Beacon Press: Teachers' Guide: A Kind and Just Parent
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A Kind and Just Parent by William AyersTeachers' Guide: A Kind and Just Parent: The Children of Juvenile Court



Many people only know "juvenile offenders" from newspaper headlines and terrifying images offered by the media. Distorted and incomplete, these portrayals of "predators" and even "superpredators" have entered our imaginations and shaped our public consciousness.

William Ayers spent five years as a teacher and observer in Chicago’s Juvenile Court prison, the waiting place of this nation’s first and largest institution of juvenile justice, founded by reformer Jane Addams. A Kind and Just Parent is based on his experiences there, and offers a transformative view of young people caught up in the justice system. By revealing the individuals hidden behind cliches, Ayers offers an antidote to poisonous half-truths, bringing us vivid stories of youth struggling with life's largest matters–problems of consequence and conscience. The book reveals unrecognized complexity and points to the possibility of change–in individual lives, and in the ordering of our world.

This Guide offers ways for teachers to use Ayers’ book, along with other works addressing the issues of youth and justice with young people, to begin dialogue, to prompt deeper understandings, and to foster analysis. Complementing A Kind and Just Parent, the Guide points to the hard questions and indicates nuanced answers. And more: the Guide and book prompt readers to action–to movement out from classrooms and libraries into a more participatory civic life. As poet Antonio Machado has written, "We make the road by walking;" we build our democracy by acting.

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Using This Guide

The Guide uses A Kind and Just Parent: The Children of Juvenile Court as the central text around which issues are raised, broad concepts are noted, questions are asked, and activities are suggested. The Guide also refers to a number of other books and articles. All are listed in the Resources section.

The Guide follows the book chapter by chapter, matching topics with activities ranging from discussions to essays to more complex projects. It also includes a list of organizations you can contact, a data section with up-to-date facts about the United States’ penal system, and some definitions that should enhance the book and Guide’s accessibility. To assist with interdisciplinary teaching possibilities, a topic index makes it easy to locate specific subjects in the book. Finally, to help with research, the resources section indicates a host of places to go for more information.

While access to a library will enhance using the Guide, no special equipment, other than a copy of A Kind and Just Parent, is needed to complete any of the projects.

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Title, Cover, and Introduction

Start with the outside of the book.

1. What's in a name?

Every book title signals something about the book’s contents. Why did William Ayers call his book A Kind and Just Parent: The Children of Juvenile Court? Read his interview in this Guide, and the Introduction to the book (pgs. xiii — xviii).

What is irony, and how is the title ironic, as Ayers suggests?

Choose another title for the book, based on your first impressions. Write this down. After reading the book, return to this title, and assess it. Is it appropriate based on what you know now?

2. Everything means something.

Every book cover design is significant as well. Examine the cover of the book you are using. Why do you think the artist chose the image? What mood or effect does the cover create? What creates that feeling–color, placement, words?

3. Read the book.

After reading the book, come back to these questions. Now that you know what the book is about, what do you think about the cover? Design your own cover for a book about juvenile justice. Write about why you chose certain colors, images, and design elements.

Teachers: The next activity can be completed as a discussion, and can also be followed with a reflective writing exercise. The story of Ella Fitzgerald is on page 189 in the book, but discussing labels and stereotypes now will help students understand their preconceptions. You might want to come back to the first question after finishing the book. (Students may be unfamiliar with Ms. Fitzgerald–be prepared to play some of her music!)

1. Beyond labels.

Talk about it: Who are "juvenile delinquents?" After coming up with some ideas about this, read the story that follows.

Ella Fitzgerald, "Juvenile Delinquent"

In 1996 a New York Times reporter named Nina Bernstein wrote a story about a hidden chapter in jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald’s life: She was confined for more than a year in a juvenile reformatory when she was a teenager. Ms. Fitzgerald was reluctant to talk about this part of her life, and when she died in 1996, much of the story died with her. But some details are known: Ms. Fitzgerald’s stepfather abused her after the death of her mother in 1937. An aunt living in Harlem gave 15 year old Ella shelter, but the girl dropped out of school to make money. After she was found "running numbers," authorities sent her to the Colored Orphan Asylum in Riverdale, New York. The crowded orphanage sent "overflow" children to the state reform school. Ella was one of these.

