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School-to-prison-Pipeline Or School-to-prison-Lifetime

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Growing up I have always felt comfortable in big crowds. Maybe it was the seven uncles and aunts I had on my mother’s side or maybe the loud and outgoing family members on my father’s side. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a close-knit family, where everyone always supported me. With such a big family, and most of my aunts and uncles having successful careers, education was constantly pushed in my household. My father completed graduate school and earned is license in counseling and my mother had a degree in social work. I knew from a young age that I wanted to go to college. Although both my parents were well educated, there were still times where we struggled financially, but we always made it through. Having loving and supporting parents only motivated me to do well in school and to always try my best. Seeing the sacrifices my parents made to provide a good life for my sister and I, encouraged me to do well in school and pursue my dream of becoming a doctor. I wanted to make my parent proud, and eventually be financially stable enough to take care of them in the future. This type of caring and reassuring relationship that I had with my parents was something that we both worked towards. Both parties took the time and energy to build the relationship that we have today. Building a positive relationship with your parents should be easy, but happens when you don’t have your parents in your life? Where do you get your support system from? Who do you turn to when you need help? For my cousins their answer was not so clear.

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My mother was the oldest out of eight. She had five brothers and two sisters. Her second to youngest brother Qasim, was one of the youngest, which meant that my grandparents were a lot more flexible with him. He was a little bit of a troublemaker and would ditch school, skip class, and not put all his effort into his schoolwork. As the school year progressed, Qasim found himself getting into more trouble. Around the middle of his freshman year, his cousin passed. This took a huge toll on him emotionally, mentally and physically. He lost someone that he considered to be his best friend. This was the last straw. He began fighting and acting out in class. Teachers turned to suspension as a form of punishment. Qasim never received any form of therapy or never talked to any guidance counselors or adults and was seen as just another black boy with anger problems. No one took the time to sit down and have a conversation with him and in turn he fell through the cracks.

Being a black boy in a predominately white school district that had adopted a zero-tolerance policy was hard on Qasim. His fights and class disruptions resulted in five out-of-school suspensions by the end of his sophomore year. He was heading down a slippery slope and was on the verge of not finishing high school. According to the article The School-to-Prison Pipeline, Explained by Libby Nelson and Dara Lind, “ Black students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students, according to the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, and research in Texas found students who have been suspended are more likely to be held back a grade and drop out of school entirely” (Nelson & Lind, 2015) this supports the idea that black children are more likely to fall through the cracks of strict zero tolerance policies and experience higher rates of suspension which ultimately lead to an increased drop-out rate. As Qasim’s suspensions continued, he quickly fell behind in his schoolwork. He stopped showing up and spent more of his time out in the streets. He started getting involved with the wrong crowd and eventually turned to drugs. By the age of seventeen he was arrested for being caught with the possession of drugs as a minor and served his time in a juvenile detention center. He unfortunately became another high school statistic and dropped out before his junior year.

This news however, is not new for many, in the article The School- to- Prison Pipeline by Marilyn Elias she mentioned a study done by Daniel Losen, the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, in which he found that the “racial differences in suspension rates have widened since the early 1970s and that suspension is being used more frequently as a disciplinary tool”. In one of his more recent studies he found that removing students from the classroom by suspension or expulsion actually causes more harm than it does good. Removing children can increase their chances of dropping out and ending up in jail. (Elias, 2013). African American children are already more likely to be suspended which in turn means an increased drop-out rate and an increase in the number of students being sent to jail. This is a cycle that unfortunately keeps African American children from succeeding in school and going on to further their education and throws them into the justice system at a young age.

After completing his time in juvie, Qasim struggled with finishing school and finding a secure job. A young black male with a record and no GED was not at the top of most employers wish lists. He was left to fend for himself and eventually returned to the streets where he got caught up in drugs. About three years later he had his first daughter Sabihah and two years afterwards he had his second daughter Inara. As for them, both parents were constantly in and out of their life. While their mother was dealing with her own issues, their father was in and out of jail. Being suspended pushed Qasim in the wrong direction where he struggled to remain out of jail. This just goes to show how even though teachers use suspension as a disciplinary tool, it only solves a temporary problem, but in reality, it leads to lifelong consequences that can affect families, and generations. In the video, How Schools Are Funneling Certain Students into The Prison System, Dr Kenneth Waters, the diversity educator, and faculty at St. Andrews Episcopal School, talks about the disparity of school’s disciplinary system and how it is affecting young children later on in life. He mentions that most suspensions for African American students are subjective and are based on the discretion of the school administers “you’re affecting communities, you’re affecting the economy, you’re affecting families, you’re affecting school systems”. In Qasim’s case, it is clear to see how suspension led him in the wrong direction and how it is affecting his family. He is not around his kids as much and it is taking an emotional toll on them. As a part of my challenge I decided to focus on how this has impacted my cousins. They are currently 12 and 15, so they are in the stage of life where they are still trying to find themselves which for any adolescence can be difficult at times. I asked them how they felt about not really having a father or mother figure in their life and how they feel going to the jail and going through that whole process just visit their father, how it feels to not be around their mother and father for the holidays and birthdays. They are beginning to realize that their parents do not play an active role in their lives and that they cannot trust them. That first level of trust and security that should be built in any kind of relationship especially a parent-to-child relationship is broken. They don’t have a parental figure to look up to. They have no one to cheer them on or keep them motivated during school. Having to visit their father in jail, can be mentally draining. Going through security, seeing all the other inmates and families can be traumatic

Even though schools think that suspending a child will solve the problem, it is only a temporary solution which actually could increase the amount of kids entering the juvenile justice system. One thing to keep in mind that children need help and support too. They go through their own life struggles outside of school and it would be helpful if they had an adult they could talk to like a counselor. Sometimes kids need the reassurance. I know that we can’t put all the blame on teachers sometimes a student does act up to the point where they could hurt themselves or others but we just have to be mindful that we can’t jump to suspension and expulsion or mix the kids that may of had a bad and label them as delinquents or criminals.

Works Cited

  1. Nelson, L., & Lind, D. (2015, October 27). The school-to-prison pipeline, explained. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/2015/2/24/8101289/school-discipline-race.
  2. School to Prison Pipeline: How Schools Are Funneling Certain Students Into the Prison System. (2019, December 3). Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/show-me/video/school-to-prison-pipeline-how-schools-are-funneling-certain-students-into-the-prison-system-1081488451980.
  3. School to Prison Pipeline: How Schools Are Funneling Certain Students Into the Prison System. (2019, December 3). Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/show-me/video/school-to-prison-pipeline-how-schools-are-funneling-certain-students-into-the-prison-system-1081488451980.
  4. The School-to-Prison Pipeline. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/spring-2013/the-school-to-prison-pipeline.

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