While working on the computer, doing research for an article, I have also been reading some of the Face Book sites, where people can talk about the crime that has been happening in our area.  I see a lot of people complaining, wanting to run people out of town, put them in jail, or worse, they would like to see something bad happen to them. Some of the posters would like to be the ones doing the bad things to people.  It shocks me that people would intentionally place “booby traps” to intentionally hurt or kill someone over a little stolen gas.  I wonder where priorities lie. As I read these comments, I wonder that not one of them has ever had hard times? No one  has ever had a family member, who due to circumstances beyond their control, has been in a bad situation. When I read about someone stealing gas, or stealing cars or breaking into someone’s garage and taking tools, I wonder where that person learned to do those things.  What has happened in that person’s life that they did not learn to respect other people’s property? What lesson did they learn as a child that they decided that the drug life is the only life they could have? What happened to that child, that coping with drugs and alcohol was the only thing that they could find for comfort, or the only way they could cope?

Many of us have not known what it’s like to have brothers and uncles and neighbors and grandfathers molesting us, what it’s like to be belittled and beat every day when we are six, seven years old. Many of us don’t know how it feels to not have anyone say they love you; not have anyone hold you when you cry; not have anyone there for you when you are terrified, or when you are bullied, or when you need someone to talk to. Some of us don’t know what it feels like to think you are the only one who hates yourself and wants to be dead, thinking that is the only way out. Many of us don’t  know what it feels like to go to someone we look up to after being sexually assaulted, thinking they will help,  only to be told it’s our fault; go away and never talk about it again, even if we’re only  five years old. Many of us don’t know what it feels like to be raised in a home where the only thing we learn is violence, and the only way we cope is alcohol and drugs, or by hanging around anyone who accepts us, or hurting ourselves.

Thank goodness that many of us don’t know these things. Thank goodness that there are some who know what it feels like to have your existence validated, have someone there to tell you that you are special just because you are a person. Thank goodness. What we know is that there are as many who don’t know what that is like than there are that do know what that is like.

What does this say about humanity? Does it say that because I have been fortunate in my life I will not accept anyone who is less fortunate? Or does it tell us to open our hearts and our minds and begin to find an answer, begin to find a solution, and begin to understand?

What happens to a child when they experience these violations of trust is that their brain changes. It changes the way they process information. Actions and feeling become disconnected, so, as an adult, they cannot connect their actions to the consequences and feelings of other people.  A child is more damaged by witnessing domestic violence than they are by experiencing physical abuse.  When a child as young as a newborn is living in a house where there is domestic violence; even yelling and screaming and tension all the time, they have a greater chance of growing up not able to have compassion for other people or for themselves.

Most of the men in the prison system grew up in a home where there is domestic violence. Most of the women in the prison system are there because their crimes are related to domestic violence. 79% of children who are sentenced to life in prison without parole were raised in a violent environment. 77% of girls in prison without parole were victims of sexual abuse. Violence is a learned behavior, and when it is demonstrated by adults in a home environment as how to resolve problems, children internalize this and, without intervention, are more likely to repeat it.

The feeling of safety in our communities also determines whether someone will grow up and become a criminal themselves. If a child is living with domestic violence and, in addition to feeling unsafe at home, the community also feels like it is not a safe place to be, such as the feeling that is in our community from the recent deaths of the young men here, the chances that they will grow up to become criminals themselves increases dramatically. Five out of eight children in prison viewed their neighborhoods as an unsafe place to be as well as their homes.  More than two thirds of those witnessed drug sales in their community.

So, we have a challenge in our community. We see the violence, we see the drug use, and we complain about it and wish the police would do something about it, or we decide to become vigilantes and do something ourselves. More violence added to the violence already here. Maybe that is not the answer. Maybe the answer is giving those who are experiencing violence someplace where they can talk about it and be told that it is not their fault. Maybe the answer is to create a place of safety in our community instead of a vigilante force. Maybe if we can’t stop what is happening in our community right now, we can prevent it from happening to the next generation. Our children don’t have to carry violence to the next generation if they have enough support in their lives that they don’t internalize the violence and the drugs. If there are enough people to stand up and say “I care about you and I won’t let you fall through the cracks,” we may be able to raise a community of children who grow up and become  caring, responsible citizens.

So this is the challenge; lets change the way we look at those who are committing the crimes.

I read a long time ago about a village that treated its criminals a way that worked. They caught the criminal and brought him to the center of town. Then the entire town came and surrounded him. He thought he was done for. But then an amazing thing happened. Everyone in the town came up to him and told him how much they loved him and that they wanted him to do the right thing. They told him they would help him  in any way they could. They told him he was a valuable member of their community. The criminal was so touched at the love that he wanted to change. He felt supported. He felt that someone cared. That is our challenge. Who is up for it?