Sometimes sent to the school simply for running away or truancy, the school’s 88 black girls were segregated into two brick "cottages" and disciplined with beatings, solitary confinement on bread and water, and shackling. The school’s English teacher remembered Ms. Fitzgerald as a good student, "I can even visualize her handwriting–she was a perfectionist." The teacher noted that the school had a good music program and was known for its choir, but Ella’s voice never graced its concerts. The choir was all white. "We didn’t know what we were looking at," the teacher said, "We didn’t know that she would be the future Ella Fitzgerald."

Still under 18, Ella was paroled to Chick Webb’s band, and less than a year later she won a talent contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. The school’s last superintendent, Thomas Tunney, asked, "How many Ellas are there? She turned out to be absolutely one of a kind. But all of the other children were human beings, too. In that sense they are all Ellas." Nina Bernstein ended her article with this question: "If she was almost lost to us, how many like her have been?"

What are your reactions to this story? What do you think about Thomas Tunney’s comment? How would you answer Nina Bernstein’s question? Can reform schools and prisons treat their juvenile inmates as if "they are all Ellas?" Can they "learn to look" at their inmates differently? How would they do that? Should they? Why, or why not?

Has a label like "juvenile delinquent" ever been applied to you? Did the label help others to see you better, or to understand you more deeply? Why or why not? Describe that experience, and your reactions to it.

Chapter 1. Mr. B

Teachers: Identity is a concept that surfaces at several points in the book. The next activities explore this idea.

1. Who are you?

What is identity? Look up the word in a dictionary. Does the definition match your understanding? Does it change the way you define yourself? Do people choose their identities? Are they applied to us by others? Give some examples.

How many identities can a person have? List some of yours. What makes these particular identities important to you? Write about where your identities came from (family history, political, cultural heritage, etc.)?

2. Identity poems.

On pages 21 and 22, Mr B. and his students write poems that focus on themselves. Try this exercise.

Teachers: This exercise explores the concept of "authority," and should be engaged after reading the chapter.

3. Who's got the power?

A dictionary (American Heritage 1982, 1985) defines authority this way:

A. The power to command, enforce laws, exact obedience, determine, or judge. B. A person or group invested with this power.

The definition it gives for authoritarian is: Characterized by or favoring absolute obedience to authority, as against individual freedom.

Read Chapter 1 and consider these definitions. Would you describe Mr. B as an authority or authoritarian? Make a case and defend it, using examples from the chapter.

4. Follow the leader?

Mr. B is a leader in his classroom. What are the qualities that show that Mr. B is a leader? Most people are also followers at times. Is it better to be a leader or a follower? What would happen if everyone led and no one followed, or vise versa?

Tell your story:

Describe a time when you were a leader, a follower, or both. Turn your experience into a story. What happened? What was your role in the situation? What led you to make the decisions you made? Who else was involved? Would you have acted differently under other circumstances? Such as? How do you feel about the situation now? Is it possible to be a leader and a follower at the same time? Were you?

Chapter 2. Jane Addams: History and Background

1. How Much Is Too Much?

The juvenile temporary detention center (JTDC) in Chicago is licensed to house 498 children. When A Kind and Just Parent was published, the total population of the JTDC was 843 youth. By what percent was the JTDC over-full? What might result from the over-crowding? What are some solutions to this problem?

It costs over $28,000 a year to incarcerate one young person in Cook County (not including the costs of school). How much did it cost to detain the population of the JTDC the year the book was published?

Chapter 3. Tobs

1. Who are the criminals?

On page 49, Tobs, a teacher at the juvenile detention center tells his class, "Under certain circumstances every one of us will do the wrong thing...I know I'm capable. With the wrong influences, without love and support, with rage and frustration and drugs and guns. "

Do you agree that anyone might, in particular situations, commit a crime? If you agree with Tobs that we are all "more than a single act" then does that mean there are no "criminals"? What might it mean for someone to "live beyond the worst thing" they ever did?

2. Who’s in prison?

In the United States, the number of young black men (ages 20-25) in prison, on probation, or on parole–over 600,000–is greater than the number of black men of all ages enrolled in college–436,000 in 1986 (Mauer, 1990). African Americans are roughly 13% of the population in the United States, which has an overall population of about 300 million (1990 Census).

Calculate the number of African Americans in the United States. Divide that number in half, representing male and female populations (actually, about 51% of the population is female). Then figure out the number and then percent of African American males in the criminal justice system.

