Helping Others thru Preventive Education
November 18, 2008
To Whom it May Concern:
My name is Ramiah A. Whiteside and I am writing to you in regards to a program at the New Lisbon Correctional Institution. The program is called "HOPE." It stands for:
0 thers thru
A select group of inmates are screened and then allowed to participate in the program. This selected group of inmates volunteer to share some of their experiences with youth from all over the state. Some of the youth are at-risk and some are just beginning to experiment with getting into trouble with alcohol, drugs, gangs, and other behavior issues.
These youth come from many different walks of life, but they all have the same or similar experiences. These youth represent our past and we represent their future if they choose not to change their behavior. This is an essential element of the HOPE Program. We try to help prevent the youth from making the same poor choices that put us in prison.
The majority of the youth we talk with truly relate to our experiences. It does not matter if they come from the CHALLENGE Academy/ Reedsburg, Racine, or from an alternative school, once we open up and share some of our lives with them, they do not hesitate to share some of their lives with us. These are not bad kids and with a little guidance they can beat the odds and still go on to become successful citizens.
After over three years and talking with over six-hundred youth, the experiences the youth share with us still hits us hard (emotionally). They all have similar experiences that those of us in the HOPE Program have had. Some of them are physically/ emotionally or sexually abused as children or as teens. They share their pain when they open up to us and for a blink in time, they have hope again. They have hope that things will get better. They have hope that things will settle down at home. They have hope that when tomorrow comes, they will not hurt so much on the inside. It is our hope that they will turn their lives around, not end up like us, and go on and accomplish they set for themselves in life.
All of the men who volunteer to participate in the HOPE Program would like to do more, but there is only so much that we are allowed to do from the prison setting. Once the youth leave the institution, I wonder who will be successful and who will end up in prison or worse. It is difficult for me to not wonder how they turn out. Will some of them still join a gang? Will some of them still end up in prison? Will some of them still end up hurting themselves or someone else? Will some of them still throw their futures away? Staff always remind us that we cannot save them all, and I always respond, "We can try."
After over three years of talking with youth from all over Wisconsin, it is sadly clear that communities abroad are experiencing the growth of a new paradigm. Many youth today see going to prison as a rite-of-passage. They do not fear going to prison, they look forward to it. Wore and more youth are joining gangs and doing all kinds of illegal/violent acts. More youth are using drugs and selling drugs. There is no longer a gender or color or age barrier. Girls and boys are throwing their lives away at an alarming rate. As the schools empty out, the prisons fill up and overcrowded conditions become the norm.
The youth that I have talked to over the years are not afraid of prison. They are not afraid of the consequences of using drugs or abusing alcohol. They are simply not afraid of failing in life. All they are concerned with is fitting in, being cool, and living for the moment.
Long after the youth have left from the institution, I often wonder if they will be strong enough to resist the ongoing peer pressure and temptation. It is hard for me not to think of them. Will they fill yet another bed here or in some other institution? Will they be another homicide statistic? Will they victimize another man or woman or family? Will they come to prison to earn their G.E.D. or H.S.E.D.? Will they watch their family suffer from a cell? Will they help the cycle of incarceration continue to perpetuate itself?
Sometimes people tell me that I should not take things so seriously. The youth make their own choices/ they tell me. There is only so much that anyone can do/ the youth have to do the rest. Whatever the case may be/ I always think about what I can do to help the youth of today. The odds are against them, and maybe that is why some people give up on them so easily.
Some people tell me I should not care so much because there is nothing more that I can go. It is difficult for me to only care so much. That is too close to giving up.
All my life I have known how it feels to have people give up on me. The youth need someone to believe in them. The things they get into are calls for help/ but everyone is burned out and it is much easier to just give up. Each day that I wake up and experience the ongoing monotonous routine of hopelessness/ I think of the youth who are on their way here.
It breaks my heart because these youth deserve better. The young women deserve more than being some perverted adults sex slave. They deserve better than to be pregnant as a teen and having to throw their high school years away. The young men deserve better than to sacrifice their dreams just to belong to one dysfunctional group/gang or another.
The communities deserve better than to be besieged by gangs and violence. When I look at some of the people around me/ it is hard not to lose all hope because so many of the people around me only intend to return to their community and destroy it some more. It makes me wonder what kind of community am I going to return to. Will the drug houses outnumber the churches? Will the gangs have more power than the citizens? Will gunfire still be so "normal" that people barely even blink when they hear it?
Will hopelessness and despair overrule hope and happiness? These are some of the things I think about when I talk to the youth and when I look at the people around me. One thing that has stuck in my mind, over the years is when a young man from a two-parent family that was doing okay/ said to me/ Prison doesn't scare me. You guys are safer in there than I am out here." still blows my mind, not just because it came from a young man/ but, it came from young man with two parents who lives in Adams-Friendship, not some high crime area of an inner-city.
I will close by asking you,
"Is it better in prison than in the community?"
Thank you for your time.
Respectfully, Ramiah A. Whiteside
cc; • Governor Jim Doyle Rick Raemisch/Secretary DOC
Alfonso Graham/Chairperson Parole Commission
Danielle LaCost/Parole Commissioner
Honorable David A. Hansher Barbara Toles/State Representative
Eugene Kane/Milw. Journal
Mayor Tom Barrett
Effie McGhee/Parole Agent
United States Representative Gwen Moore
Lena Taylor/State Representative
Tamara Griysby/State Representative
Rosalyn D. Washington/Director Washington Foundation
Amy S. Mondloch/Executive Director