"A Young Murderer's Thoughts on Crime"
by Jamal Johnson

Jamal Johnson, 24, is serving 25 years to life at Lancaster State Prison for murder and robbery. He was 16 when sentenced.

Empty shoes focus on deaths of American children.

A child looks at the empty shoes of his brother dead by gun violence.

      Studies show that crimes committed by youthful offenders are increasing rapidly. There is ample justification for society to be concerned, but is the answer just to lock up younger and younger kids?

      As a person who has contributed to the rise of crime statistics, I wish youthful offenders would look at their actions and ask themselves: "Do I have the right to deprive someone else from enjoying life? Would I want someone to deprive a member of my family of the joys that life may bring, because I wish to indulge in anti-social behavior?"

      We have to try to put ourselves in the place of the victims and their families, to see if we can feel what they experience as recipients of senseless violations of our laws.

      If we analyze our unlawful activities, we will eventually realize that we can't blame society for wanting to lock youth away.

      So far, we have proved to society that crime prevention programs do not completely work. How can early intervention be helpful if incarceration itself doesn't prevent people from coming back to jail?

      But it's still obvious that other alternatives are needed besides putting our youth behind bars, especially if incarceration isn't working.

      One solution might be for the government to grant funds to individual states to set up different types of alternative programs specifically focused on early intervention. The activities of the children within our communities could be monitored by the schools or neighborhood recreation centers, which would subsequently submit referrals and recommendations to the courts, probation departments and parents, citing the need for intervention to prevent at-risk children from straying into the negative subculture of gangs.

      The most important thing is that society must build up youths; lives instead of destroying them more than they already are. There are some kids who can still be reached through special programs rather than putting them in a jail that will most likely reinforce their criminal ways and harden them against change.

      If there were programs that encouraged potential and showed kids that they have what it takes to succeed, then maybe it would be possible to deter them from life in the streets.

      Help for our youth starts in the home. We can replace the total responsibility of raising kids on the government or schools. Parents are our children's keepers from Day 1. Kids adopt their parents' ways and attitudes.

      If we teach our children responsibility and don't allow them to experience what we experienced, then society will not have a justifiable reason to place them behind bars, as it has done to us for the antisocial behavior that we have demonstrated. Let's break the cycle and teach our children the real value and meaning of life.

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