Youth Working Toward Justice!

March 6, 2020

Name: Isabella and Layla

City you live in: San Diego

Age: Isabella is 18, Layla is 17

Isabella and Layla are Volunteers in the Color of Justice Thread, which worked with Generation Justice, an organization that focuses on youth development around social justice issues, and their Mentor Aeiramique Blake, who has been working in the juvenile justice field for nearly twelve years.  Together, they delivered over 70 care packages to homeless youth in Pacific Beach after recognizing that many individuals face homelessness after incarceration.   Here are Isabella and Layla’s biggest takeaways during this experience with SFI!

Isabella: It’s not new for me to turn on the news and witness an injustice that angers me, or to hear someone’s story and want to do something to help.  Before I joined SFI, I really wanted to create a change but I didn’t know how to begin.  I had a hard time carrying out projects by myself because of my lack of organizational skills, but SFI changed this.  Working on my Thread’s project helped me push myself to be quick on my feet and solve problems while being organized.  With the help of SFI, I have figured out a way to turn my compassion into action in ways I didn’t know were even possible.

Layla: I joined SFI for similar reasons; while I always watched or read the news in agitation I didn’t know that I could actually make an impact on society. SFI also gave me the chance to really think about and find my passions.  One of these passions is the criminal justice system. Throughout the summer with SFI, I learned more about the injustices within our criminal justice system than I ever thought I could. For example, we watched the award-winning documentary 13th, which taught me a lot about racial and socioeconomic inequality as it relates to the US prison system.

These are just a few facts, ideas, and takeaways from 13th:

  1. The United States hosts 5% of the world’s total population but hosts 25% of the world’s prison population.
  2. The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
  3. While the 13th Amendment to the Constitution promises freedom to all Americans, there is a loophole; involuntary servitude cannot exist “except as a punishment for a crime.”  This allows America to utilize prisoners for free labor.
  4. The War on Drugs declared during the Reagan Era was actually a war against people of color. Cocaine, which was more often found in the suburbs and used by white people, was considered more “sophisticated” than crack, which was more accessible and distributed in the inner cities, targeting people of color. While cocaine and crack are essentially the same, though different in form, sentencing for crack was far harsher.
  5. Black people are overrepresented in the news as criminals.
  6. Mandatory minimums for sentencing limits a judge’s ability to consider a defendant’s circumstances.
  7. The costs of going through with a trial and the fear of receiving a maximum sentence make plea bargaining seem like the only option for some defendants. However, this can put poorer people in prison for crimes that they did not commit.

Isabella: After looking back at my experience with SFI, I can say that I am most proud of how I grew in my ability to communicate with others and adapt to the circumstances around me. When I’m in a very different or uncomfortable situation, I can now find a way to ease the tension or talk about something difficult. I no longer find confrontation to be so scary and am more confident in speaking my opinion.

Layla: This skill was especially relevant during our meeting with Generation Justice. Open and honest communication is crucial in general, but it was emphasized as we were encouraged to speak our minds and speak up if we weren’t okay with a particular idea. Another really cool part of our meeting was the experience of getting to know people from Generation Justice. It was really inspiring seeing other people around our age who are so passionate about and active in social justice. In all, SFI helped us to learn skills such as communication that we can apply not only to our experience in the program, but also to our life experiences in general. We are so happy to have had the opportunity to find and share our passions while  creating real change!

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