Where Fear is the Reality and Dreams are Nonexistent

The A&E television series was cancelled in 2015 with its last show airing on September 3rd.  

Scared Straight had begun as a documentary in 1978 in which juvenile delinquents were brought face to face with real life convicts.  In this documentary, the convicts used extreme measures to try and deter the children (delinquents) from a life of crime.

Unfortunately, since the airing of the first documentary and more so in the latter years of the television series existence, there has been significant backlash as to the effectiveness of this program.  To put it simply, the program was doing more harm than good.  For one reason, many of the children ended up becoming felons regardless of the intent to scare them into doing right.

However, some may wonder why the children were not necessarily “scared straight” after witnessing first hand the result of their actions if they continued down the dark roads traveled.  The answer to this question has always been staring in our faces even before the documentary was released.  The fear the children were expected to feel was nonexistent considering that they may have already known their destiny.

For example, Qadir, one of the kids from the documentary, Beyond Scared Straight, predicted his criminal future and it became reality.  Malik, in the same documentary was in prison and made it a family affair when his two sons joined him.

So there is still the question of why didn’t the “scared straight” technique work?  

The program actually failed to show the children a better life.  Instead it showed them what they were already used to seeing on a daily basis.  A majority if not all of the kids were living in poverty and the struggles of this life.  For them the only way to make it out if you weren’t playing sports was to take the illegal route.  They knew the consequences because in Malik’s case, it’s already a family affair.  And even if the prison system had not already separated their families, you can look at the family next door and see how they had been ripped apart by the system.  By giving these kids a first hand look at prison, was never a scare tactic because they were already familiar if only a little.

A more effective program would be to introduce children to the possibilities of a better life.  Why not have them shadow someone who managed to become successful despite the environment they grew up in.  By placing more positive images in front of a child, they can then start believing that their dreams are actually positive and not so far out of reach.

We cannot encourage and inspire our youth through fear.  We cannot show them the results of the already grim future that many of them predict for themselves.  

Just as the “scared straight” program has ended, let’s end the school to prison pipeline.  Instead of having a prison sentence waiting when the kids receive their diplomas, let’s create more scholarships and more opportunities.

Children who commit crimes are not delinquents, they are children who have behaved in a delinquent manner and should not be given up on.  They need continued encouragement, love, and inspiration in order to see the possibilities of life.  

But if they are only shown the negative results of life, how can we ever expect them to believe that their dreams are possible?

R K Slade

Roslyn K. Slade

Get The Black Mind Right