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Mid-City CAN Blog

City Heights residents talk about incarceration's impact

Mid-City CAN Community Conversation
City Heights residents talk about the impacts of youth incarceration on Aug. 18 at the Mid-City CAN Community Conversation.

 

Juvenile arrests and incarceration can divide families and tear apart communities.

About 45 residents of City Heights came to the Scripps Health City Heights Wellness Center on Aug. 18 to talk about that issue and possible solutions. Mid-City CAN organized the Community Conversation event.

Abdishakur Osman, a 22-year-old student and resident of City Heights, said he felt compelled to come to the event because many of his friends and their families have felt the negative impacts of incarceration.

“The way things are working out in our community is unbalanced,” he said. “I can count on one hand the amount of close friends that I have that are just as lucky as I am.

“All the other ones are incarcerated, have records and are in that perpetual state of just existence.”

Mid-City CAN Community Organizer Ramla Sahid facilitated the two-hour discussion on Aug. 18

After a brief introduction, participants broke into two circles to discuss three questions:

  • What is the impact of incarceration on City Heights youth?
  • How can the community respond to this impact?
  • What motivates community change?

Questions like those really hit home for participants like Osman

He said that for many of his friends, incarceration does not include rehabilitation.

“They come back out and their mind frame hasn't changed,” he said. “They just learn new techniques to become better criminals.”

Osman sees the lack of jobs in City Heights as a huge driver of crime.

“People that are so used to the system – so used to going in and out that prison – [it] is a better option for them than being out on the street trying to find a job,” he said.

He also said he has seen many people fall victim to drug use as a means of escape.

“They want to forget the pain of not making rent that month,” he said. “They want to forget about the pain of a dead-end career that is not ever going to provide them any kind of gratification in the long run.”

Djoha Uwamwiza, a City Heights resident, and member of a Swahili speaking group cooking group at the center, said that for many African immigrants the difference between the American dream and the reality of living in America can be a difficult adjustment.

She sees children as being the biggest victim of this gap.

“The system [must] change the way they keep locking those kids up, because it doesn't help,” she said. “Those kids they lose hope for the future.”

Incarceration can be a downward spiral, she said.

“We can help young people to have hope for tomorrow,” she said. “Life by itself is not easy. It is really challenging.”

Roberto Torres, a Mid-City CAN youth council member and senior at Hoover High School, said he felt that City Heights police officers “are a lot more strict with us.”

Racism is still a divisive issue and one that can cloud the perceptions of police officers, he said.

Brenda Ward, a City Heights resident, knows the pain first-hand of having an incarcerated child.

She only sees one way for the community to change attitudes and try to focus more on rehabilitation than incarceration.

“The youth as well as their parents” have to get involved and advocate for the change they want to see, she said.

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