Children of Promise
I have been hosting “Drugs. Crime & Politics”, a public affairs television program of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, for about ten years now, but the interview that most sticks in my mind dates to the earliest years of that show. The interviewee (whose name, I am ashamed to admit, I have forgotten) was a retired juvenile probation officer. During her work with teens in trouble and with troubled teens she discovered that many of them – a surprising number – had one or both parents in prison.
When she retired, she visited the principals of several Houston high schools and convinced them to allow her to come on campus and set up self-help groups of teens with parents in prison. The only assets required for this project were her time, knowledge, and concern for the kids. The kids did the work themselves. Meeting at school after the school day, they set the agenda, much of which was just talking and sharing with each other.
I lost touch with this effort, so I can’t give a long-term report on its success; but two news items this week brought it to mind. One was tragic and the other optimistic.
The tragic event happened in Bellaire, Texas, a small suburb of Houston. A police officer stopped a car, and when he approached that car the driver shot him. The owner of a near-by business ran out to help and the driver killed him as well. For the first time, this small town lost a officer killed in the line of duty. The alleged killer was quickly arrested, ad soon details of his life history emerged. This twenty-two year old had a non-violent criminal record, but the crucial fact in his life happened early. He was three years old when his father was convicted of drug dealing and sentenced to forty years in Texas prison.
The optimistic event was a television interview with a young woman in New York City. For several years she has helped operate Children of Promise, a charitable organization she had helped found. Children of Promise offered material support, counseling, and just good friendship to children of all ages in Brooklyn who had a least one parent in prison. The name “Children of Promise” illustrates the optimism this group brings to those they aid.
It’s a pity her group didn’t find the Bellaire shooter nineteen years ago.
This large group of abused children – abused by all of us through our unthinking penal policies – contains a large number of victims of the War on (People Who Use) Drugs. These children are being punished, not for anything they have done, but because their parents ran afoul of unthinking social mores manifested in unenforceable laws. They are punished not only by present deprivation, but by having their futures stolen from them. I will not call them “collateral damage” because that term is too cold and clinical for what we are doing to these kids. A better name for them is “Children of Perdition” because they are damned to a life of harm and despair – and too often of harm to those around them.
The best thing we can do for this group of children is to keep it from growing by repealing the destructive War on Drugs which has already created too many casualties. But in the interim, we can do like the retired probation officer or the woman in New York. We can reach out personally and in groups to mitigate the harm already done to those children among us.
Help change the Children of Perdition into the Children of Promise.
[If anyone wants to watch selected programs from “Drugs, Crime & Politics”, they are archived at Youtube.com/stv or can be accessed by links from www.dpft.org .]