Overcoming Personal Adversity

Growing up, I was a pretty quiet and shy kid especially since I was raised by my father for the most part. He was in the military so my brother and I were taught through strict rules and punishments. This instilled politeness and respect for others, which resulted in my shyness. This shyness began to fade when I became decent at baseball because you had to be confident and intimidate your opponent to succeed. Today I am extremely competitive and hate losing at anything I do. Even with my competitiveness, I was still in my shell. This shell broke when I started school at OSU. I worked at the Wexner Cancer Hospital dealing with patient’s one on one all day everyday, which enhanced my people skills because I was forced to talk with everyone I met. The interpersonal skills that I learned at the hospital helped me get the job where I am currently dealing with young adults. I have continually been forced to take control of situations that I would not have normally taken control of due to my shyness. Stepping out of those boundaries at the hospital and in the youth correctional facility I work at has helped my further my career path and my future. For those who are close to me today, they know that I am not the shy, quiet, reserved kid I once used to be. I get comments from my family members all the time about how I used to be the most innocent little kid and how much I have grown up and progressed. If I wouldn’t have taken the leap of faith that I did to further my personal skills, I don’t think I would be in the position I am in today, about to graduate from THE Ohio State University with connections that will last a lifetime.

What is Real Reform?

From Erin Davies, 2/22/16, 8:37 AM:

Damn, that’s sobering.

 

Not quite the response I had hoped for.

 

Erin – executive director of the Juvenile Justice Coalition – was responding to a point of clarification I had asked of her about an announcement that had criminal justice advocates, including me, buzzing this past month.

 

We’ve just finished the first month of the semester of Buckeye REACH at Franklin County Juvenile Detention Facility in Downtown Columbus, where the volunteers have been doing a crash course on the importance of politics and voting with the guys. President Obama inevitably came up, and in the mix a security guard mentioned the news: that the President had announced a ban on solitary confinement for youth and low-level offenders.  

 

“What? We ain’t seen that,” raised one of the youth – reminding us in true form that policy headlines often don’t translate into our people’s realities. “Well…that’s because states don’t actually have to follow it. We ain’t doin it in Columbus.” The reply was close; it’s actually because the executive actions are a ban for federal, not state, prisons. An indisputable jurisdiction considering we live in a federalist system, but an important distinction to note nonetheless.

 

Considering this, I looked into the numbers. How many juveniles does this landmark policy protect? Here’s the sobering part: 26. I had contacted Erin thinking that, considering the fanfare surrounding the announcement, I had missed some segment of the population in that number. But because youth in the federal system only really come from Native American reservations or D.C., a count this low should be expected.

 

I say this not to undermine the importance of the President’s ban. Every person, especially a child, who benefits from a less punitive criminal system is worth a celebration. I say this as a reminder that we cannot afford to become complacent. This ban cannot be the dusting of the civic arena’s hands at juvenile justice reform; its greatest use is as a tool for advocates to leverage at the state level to follow the federal’s suit. I find no point in patting ourselves on the back in Ohio because our juvenile justice policies are considered some of the most progressive in the country – considering the overhauls the state still needs to make, it only serves as a reminder of how severe the situation is nationally. Our function, rather, should be momentum. In 2014, Ohio’s Department of Youth Services struck an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to “dramatically reduce, and eventually eliminate, its use of seclusion on young people in its custody.” With the usual necessity for legislative change in the U.S. to be led by example, such a step will hopefully contribute to a model to be followed by states that have not taken action yet, and along with it bring a reduction in solitary for adults as well.
When it comes down to it, we should not be incarcerating children at all. The effects of institutionalization have been incapacitating generations for years, and that we have to fight to safeguard youth from this extreme an injury – that of solitary confinement – feels like a concession. It’s proof that we cannot rely on the system to reform itself – the word “hopefully,” voiced by Obama and reluctantly echoed by myself just sentences ago, creates space for complacency between us and that end goal of deincarceration. And if we only accept the concessions, doing nothing to generate community power and push for even more legislative momentum, the state will not help us span it.

Ohio State as an Out-of-Stater

Seventy one percent of students at The Ohio State University are from Ohio. That is 41, 590 students. So it is not surprising that whenever I get asked where I am from and I respond with “Maryland” they look at me and say, “well, why’d you come here?” The question always surprises me. It is asked as if the individual does not realize how great of a school Ohio State is, or how large a network Ohio State has, or how well known Ohio State is, or how so many people would love to come here. It makes me feel like that individual does not see Ohio State as anything other than just a state school. It makes me feel inclined to tell them just why I came here.

I applied to nine schools during the process of my college search and Ohio State was always towards the top of my list. I was looking for a large school that would provide me with a strong sense of community, allow for many different opportunities, and give me a potential to challenge myself while also having a place I could call home. I was looking for an out-of-state school because I wanted a different experience. When I visited Ohio State I fell in love. I felt like I belonged. The campus was beautiful; there were so many opportunities; there was freedom to be the real me; there was freedom to try new things; there was a sense of community and extreme pride in being a buckeye. I knew I could find a home here. On a less personal and more realistic note, Ohio State was the most affordable college I applied to. Ohio State is among the cheapest public schools in the nation. In addition, Ohio State was one of the few schools that had such a large scholarship offered to out-of-state students. So why did I choose Ohio State? Because it can be the home away from home for many different people, and because Ohio State recognizes the financial difficulties of being an out-of-state student and provides support.

After I got on campus, Ohio State continued supporting me as an out-of-state student. They provided opportunities like Buckeyes Beyond Ohio where I was able to go on a retreat with other out of state students for labor day weekend my freshman year. I was able to ease into the Buckeye community and feel comfortable even though I was 6 hours away from home. The sense of community I felt when I visited was definitely evident in my first year of college. I always felt like I was a part of something, whether that was through football games, hanging out with friends in my dorm, or getting involved in different organizations. Ohio State quickly became my home.

After I had settled in and made friends, there was one thing that continued to bother me. I love Ohio State and I love the opportunities it has given me, but I still deal with cultural differences between my hometown and Columbus. My hometown of Germantown, Maryland is one of the most diverse towns in the United States. I have always grown up with kids from different ethnic and racial backgrounds than myself. I knew this had an effect on me, but I did not know how large of an effect until I came to Columbus. I constantly noticed how white it was here. It is the norm to walk into a restaurant and see only white people. At home, if I walked into a restaurant and saw only white people I would immediately notice because that rarely happens. I had to get used to the different racial and ethnic make up of Columbus. This was much harder than I thought it would be. Not only are there fewer minorities at Ohio State, but also the groups are highly segregated. There are few interracial friend groups. This was so new to me because I have always had interracial friend groups and it honestly weirded me out to have all white friends. This is something that I still struggle with. The animosity and segregation between different races is something that I am not very used to. It frustrates me to see a strong lack of understanding of diversity among my peers. It has, however, taught me a valuable lesson on why social change can be so difficult. If the whole nation were as diverse as my hometown, it would be easy to work toward change. But that just isn’t the case. Ohio State is made up of individuals who grew up in rural all-white areas on one-end and inner-city areas with a large minority population on the other. There are many places in the United States that are still segregated and so it is understandable why people are not open to and understanding of diversity.

This is one reason that working in the Department of Social Change has been another home for me. This department is one of the most diverse groups of students on this campus. Not only are we racially and ethnically diverse but we are all coming together to work toward social change. It is a group of people who hold many of the same views as I do and share the same passion for justice and change in our society. So as different as it has been for me to go from Maryland to Ohio, there are still places on this campus where I can feel at home.