had interactions with the police, DCF, and/or or the Department of Youth Services (which is the Boston-specific department that works with juveniles involved in the justice system). I learned in this course about the trauma and triggering factors that negatively affect a specific population of youth every day. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many sources out there legitimately trying to help them. These youth are instead incarcerated until they they are no longer deemed a “threat to society.”

Learning this information directly helped me prepare for the work I am doing now. As I discussed in my last blog post, the youth I work with are system-involved. I’m sure that most people see them as “troubled kids” who can’t be helped, but I fully understand that most of the time they are misunderstood and simply victims of their own circumstances. “Juvenile Justice” has played such an important and significant role in better understanding the youth I am working with. However, at the end of the day, reading endless articles and books is nothing in comparison to actually having a direct interaction with the people you are trying to help. I’m grateful that the class I took set me up with enough understanding so I could better position myself to be an effective source of help for the program’s participants (but trust me, I’m still learning every day.) Along with a great deal of help from my boss, that class completely informed my approach on how to talk about school or personal lives with these youth. It helped me avoid potentially triggering youth and gave me a better clue as to the potential backgrounds they might have. 

The main project I’m working on for Transition H.O.P.E. is compiling the life stories of the program participants in order to put together a magazine. This magazine will eventually be used in college classrooms as an informative tool for students who are studying topics like social work, criminal justice, and psychology, so they can have a direct source of knowledge that isn’t a peer-reviewed article or a book by someone who has actually never directly worked with such populations.

Even though this will be used as an informative tool for college students, it also acts as a method of “narrative exposure therapy” for the students. Sharing their life stories through a creative outlet gives them the opportunity to not only experience a sense of catharsis but to be their own advocates in hopes that the people who read the magazine can join them in the attempt to change the systems that have hurt them and their respective communities. This project is similar to a book I read for “Juvenile Justice” titled It’s Not About Grit, which conducted youth-led storytelling through writing and video.

A sneak peek into one of the pages for the magazine I’m working on!

What I love about this project, tentatively titled the “SEED Magazine,” is that the students will also be able to receive residual income. All profits from the magazine go directly to the program participants as compensation for sharing their stories. This is important because by purchasing the magazine, the reader is reinvesting their money into the communities they’re studying and reading. Reinvestment in the communities hurt by decades of systemic and institutional racism and violence is equally important as educating yourself on the issues in the first place.

Post 1: Working with System-Involved High School Students in Boston

This summer, I am grateful to have the opportunity to work for the H.O.P.E. (High Expectations, Opportunities, Purposeful Pathways, and Encouragement) Institute with the Boston Mayor’s Office Director of Strategic Initiatives, Janelle Ridley. This is just one of the many incredible projects for Black and Brown youth in Boston that Ridley has spearheaded.  This program, implemented by the Office of Public Safety, is still in its nascency. However, it makes a major impact on at-risk youth in the Boston area. All forty program participants are referred to us by the Boston District Attorney’s Office. This program works with youth who individually are identifying challenges and barriers that they see as stumbling blocks along their journey. Each student works both independently and collectively to bring forth solutions and strategies based on their personal circumstances. These particular youth, who are faced with challenges, traumas, and conditions, are directly effected by environmental and generational disparities and systemic oppression. This program gives disadvantaged youth a special opportunity they may not otherwise receive. 

Through this program, each student will gain both professional and academic skills, in addition to their personal development. The H.O.P.E. Institute has partnered with faculty and staff from seven Boston-area institutions (including the Heller School at Brandeis) that will create and lead workshops such as learning about the social determinants of health, ethics and morals, and community building through storytelling. 

By the end of the program, students will be given the opportunity to become research assistants and lived-expert interns with the colleges they worked with all summer. Finally, the students will receive training from the Northeastern University Center for Sport and Society in the Mentoring in Violence Prevention (MVP) Curriculum. The primary goal of the H.O.P.E. Institute and the Office of Public Safety  is to institute violence intervention and prevention programs and policies in Boston neighborhoods, and this program is starting where it can make the most impact: with the youth. They’ll be able to share what they learned and give back to their communities in an effective manner once they’ve completed the program. 

As an intern, I assist with the overall development and oversight of the program alongside my boss. I meet with the other interns, my boss, and our partners weekly to discuss plans for the program while ensuring that they meet the standards we’ve set. I also designed the podcasting project the students will conduct throughout the duration of the program. Furthermore, I assist with scheduling, planning, and coordination among all parties involved, since communication is essential to a large operation like this. Finally, I help in any way I can. For example, a project I was tasked with recently was creating an informational flyer to present to the District Attorney’s Office that could be distributed to the parents of the program participants. At the end of the day, whatever my boss needs me to do for the program, I take care of it. 

The informational flyer I created that was presented to the Boston District Attorney’s Office!

I wanted to work for this program this summer because it is making a legitimate change in the world. Even if it is on a small scale, and just in Boston, you never know what the participants of the Hope Institute will do after the program is over. They might become doctors, lawyers, Nobel Prize winners, or scientists. The possibilities are endless. What I love about this program’s mission is that it’s giving the students a chance at something bigger than their neighborhoods in Boston. I’ve quickly learned over the last few weeks that the willingness to cooperate is the first step that leads to change on a larger-scale. There are many offices, organizations, and universities that are involved in making this project successful. Every party’s full effort and desire to make a difference will undoubtedly lead to the change the program sets out to make. What does that change look like? In this particular setting, you’ll see it by the end of the summer or in a few years when the program participants are accomplishing great things in this world.