Youth and today’s society | Sherman Jackson | TEDxIronwoodStatePrison

Youth and today’s society | Sherman Jackson | TEDxIronwoodStatePrison


Translator: Delia Cohen
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney This next young man can lay down
some very insightful words when he puts his mind to it. Please welcome my friend, Sherman Jackson. (Applause) January of 2007, I was arrested and tried
as an adult at the age of 17. And it was during this time,
leading up to my arrest, that I was homeless, a drug addict,
and ashamed of who I was and the things that I had been through. Now, this shame was so deeply rooted
into my mind that I felt it necessary to lie about my everyday
personal life and experiences. The things the average kid
could say went on in his household are the things that I lied about: whether it was my mom
telling me to have a good day or my father telling me
I couldn’t go somewhere. I even passed up on opportunities
to excel in after school programs, like sports and theater. I let these opportunities pass me by in fear that people would pay
closer attention to my life, and in turn expose me
for the liar that I was. It wasn’t until I got arrested
that my life slowed down, the drugs wore off, and the person that I was
pretending to be disappeared; and I was left with who I really was:
a kid that was afraid and alone. During my stay in Sylmar Juvenile Hall,
I had the pleasure of meeting Susan Cuscuna, Roberta Villa,
and Scott Budnick: three teachers part of an organization
called “InsideOUT Writers.” It was during these writing classes
that I not only learned that I could write poetry,
but that I could be my own therapist. You see, Susan always pushed
me to write about emotion. And it is this element of writing
that has helped me resolve many issues in my life: past and present. You see, people had always told me how
to change, but it was the students at InsideOUT Writers that showed me. Once I became a member
of this organization, I no longer had to lie about family
or change who I was to be accepted. I just was. So, it is my life experiences,
and from those around me, that have inspired me
to write this piece entitled: “The Youth in Today’s Society.” Imagine the sounds of children
laughing and playing. Boastful stories in the creation
of new sayings. Now you would normally have
to go to a park or a school to hear these sounds,
but I’m here to tell you that I hear them every day
on prison grounds. This has become a harsh reality
of today’s society. We’ve managed to make punishment
instead of education a priority. This nation is the only one of its kind; yet it seems a little convenient
that Lady Justice is blind. Blind to our youth
and their sorrow and strife, yet quick to see their mistakes
and punish them for life. Just lock the door and throw away the key. Let them live a life
full of starch and TV. Disregard what they
could mean to our nation and broadcast their shortcomings
on your local news stations. In doing this, we have traded in
playgrounds for prison yards and teachers for prison guards. I was once one of the youth
that I speak of now, but despite being cast aside
I’ve managed to turn my life around. You see, my life was like a battleship,
and I was getting ready to sink. My mind swirled with thoughts
so erratic, I couldn’t think. Glimpses of my short life
flashed before my eyes. Now, I see and think in a way
that took near death for me to realize. Realize that life is short
and too precious to squander. Now, I understand the saying
“absence makes the heart grow fonder.” For me, it’s the absence of life,
the absence of having kids and a wife, having family that you love and depend on, having friends that will never
steer you wrong. Being able to see
the world in all its glory, being able to have more
than just a prison story. These are the things
that my heart yearns for. These are the things
on the other side of this prison door. My life? It’s not where I want it to be,
but where it goes from here is up to me. My life will not be defined by the bad
choices that I’ve made or could make. It will be defined by my willingness
to give back more than I take. So, no matter how great
my sorrow or strife, I will always take the time
to live, love, and enjoy life. So, this is my call to action
to any and everyone who cares: Find a kid in need
and just find a way to be there. When you call a kid a kid, mean it; don’t label them as an adult
when it’s convenient. Don’t give up or throw them away because that’s what made it possible
for me to be here today. Thank you. (Applause)

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