Write a letter to The Sentencing Project to check your estimates. Ask them for their most recent statistics. (The address for The Sentencing Project is in the Resources section.)

3. Know your "Miranda" rights.

As a result of a Supreme Court decision in 1966, called Miranda v. Arizona, all police must tell arrested suspects that they have certain rights. These rights are based on the Fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides citizens with a privilege against self-incrimination (testifying against themselves). This rule also applies to young people. If you are placed under arrest, the arresting officers must give you this warning:

You are under arrest. Before we ask you any questions, you must understand what your rights are. You have the right to remain silent. You are not required to say anything to us at any time or to answer any questions. Anything you say can be used against you in court. You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before we question you and to have a lawyer with you during questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer and want one, a lawyer will be provided for you. If you want to answers questions now without a lawyer present you will still have the right to stop answering at any time. You also have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to a lawyer.

On page 54, Frank Tobin says, "Every guy here thinks he can get his statement quashed. It might happen. But I’ve only seen it rarely. They convict themselves time after time. They really have no idea that they have any rights whatsoever, and if anyone read Fredo his Miranda he had no idea what it meant." Officer James Clifton responds, "These guys are…guilty as hell, and everyone, including them, is better off when we lock them up. We read them there rights, sure, but it’s a fine point." Do you agree with Tobs that young people may not understand the Miranda rights, even when they are "given" them? What could be a solution to that problem? What is your response to the officer’s comment?

What should happen if the police officers don’t give this warning to a suspect? Have you ever heard of someone being arrested without being given the warning? Should anything be added to or subtracted from the rights?

Write a kid’s version of the Miranda warning. How will you know if children understand the warning? Test it with children of different ages. Write a paper about the testing experience and your conclusions.

4. Doing your own time

On page 58, Frank Tobin uses the phrase "do your own time." When is it important to do your own time–to stand outside the crowd, or do things that set you apart from the crowd? How do you make that call, and then how do you stay strong against the pull towards conformity? When is it okay, or even important to go along with a crowd? How do you decide whether you are conforming to the group’s choice because it really is your choice as well? How can you tell whether you are conforming because of fear, shame, or other reasons? Write about "doing your own time," using examples from your own life.

Chapter 4. Alex

Teachers: There are descriptions of prisons on pages 88, 172, and 196-200. You could ask your students to read all of these and compare them.

1. Prison: ideas, realities

What do you think prison life is like? Describe it in detail, from waking to sleeping, over the course of one day. Where did you get your ideas about prison?

Alex describes prison life in this chapter. How does his description compare with your own ideas about what prison is like?

Ask your family members if they have had any experiences with prison. Interview those who have, and ask them to describe, in as much detail as they are able to, what their experience was and what the prison was like. Write a paper that combines the various descriptions and viewpoints you have heard and read, to help someone who has never experienced prisons understand what they are like.

2. Prisons : Do the math.

Although the crime rate has been slowly declining since 1973 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1992), the number of state and federal prisoners in the United States increased from 204,000 in 1973 to over 883,000 in 1992 (Department of Justice, 1992). What percent increase does this reflect? If the state and federal prison population continues to increase at roughly the same rate, how many people will be in prison in the year 2000? Graph the growth of the prison population.

Chapter 5. Mediated Images: Media, Crime and Kids

1. Fiction in Truth?

This chapter begins with an account of newspaper reports which were discovered to be untrue during following weeks. Read the chapter, and look up mediated and media. Why do you think Ayers gave the chapter this name?

Discuss how the media presented the newspaper story in distorited ways. Why do you think this happened? What does Bernardine Dohrn say about the issue on pages 69-70? What are some ways for people can detect when news accounts might be inaccurate? Are some topics more susceptible to distortion that others? Which, and why? Base your comments on sections of the chapter.

2. News: fair and accurate?

Teachers: This project requires the use of a daily newspaper.

On page 74, Ayers writes, "Common sense tells us that teen crime is a runaway train–reckless and out of control, unpredictable dangerous, picking up speed." This is followed by a listing of alarming media headlines and front page stories indicating that teenagers are dangerous. Later Ayers reports that a researcher named Mike Males has found that "poverty, not age, correlates most decisively with crime."

