Marsha Graham Speaks Out on Juvenile Crime

[Editor’s Note: Marsha Graham is one of my favorite Supporter Contributors, and a very dear friend. Without her help, I never would have gotten started learning ASL, and she’s been a cornerstone of aid and comfort to, since we launched. This piece was originally a comment she wrote to the post Juvenile Crimes – Our Main Pain, by Supporter Contributor Paul Smith. Upon reading it, I decided to post it here. — BitcoDavid]

By Marsha Graham

Moose in yard in Anchorage, AlaskaI was working with children in the mid-1970′s when I first saw a shift in dynamics with children and juveniles. Over the years I have seen more and more children treated as expendable.

Granted, much of my work has been in areas of the country where agrarian society was dominant, but I’ve also lived in cities. What I have seen, however, is that as children are now luxuries rather than necessities, that our treatment of them is different.

However, more than that, I see that we no longer have coming of age rituals. We no longer transition children to juveniles to adults in any sort of orderly fashion. We don’t give them things that say, I’m almost an adult or I AM an adult.

A gang sign of the BloodsIt takes a village to raise a child is a truism. And as our extended families of small towns (villages) crumbles to dust our children fall apart as well.

I saw desperate welfare mothers beg and borrow to get their children to Anchorage to separate them from the Crips or Bloods and all it did was to transplant a gang culture. Those kids were not a part of the Alaskan community and were more alienated than they were in L.A.

I cannot blame families per se – the definition of family has changed so much over time. I would say that we are in a time of terrible transition – sort of a new “dark ages.” When you don’t have an extended community to provide for children then children get lost.

Yes, there are drugs, but drugs were not regulated in the 1800′s so much – you could go to an opium den. What we had was a different community structure – and a 14-16 year old boy could go work on a neighboring ranch or farm or learn to shoe horses or study to become a blacksmith or… or. Now we regiment children to fit little round holes in little round-holed pegboards.

And the other thing I saw in the mid-70′s was the rise of truly serious crime becoming more widespread among youth (boys, mostly, at that time) – arson, murder, rape, etc. We were putting highly dangerous kids in with status offenders and that was the death knell for status offenses (now CINA – Children In Need of Aid).

So far (knock on wood) my grand-kids are all good kids, good students, good friends to their friends. They have involved parents and extended family. We reward what is positive. Not all children are so fortunate to live without fear of violence, without drug or alcohol use in the home, without food deprivation due to lack of resources. So many children come from backgrounds of neglect, poverty, misery, etc. that we are creating an environment where kids act out.

Marsha Graham is the driving force behind several blogs, among them AnotherBoomerBlog. She is a good friend to and we would be lost without her support. When she’s not blogging, she’s a committed activist and attorney.

3 thoughts on “Marsha Graham Speaks Out on Juvenile Crime

  1. Thanks, David. I feel like such a slug since last May. Now in physical therapy for two joints – right shoulder and left knee. Stay away from dangerous stairways is the only advice I have there.

    As to the kids and the juvenile justice system – in large part I know most kids don’t have the capacity to understand what they are doing when they do it. Yes, some of them do horrible things. Some of them can be frightening to deal with. Often these are children from traumatic backgrounds – abused, neglected, brain damaged from blows to the head or from drugs/alchol in utero, or from drugs given to them as children by addicted parents in order to keep them quiet.

    And we now have confirmed research that the brain of a 14 year old boy and an 18 year old boy – and generally a 21 year old man – are virtually identical in lack of development of judgment centers. So what are we to do?

    Yes, there are some kids who come from priveleged environments – who drive expensive cars and end up becoming mass murderers. But what we don’t see is the benign neglect – which is not so benign after all – of parents who are so involved in work and community that they are not emotionally there for their children. These are well meaning parents, but they have lost track of the goal – which is being a parent in a very meaningful way.

    The most devistating form of abuse is emotional abuse – which is a part and parcel of neglect and sexual abuse. These kids end up warped beyond belief. These are kids who come from law and order families as easily as they come from down and out familes. They may look good on the surface, or look like delinquents. When they implode or explode no one understands why. Often, but not always, they have behaviorally disordered parents who look very successful. But narcissists, sociopaths, and even borderlines can look pretty good from outside the family. Inside it can be a nightmare of devaluation.

    I remember when a friend of my daughter hit a moose one night. She called her mother, terrified. Her mother screamed at her for breaking the car. I had the teenager living at my home, fearful of going home for the better part of a week – while I worked with her mother regarding reunification. It took her parent days to inquire as to whether her daughter was okay. IMO this is emotional neglect, at a minimum and probably emotional abuse. The CAR is worth more than your CHILD? Really? A few years later my daughter had a fender bender when someone rammed our car from behind, and my first question when she called was was, “Are you all right?” There is something intrinsicly wrong when we care more about things than we do about people.

    We can replace things. We cannot replace people. We’ve lost track of the value of the human beings we should care most about and treasure most. We see the result of that. We don’t discipline with love, we provide conditional caring, and we’re more concerned with our things than our family and friends. At the end of life it is unlikely our car or iPhone will be by our bedside, but if we have invested well in people, they will be there.

    So when we talk about how kids are so bad today, what has changed? Parenting has changed as has the value we place upon a very, very precious resource.


Agree? Disagree? Please speak up.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s