To those commissioned with the incarceration and care of the youth at the Hamilton Youth Detention Center:
My 14-year-old nephew is currently incarcerated at the Hamilton Youth Detention Center. He has been found to have an addiction that has been deemed harmful to society. His parents have been as constant an influence in his recovery as they are allowed, given the visiting restrictions of the facility.
I am writing this letter, not to diminish the weight of the actions of the young people who are in detention, but as a plea for their well-being.
As far back as 1900, over 100 ago, a movement was begun to reform the American prison system. This was in an effort to give adult offenders a quality of life that would give them hope and eventually give them the ability and desire to be contributing members of society if and when they were released, or even prior to their releases.
I ask you, ladies and gentlemen, are our youth less important to us in Hamilton, Montana than the adult offenders who are given the privileges and opportunities to enhance their minds, develop life and career skills and have outdoor recreation and activity? Have we thrown these youth away as "useless" or "problems" because of the follies of their youth? It seems it is so. And shame on our community if this is true.
The youth at the Hamilton Detention Center are fed and clothed and kept clean, but their minds and bodies are idle, and angry youth are becoming increasingly frustrated and more hopeless. Neither my nephew, nor the other youth at the center are provided with activities for their minds or bodies, not to mention the deterioration of their spirits - a sense of hope. If my nephew's parents and members of the clergy from our church did not provide it, he would be left destitute in this way also. He has not seen the light of day, felt the sunshine on his face, or breathed fresh outdoor air for over three months, (the vitamin D deficiency alone contributes to the depression already deeply felt). Nor have the other boys during their periods of incarceration. Suicidal tendencies are "normal" in this facility. Youth are left to pace their rooms back and forth for hours at a time, given no outlet for their emotions or negative energy, much like caged animals. There is far too much unused time on their hands. These boys see no hope for eventual progress and no success in their lives. Abuse, physically, mentally and emotionally at the hands of other youths, is rampant.
How, in these circumstances, can we have any hope that these young men will grow to be anything other than detriments to society? They have clearly received the message that they are garbage, and so they will become. We will get what we have created.
These young men have been failed already, in many cases, by their parents. And now we, as a community have also failed them. It would take a miracle for any of them to become confident, contributing men. I believe in miracles. I also believe, and know from life's experiences, that sometimes the wounds inflicted in our youth by the failures of those whose responsibility it is to nurture and love them, are too deep and destructive to heal from or find recovery
I do not blame the caregivers in the detention center as much as 1 blame our elected officials who see this problem and do not deem it important enough to correct. Mr. Fulbright has said that, "I don't know what to do about it. [They] are menace[s] to society."
This may well be a true statement, Mr. Fulbright, but if we do not do something, instead of making the excuse, "I don't know what to do", we doom our lost children to lasting failure. Hiring activities directors and recreation directors, and providing an outdoor playground are some suggestions. Instructors and career specialists are another idea. Professionals who can teach them to socialize positively in the "real world" are vital to their success. Please, provide positive influences to these kids in addition to the short-staffed, overworked and underpaid, overwhelmed caregivers who are trying their best to be everything to these boys.
If our children are not important enough to us to teach, rear, nurture, develop and build, we will indeed have what we have created.
My prayers and hopes are that our elected officials will wake up, and help to save our lost and confused children, before they become lost and confused residents of the adult prison system. These kids are, in fact, our responsibility.