Sunday, May 14, 2017

Por el Amor de Nuestra Madre

By Marcia Rincon-Gallardo
JPI Guest Blogger

This Mother’s Day, we must honor our mothers who have children locked up somewhere in the system –whether it’s a daughter or a son, a niece or a nephew, grandchildren, or someone you hold dear. It’s a day for us to reflect on those impacted by the justice system, and say we may not know your pain, but we feel your anguish, frustration, urgency, and ultimately hope that things will get better. For the love of our mothers, por el amor de nuestra madre, we must transform how we approach youth misbehavior and our youth justice system.

On Mother’s Day and every day, this issue is near and dear to my heart. In working with our youth as part of the National Alianza for Latino Youth Justice, I am honored and humbled that many of them call me tia, or auntie. I cherish these children and our relationships, because I know that understanding our children is an important aspect of the work that remains in dismantling mass incarceration. Like many of their moms, there was a time in my life where I was a single mom, waking up each and every day praying that my son would not come in contact with the juvenile justice system.

Despite my prayers and best efforts, there was one incident that sent my heart pumping. Throwing me into panic mode, my son received a three-day suspension for bringing a plastic toy gun to school. While it was a childish mistake, I knew that zero tolerance policies and this three-day suspension were enough to put a 12-year-old, afro-mexicano-indigenous youth at the door of detention. I intervened, showing up at the Vice Principal’s office to demand they consider the harms of detention on a child. Because I knew the research and understood the trauma that comes with the justice system, the administrator agreed to “do me the favor” of releasing my son to me.

As I spend time with previously impacted youth, I continuously learn that many—if not all—have major, un-attended trauma that shaped their young lives. Like my son, their justice system involvement started with a school incident, running away from home, or committing an offense that would change their life forever. These mistakes lead children towards the punitive justice system, rather than giving them the restorative justice practices they need or programs to address their trauma.

The National Alianza for Latino Youth, along with many other organizations like the Justice Policy Institute, are part of a strong youth justice transformation movement working to decrease the number youth in detention. Over 300 facilities in 40 states across the country are implementing practices that lower youth prison populations while improving public safety. We know this work is especially important for youth of color, which is why I partnered with JPI almost 15 years ago as part of the Building Blocks for Youth initiative to write Donde Esta La Justicia: a call to action on behalf of Latino and Latina youth in the U.S.Justice System. The first of its kind, the report highlighted the over representation of latinx youth in the justice system, who also receive longer sentences and harsher treatment within the system. Because of the work juvenile justice organizations like JPI have done to raise awareness and create change, we are seeing a transformation in youth justice and how we treat our kids.

Research shows that youth can be better served through community based programs that address their unique needs. Mothers watched as generations of children, mostly children of color, have been locked up and traumatized by a system that promises to help them. This Mother’s Day, we honor mothers by saying we hear you and we see you, and that we will work to give you a voice. Only you know the pain of having a child in the justice system, and how important it is to bring them back home.

In the spirit of Madres de los desaparecidos, Casa de Las Madres, and the "Thirteen Grandmothers", I honor and call upon our mothers to rise up in solidarity. This Mother’s Day, I am proud to be a part of a movement working to dismantle the cages built for our youth, and to build la cultura cura—pathways to bring our children home to their mothers, aunties, and grandmothers. 

Marcia Rincon-Gallardo is a member of the National Alianza for Latino Youth Justice and Founder of Noxtin, a juvenile justice reform think-tank and strategic action organization based in Silicon Valley that works with directly impacted communities and system professionals.