I have begun a very informative and enlightening e-mail conversation with a good friend of mine, Megan Selby. She is someone who has inspired me ever since I lived with her about 6 years ago in Bloomington, Indiana. There are many, many reasons why she is one of the most inspiring people I know, but one reason is her passion for social justice. As I have shared previously, I have been very disturbed by what I’ve read about sexual abuse of children in prison. Megan is a prison abolitionist and has a lot to say about these issues, and I look forward to lots of thoughtful exchange of ideas with her on this subject.
Last week Megan emailed me this op-ed piece from the New York Times, by columnist Nicholas D Kristof.
This article shares the personal story of a young man, Rodney Hulin Jr., who was only 16 years old when he was convicted of arson. He was a first time offender, and rather small, only 5’2″ and 125 lb, but despite his age, he was sent to a men’s prison, where he was repeatedly raped and beaten by his much larger, adult cellmates. He asked to be placed in protective custody and was denied. The prison doctor had him tested for HIV. because around 1/3 of the prison inmates were HIV positive. Unable to withstand the violent abuse and the constant fear he lived in, he hanged himself.
This story is unbelievably tragic. It makes my heart hurt. How can this be allowed to happen?
I think this article highlights two problems related to incarcerated youth.
1. Children, i.e. anyone under the age of 18, should NOT be put into adult prisons. This is a harmful and dangerous environment for children. The focus should be on rehabilitating young people so they can become successful members of adult society. Placing them in adult prisons where they are in physical, mental, and emotional danger, hinders, and possibly destroys, their chances of going back out into the world as mature and socially-able adults. It is unjust and inhumane for these vulnerable young people to be incarcerated in adult prisons.
2. Young people, CHILDREN, are being beaten and sexual abused while in state care, and this cannot be allowed to continue. There are youth facilities where abuse is NOT a problem and has been successfully eliminated, so we know it’s possible. Now, this has to be made the case in ALL youth prison facilities. Prison facilities with cases of sexual abuse must put a stop to this and do what is necessary to protect young people in their care from this violation of their human rights.
I truly hope that reading about this issue and the tragic personal stories of these young victims of prison sexual abuse will inspire you to do something about it. Write a letter to your local or state government officials. Write to your local newspaper, expressing your thoughts and concerns about this. Support an advocacy group or charity working to protect young people in prison and victims of prison sexual abuse. If you have any ideas of some productive action to take, I’d love to hear about it. I am still trying to figure out what I, as just one person, can do about this, but I am determined to do something. I will keep you updated on actions I take or information I find out that may be useful.
If nothing else, I hope you will share this information with other people. It isn’t pleasant, but I do think that it is important that we share the story of these suffering young people and stand up for their human rights. Spreading the information is the first step towards creating change.