Let's be for real. Many young people relish in what I have come to call a “culture of ignorance.” It is as though they wear a badge of honor to talk badly, not read books, wear their pants hanging off their butts and participate in any mundane activity that will not help their growth and development in any way to make it in society at large.
I've been in numerous jails and prisons in my journey. I can count on one hand the men who could articulate a coherent and meaningful business idea, talk about the real changes they would like to make in their community, and take steps to some way crystalize that ideal. I'm talking about visiting the general library and checking out books on business. Learn how to write a business plan. Research books and magazines on entrepreneurial subjects, or buy books on these and similar topics. It just isn't done.
Why? That was a question that puzzled me so much. There was no interest in schooling at all. More than half of prisoners under thirty years of age get arrested without having a General Equivalency Diploma (GED), and most obtain them reluctantly, only because it's a requirement before they can earn money at other programs and a GED is needed if one is hoping to make the Parole Board.
They say that role models are essential because they give children someone to look up to, someone to emulate. Yet the role models looked up to by many young men are not people like inventor Benjamin Banneker, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or astronaut Neil Armstrong. People who were not born into wealth, but who struggled and through hard work and perseverance made a difference. The examples they look to are gangsta rappers who talk of big cars, expensive jewelry, popping bottles of alcohol, carrying guns and having sex with women who they describe as hoe's at the snap of their fingers.
Another example are sports stars, particularly basketball players, or they envy the neighborhood drug dealer. As the late rapper Notorious B.I.G., himself a victim of gun violence put it, “Either you slinging crack rocks or you got a wicked jump shot.”
This is a culture that needs to stop. The absence of proper role models also cultivate a distorted view of the world and one's goals. This is evident when I talk to young prisoners under twenty-five years old and ask what they plan to do when they get out. No one plans to go back to school for a college degree. There are no hopes for one day becoming an engineer, scientist or innovator. It's mostly they are going to sell drugs again or be the next hottest rapper. Often times their plan is to sell drugs so they can use the money to promote themselves to be the next hottest rapper. One of the main excuses I hear for wanting to sell drugs is that there are no good paying jobs out there. That they would rather sell drugs and make fast cash than slave in McDonald's flipping burgers. Let's look at the big picture though. You sell drugs, get busted, now you're in prison cleaning toilets, cutting grass, or making license plates for pennies a day. So what's the real slave job?
As a person who has been in their shoes I often point out the number of prisoners who have been in and out of prison and are on their third or fourth bid. “Not me”, they say, “I ain't comin' back”. They don't seem to grasp that those same gray haired elderly prisoners were all first timers at one point, and they too said they're “Never coming back.”
The bottom line is if the prisoner doesn't make some type of drastic and necessary cultural change for the better, they are bound to return to prison. This includes how they talk, act, and who they associate with and adapt a more expanded view of the world in general. There's more to life than your own hood. Change begins with you. Think of your own good. For yourself and your family. Doing the right thing will always pay off. It's up to you to make the difference. Think sincerely and deeply about all that was written here. You can always change. Do so before it's too late.
Robert Cepada, an inmate in Elmira Correctional Facility in Elmira, New York, serving time for burglary and theft. He wants to go to business school when he is released. Cepada welcomes comments from readers.