Read pages 74-75 closely. Then analyze the national and local sections of a newspaper, looking for stories about teens and crime. Based on your reading and the points made by Ayers and Males, do you think these stories are fair? In the newspaper accounts, how are teens most often presented? After reading the newspaper accounts, how do you feel about teens and about crime?

Choose one newspaper story and re-write it, to create what you think might be a more accurate or fairer depiction of teen crime.

3. "Reading" a word.

The term superpredator is used several times in this chapter. What image comes to mind when you hear that word? Why do you think this term has been applied to some youth? What effect do you think the word has on public perceptions of young people?

4. Knowing neighborhoods.

Teachers: The first part of this project can either be done in class from memory, or as homework. The second part requires some out-of-class work.

Ayers traveling through his city on pages 81-84. Read those pages, and then write about your own journey through a place to which you are connected. Map the way from your home territory to a destination you are less familiar with, addressing these questions as you write:

How did you learn about the boundaries of your area–where you "should" and "should not" go? What were you told would happen if you went beyond the "edge" of the safe area? Did someone teach you this directly, or did you simply absorb the information? How do you travel through your environment: Train, car, on foot, bike? What is wonderful about your travel mode? What is surprising about your journey? Do you feel respected everywhere you go? Why or why not? Describe. What do you know about the history of the places you pass through? What, or who do you fear when you are in areas you are unfamiliar with? What do you learn from traveling beyond the places you are most familiar with?

If you don’t know some interesting history about your place, interview elders in your family or community to gather these stories. Then add them to your paper.

Chapter 6. Ito

    1. A message–wait!

On page 85, the poem by Gwendolyn Brooks offers some advice. What is her poem saying, and to whom is it addressed? What do you think about her advice?

Read the chapter. Ito is also a poet, and four of his poems are included here. After reading about Ito’s life and fears, what kind of advice would you offer him? What should he, or anyone else in prison, remember while they "do their time?"

Chapter 7. Jesus

Teachers: This exercise explores the idea of affiliation, as a prelude to discussing gang membership.

1. Belonging.

The American Heritage Dictionary (1982, 1985) gives this definition for affiliation: An association as a subordinate, a subsidiary, or a member.

What signals do members of the following groups send each other to show affiliation? Signals might show up in these areas: clothing, skin markings, posture, manner, and language. Where else do signs of affiliation appear?

People of different racial and ethnic groups.

People in different professions and jobs (such as doctors, plumbers, dancers).

Sorority and fraternity members.

Gang members.

Police officers

Can you think of other groups and group signals? Why do you think people often show their group identity in some visible way? Do you? Why or why not?

2. Forced or chosen?

Teachers: This exercise jumps ahead several chapters. You may want to read your students the passage on page 181 now, or you can come back to this when the class reads chapter 12.

On page 181, Mr. B discusses the difference between voluntarily chosen associations, such as many clubs that allow people to join or leave as they choose, and other organizations, like gangs, which may not allow that kind of movement. Read this section and discuss the differences between voluntary and involuntary associations. Think of organizations that fit each category. Do you belong to more voluntary or involuntary organizations? Write about the benefits and drawbacks of each, drawing on Mr. B’s comments.

3. Gangs in Jesus’ life.

Read Jesus’ story. Why do you think the gang appealed to him? What did he gain from his affiliation with the gang? What were the drawbacks? Write down the pros and cons of gang involvement, according to Jesus.

What do you think defines a gang? Who defines a gang? Do you belong to any groups that outsiders might call a gang? Is it possible for a group to change from a club into a gang or vice versa? How would you know when this was happening?

4. Stories that need to be told.

Read pages 102-111. What makes this story different from newspaper stories you’ve read? Is there anything in Jesus’ story that surprises you? What kind of information is included here that isn’t usually in newspapers? How do you think the story would have been reported in a newspaper?

Research and then write a journalistic account of teens in your school, community, or city. Call your local news bureau to find out which reporters cover stories about teens. Ask if you can interview them and, if possible, discuss with them the teen stories you've researched and written. Ask if there's any chance the local papers will publish them.

Contact Children’s Express for information about youth-created journalism. The address is in the Resources section.

Chapter 8. Girl Talk

1. Girl trouble/boy trouble.

Are boys or girls more dangerous? Who gets in trouble more often? Do you think boys and girls get treated the same, or differently, when they get in trouble?

