Badges of Hope

Cowlicks and peach fuzz, wilding dreadlocks and casual piercings and sleeves of green script tattoos.  Kids in here wear badges of cool intended to contradict the irremovable signs of their youth, which feel more like scars by the time they’re hunched in Echo Hall with Pongo mentors.  Many say they wish they were older—and why wouldn’t they?  All the liabilities of adulthood have been strapped on them since they were far younger than they are now; hunger for the relative privileges of adulthood is comprehensible.  I want to tell them not to hurry, but it’s too late.  I don’t know how to tell them to flip a U-turn on the interstate.  I want to believe and therefore be able to tell them that there are still carefree times to be had, but it’s a lie that I could only believe if I failed to examine my own life.  A liberal arts college degree and raucous rule-free dormitory are not in many of these kids’ futures.  To try to resuscitate childhood in this kind of dormitory—deadbolts and rubber tables, surveillance cams and plexi-glass—is a joke.  Often, the best we find here is eulogy for childhood.  Inasmuch as eulogy is intended to bring closure, it’s a worthy aim.


So this is the context for how I find myself thinking about the presidential election tonight: which candidate is likely to care about the welfare of these kids robbed of their innocence?  Which candidate possesses the empathy to witness these children as something other than statistics?  Which candidate has the ability to cut through fog of stigma around their actions and see the resilience manifest in their survival?  I’m under no illusion that “at-risk youth” or juvenile “justice” is at the forefront of either candidate’s mind anymore than climate change.  But, much like climate change, we can assume that one candidate at least believes that it’s a problem—and, much like climate change, it’s a problem that threatens our future.

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