Wounded Warriors — Real and Metaphorical

This article starts like a haunting PTSD nightmare from the war in Iraq, and reminded me frighteningly of how much more traumatized the world is becoming. From MSN.com:

On the military plane that crossed the ocean at night, the wounded lay in stretchers stacked three high. The drone of engines was broken by the occasional sound of moaning. Sedated and sleeping, Pfc. Joshua Calloway was at the top of one stack last September. Unlike the others around him, Calloway was handcuffed to his stretcher.

When the 20-year-old infantry soldier woke up, he was on the locked-down psychiatric ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. A nurse handed him pajamas and a robe, but they reminded him of the flowing clothes worn by Iraqi men. He told the nurse, “I don’t want to look like a freakin’ Haj.” He wanted his uniform. Request denied. Shoelaces and belts were prohibited.

Calloway felt naked without his M-4, his constant companion during his tour south of Baghdad with the 101st Airborne Division. The year-long deployment claimed the lives of 50 soldiers in his brigade. Two committed suicide. Calloway, blue-eyed and lantern-jawed, lasted nine months — until the afternoon he watched his sergeant step on a pressure-plate bomb in the road. The young soldier’s knees buckled and he vomited in the reeds before he was ordered to help collect body parts. A few days later he was sent to the combat-stress trailers, where he was given antidepressants and rest, but after a week he was still twitching and sleepless. The Army decided that his war was over. [full text]

These are our real warriors — the men and women in Iraq, and they are getting more and more traumatized every day. The world has become a very harsh place for them, every day a brutal live-or-die experience, as well as another day of witnessing the injuries and deaths of their comrades and civilians.

Here at home, warriors are mostly metaphorical. When I meet with kids for counseling — teenagers — I sometimes work with an identity development tool created by Carol Pearson called the Hero Myth Index. It’s a way to find out which mythical archetypes you most closely identify with. There are 12, including sage, fool, innocent, orphan, ruler, caregiver, creator, and destroyer. The one that kids, especially boys, emphatically claim as the core of their identity is the warrior. What’s interesting for them to learn is that they can be so many other things besides warriors. It’s a revelation that can lead to real change in a child’s ability to think about themselves and how they want to behave.

But unfortunately, our young warriors at home are also facing a harsher world. Today comes news of the passage of the state budget and plans to adjudicate children age 17 and older as adults in the state’s judicial system. The Campaign for Rhode Island’s Priorities provides this fact sheet on why doing this will be bad for children — how it will make them warriors in the adult world before they have the ability to handle it. From that marauding band of poverty pimps, the CRIPs:

Trying youth as adults does not promote public safety or reduce crime.

One provision proposed by the Governor for the 2008 state budget, and enacted by the House of Representatives on Friday, would automatically require that youth 17 and older be tried as adults regardless of the offense committed, and if sentenced, encarcerated at the Adult Correctional Institution (ACI). If they are already in the Juvenile Detention system, they will automatically be transferred to the ACI when they turn 19.

Currently, youth are sent to the Rhode Island Training School (RITS), the state’s only juvenile correctional facility, and depending on their sentence, remain in juvenile detition through the age of 21.

We need to keep Rhode Island progressive and eliminate this provision from the budget because:

Research shows that recidivism rates are lower for youth who are treated in the juvenile justice system. Youth who have been exposed to the adult criminal justice system are more likely to re-offend, more quickly and at higher rates. In fact, latest studies from the Centers for Disease Control show that sending youth to adult prisons increases violence.

Adult convictions obstruct future opportunities.

An adult criminal record is accessible to employers, lenders and numerous other agencies. Even as youth try to move on with their lives, an adult conviction will reduce their chances of getting a job or applying for loans or financial aid to go back to school.

Youth receive rehabilitative services at the Training School and from Family Court Programs.

The RITS has a mission to rehabilitate youth, the ACI does not. The RITS is mandated to provide a full educational program for youth that is essential to their future. In addition, at the RITS, youth participate in programs specific to their needs, including individual counseling. Oftentimes, when youth are tried in adult court, they receive probation, which does not provide structured services. At the ACI, youth will not have access to the individualized care and treatment they need. This will prevent them from rehabilitating and reintegrating into the community once they are released.

This provision is not cost effective. We must invest in the future of our communities, not in incarceration.

The ACI cannot afford to expand its prison population, which is already filled to capacity. According to Department of Corrections Director A.T. Wall, sending youth to the ACI would “put an additional strain on our already overburdened institutions” and drive up the corrections budget. Furthermore, in an effort to save money in the short term, the state risks serious long-term consequences. A 1998 study by Professor Mark A. Cohen of Vanderbilt University found that preventing teens from adopting a life of crime (including future adult offenses) could save the country between $1.7 million and $2.3 million per youth. These costs reflect high rates of recidivism among youth who are tried as adults, and the rising number of people incarcerated for non-violent offenses due to punitive sentencing practices. Investing in the Training School and other Family Court and DCYF programs will deter youth from a life of adult crime and save the state the costs of future incarceration.

The CRIPs are asking people to call Montalbano and Murphy (Speaker of the House Murphy: 222-2466; Senate President Montalbano: 222-6655) and ask them to reconsider the plan to put our younger kids into the adult world of prison. The pennies saved in not giving these kids counseling and vocational help will be lost (and then some) on the cost of recidivism. Why not give our youngest warriors a fighting chance?

PS. Rep. Segal also posted about this issue on RIFuture, prompting some snappy answers from the trolls over there, as well as some more thoughtful responses.

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3 thoughts on “Wounded Warriors — Real and Metaphorical

  1. I just read something in Slate (it’s from a few weeks back) that spending about $10k per kid per year when the kid is in pre-school is the most effective use of money.

    There was something called the Perry Project in Ypsilanti, Mich, that has followed some disadvantaged kids for the last 40 years. The ones that got the pre-school assistance did much, much better than those who didn’t, and ended up being contributing members of society.

    The return-on-investment on this money is in the neighborhood of 16%. As someone in the corporate world, I can tell you that that is a very good return on a project.

  2. One of the outrages of this war is that while our ‘volunteer army’ is fighting over there, the support system for veterans and their families is being dismantled over here. We see it in other areas too, a governor whose constituency is business and the richer part of the state. If he were still running a corporation, he could just lay off most of Rhode Island.

  3. I suspect that the current lame-duck administration, with more interest in leaving some sort of legacy other than a miserable record of ineffectuality, is grabbing at whimsy, be it the fatally flawed illegals effort, a disaster of energy failures, and support of mystical surges of the mind rather than progress in a miserable part of the world. One suspects that the Bushites want to have something more in the Bush Library (is this an oxymoron) than a record that shows that the President got better staying in the lines of his coloring books. To do this, this President is prepared to send our children into a meat grinder rather than admitting Iraq will get what Iraq wants and getting those kids home. This President is prepared to support a ridiculous immigration bill rather than closing our borders and prosecuting criminal business interests that would rathe pay a $1000 fine and hire cheap labor, than pay fair wages to Americans. This President is prepared to halt research because it offends his absurd sense of morality.
    Od course, an equally disreputable Congress, lower in the polls than the President and a Congress that makes used car salesmen look like Mother Theresa, has been this President’s helpmate. The title of “President” implies leadership and a sense of what the Nation needs. The term “Congress” implies submerging personal whim to the greater good and representing the needs and wishes of the American people. Both institutions have failed horribly in a crisis of government not seen in many years, and one which will exact a signifiant amount of pain for us all. Perhaps, the oft-repeated hope of a new, third party effort would provide a solution.

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