Read this quote from a book called Girls: Delinquency and Juvenile Justice, by Meda Chesney-Lind and Randall Sheldon (1992):

"Girls in trouble, particularly those in the juvenile justice system, share many problems with their male counterparts. They are more likely to be poor, to have come from disrupted and violent families, and to be having difficulties in school. [T]he male to female ratio for violent index crimes (homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault) is 9:1 and the ratio for the most serious index property crimes (burglary, motor vehicle theft and arson) is about 11:1 (27-8)."

National reports show that while girls are committing more crimes, and more kinds of crimes now than in previous years, they are still less likely than boys to become involved in violent crimes (Chesney-Lind & Sheldon 1992). Continue your discussion, responding to this information. How does it change your perceptions of girls in prison?

2. How many girls? How many boys?

When the book was written, there were 804 boys at the juvenile temporary detention center (JTDC), and 39 girls, making a total of 843 youth. What percent of the overall JTDC population was female?

In 1994, 25% of all juveniles arrested were female. How does this compare to the percentage of girls at the JTDC?

3. Recording sexuality.

On page 115 the author says that "Boys are still percieved as a threat to society because of violent or criminal behavior, girls because of sexual behavior. Do you agree with the author’s belief that our society has different standards and expectations for boys and girls? Do you think it makes sense to record information about girls’ sexual histories, but not boys’? Why or why not?

4. Same place, different stories; A poet in prison

Incarcerated girls and young women may have some of the same kinds of experiences as incarcerated boys and young men. But some of their experiences may also be different. Read this poem written by a woman in prison:

After My Arrest


among the everyday

pieces lost

a bright pink Indian cotton shirt


worn through months of

nursing, quickly unbuttoned

to bring the rooting baby to my breast

her head in its

soft, filmy folds


set adrift among the debris

of police searches, overturned lives

tossed into a pile of orphaned clothes

and taken to a tag sale

where my friend,

recognizing it,

bought it

to keep me close


and wore it one day

to bring my daughter for a visit,

greeting me cheerfully,

"Remember this?"


and I laughed,

scooping up my baby

to carry her into the toy-filled playroom

where she rode me, her horsey

among the oversized stuffed animals

until visiting hours were over


when I stood at that great divide,

the visitor’s exit gate,

and watched my shirt and my child


with my friend

Judith Clark, reprinted from Aliens at the Border, The Writing Workshop, Bedford Hills Correctional Facility

In what ways does this poem reflect the particular experience of a woman in prison? How might this poem have been different if the poet were a young man writing about visiting with his child? Write your own poem, imagining that you are a young parent in prison visiting with your child. Follow the format of the poem you have just read, or create your own format.

Chapter 9. Andrew

1. Laws: right and wrong

On pages 126 through 128, students in the detention center discuss new and proposed laws and decide that some are good and some are bad. What are their reasons, and do you agree with them?

Write about a situation or law today that you feel is unjust. What actions do you recommend taking to change the situation? Would your actions include breaking any laws? Which laws? Which laws should never be broken? Why do you think this?

Choose a historic situation from the list below (or research another one), and investigate how the people involved attempted to change their circumstances. What happened? Who was involved? Did they break laws? Which? Were their actions justified, in your opinion? Were they successful?

1. Amistad. Start with the movie, but don’t stop there.

2. John Brown and party, at Harper’s Ferry. Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks, is a fictional account of John Brown’s life. Use other sources as well.

3. The Stonewall Rebellion (June 28, 1969), considered the birth of the modern gay and lesbian rights movement.

4. Union organizing in the United States, and the history of the labor movement. Watch the movie Matewan, by John Sayles.

5. The campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States (1970s - 1980s). Start with popular press accounts (like newspapers, and Time/Newseek).

2. When is doing the wrong thing the right thing?

Is it ever okay to break a law? What about when the law is unjust? For example, during the centuries that slavery was legal in North America, some citizens risked their lives and freedom helping enslaved people to escape. Should these people have been punished for breaking the law? Why or why not?

In the 1930s, the African American writer Nelson Peery faced situations that were both legal and unjust. This is an example of his reaction to discrimination he faced as a youth:

The White Castle hamburger house was a concentration of everything we hated. They refused service to blacks, and that miniature white castle was, to us, the symbol of white supremacy. We declared a war on the one located at Lake and Eleventh Avenue.

