Why do so many young men end up in prison? Christiane Pelmas confronts this question with an analysis of youth culture and coming of age.
Currently in the United States, more than 2000 of our young people are serving life without the possibility of parole. 45 of them are dying in prisons right here in Colorado. America, “the land of opportunity” whose Pledge of Allegiance states, “with liberty and justice for all” is the only nation on Earth that sentences its children to life, housing them with serial adult offenders in maximum security prisons, often located hundreds of miles from their families.
Standing in the presence of my older son Henry and my husband’s son Linden, both almost 17, both over 6’1”, both fierce and wild, full of fire and muscle, full of deep—sometimes hidden—tenderness and both rightly, biologically, full of rage about whatever injustice crosses their path in the moment, I am brought to tears by the roaring fire within them. They are programmed for this. We need them. Life cannot continue without them. Thousands of years of careful crafting makes the adolescent male one of the most potent creatures on the planet. They do not simply want to to be powerful, to have a purpose within their culture. They must be acknowledged as having a purpose. They must be given a real life/death reason for this journey of growing up, of bones stretching and muscles thickening, of hormones screaming and vision extending exponentially.
If we cannot give them a life/death purpose, if we as their witnesses and mentors, cannot see the obvious place, power and purpose of these wild young ones, they will find such a purpose on their own. If all we can offer them is an expectation to perform well in our beleaguered and hollow educational system which offers them only frustration, they will find other places for their growing rage, for their passion, for their muscle and their will. With the biology of Life itself exploding within them, they do not have the option of sitting this out. They have two choices: they can choose to follow the expectations our culture at large has for them (to suffocate their wildness and a true healthy need to find their place among the adults around them) or they can set a new course, leaving the well-worn paths of the status quo to find acknowledgment from elsewhere in the dangerous waters of a rebellious hero’s journey. Rarely in this solo journey do they find out who they really are. Rarely do they return to their people with the gifts of their courageous journey. Rarely do they receive what they are needing; the acknowledgement of the culture within which they were born, to which they are beholden. Now, with more than 2000 young men facing life in prison, we can also say they are literally dying for acknowledgement and purpose… Some of these wild young men have even killed for it. It is a beautiful biological necessity for our young men to be given the opportunity to be heroes. It is a sure sign of our own pathology that we cannot see what is really happening here.
In a culture in which we proclaim new enemies every day, we cannot pathologize our young men for inventing some of their own, for killing each other in the streets or killing themselves with drugs. We cannot offer them a nobility and heroism in war, the only acceptable place for the largeness of their warrior bodies and souls, and then act horrified when they perceive enemies right in their own homes, backyards and communities.
If we, in our own lostness and laziness, our oversight, our lack of attention to them (because we are too busy struggling to keep ourselves afloat both financially and spiritually) cause them to search for their own purpose, their own place where they can be as big as the vision and chemistry coursing through their veins…then we cannot punish them when they get it very wrong. If we do not guide them, they will make mistakes, as they do. And the consequences will be catastrophic, as they are. If they, in their attempt to find reflections in the world for the magnificence and miracle of what is coursing in their bodies, find only disappointment, lack of integrity and soul-crushing inertia in the adults around them and if, as a result, they become enraged, terrified and act out, the solution is not to make them the enemy. The only enemy here is our own lack of courage and vision as a culture to evolve in obvious and necessary ways. No matter how egregious these young men’s crimes are, no matter how many labels of pathology and criminality we invent to prove their dangerousness, we cannot lock them away and imagine this is anything other than another crime, a sure sign that we are now spinning out of control. I have come to see the adolescent male behavior, the apathy and the compliance (that we often label as success) and the violence and risk-taking (that we incarcerate), to be the voice of Life itself speaking to us. “Please wake up now. Please open your eyes. Please take a step up and out to see the inevitable catastrophe of this invented entropy.”
How can we turn our own sons into sacrificial offerings to this monster of a culture we have created? How do we stand ourselves in the dead of night when the TV is off, the words worn thin in our Bibles and the wine bottles empty? And what on Earth will we offer next, once we have silenced, medicated, castrated and sacrificed every last wild young man?
Originally appeared at www.TheReWilding.com.