We planned our attack carefully. Waiting until evening covered us, we positioned ourselves across the street. Since Chuck was the fastest runner, he went in to buy a hamburger. They refused to serve him and ordered him out of the shop. The manager stood in the doorway to make sure he didn't try to get back in. Chuck screamed...

The manager rushed forward and Chuck hit him in the face with a rock. We ran into the middle of the street and threw [more rocks]. First the big bay windows went, and when the customers ran out we pelted them...

We went back once a year for the next two years. We never again gave a warning. We would smash the windows with a volley of rocks and pelt whoever ran out. White Castle wouldn't integrate, and I have never eaten one of their hamburgers.

Nelson Peery, from Black Fire: The Making of An American Revolutionary

Why do you think Peery and his friends chose this course of action? Do you agree or disagree with the decisions they made? What would you have done under similar circumstances?

Chapter 10. Adolescence

1. Rites of passage.

Many cultures create "rites of passage" that mark and celebrate the transition from childhood to adulthood, from carefree to more responsible. Some of these are formal–bat and bar mitzvahs, quincineras, confirmations–others are of-the-moment. What marked this transition for you? Was it a formal or more personal ritual? What did the ritual or ceremony teach you about becoming an adult? Was it a happy lesson, or disturbing? Was your "rite of passage" based on your age, physical changes, or something else? Would you have your own children participate in a "rite of passage" like the one you experienced?

After reading the chapter, write about how rites of passage, both formal and informal, are important to the young people in the book.

Create a rite of passage that you consider ideal–the kind you think young people should experience. Support your ideas by describing how this ceremony would have benefited the young people in the Juvenile Detention Center.

2. Guns and murder.

Teachers: The next project requires students to jump ahead in the book for some statistics, and also asks them to do some outside research. Internet access will speed the process, but some telephone and library fact-seeking will work as well.

On page 178, Ayers writes that firearms were used in 72% of homicides in the United States in 1994, and that the homicide rate is 530% higher here than in England. On page 148, the author asks Mario how fast he could buy a gun, if he had $200 dollars. Read this passage (the last paragraph) and discuss the connection between Mario's response and the two statistics.

Research how countries other than the United States regulate the sale of firearms, perhaps starting with the two countries closest to the U.S., Mexico and Canada. What are the homicide rates in those countries? In what percent of those homicides are firearms used? How many of the homicide victims are teenagers? How many of the gun-users are teenagers? Write a paper that responds to the differences and similarities between the countries. Based on your discoveries, would you recommend changing the laws in the United States?

Chapter 11. Freddie

1. Drugs: Decriminalize or legalize?

On page 158, Merce reads a news article in class, which starts a discussion about drugs. Mr. B makes a distinction between decriminalize and legalize. Finish reading the chapter. What is the difference between legalizing and decriminalizing, and how do those terms apply to drugs? Choose a position and debate it with a classmate. Bolster your argument with examples from the book. You may also want to contact some of the organizations in the Resource section, to find out their positions on the issue.

Chapter 12. Punishment

1. Violence or discipline?

How much violence towards children is too much? In Sweden, it is against the law to spank and use other forms of physical punishment on children. Swedish citizens took this measure in an attempt to create a less violent society. Do you think a law like this might reduce the number of children in the juvenile justice system? What other effects might a law like this have? Should parents who break this law be sent to prison? What disciplinary measures could parents use to replace physical forms? What kinds of support would parents need to make a law like this effective?

Write about a time when you or someone you know experienced a physical punishment. Do you think the punishment was fair? Was it effective? What do you remember most about the experience? Would you use a similar kind of punishment with your own children or recommend the punishment to other people? If not, what alternate form would you recommend, and why?

2. Chains and shame.

On page 183, a teen reads a newspaper article that reports the return of prison chain gangs. In the article, a State Senator suggests that "Some people work well under humiliation." Do you agree with his statement? When might humiliation be an effective punishment?

Write an argument in favor of, or against public humiliation punishments, considering these questions: Should public humiliation be used as a form of punishment? When should it be used? On whom? For how long? For what kinds of crimes or broken rules?

Have you ever been publicly humiliated? What do you remember most about the experience? Was it being used as a punishment? What lessons did you learn? Do you "work well under humiliation"?

For more information on chain gangs read the New York Times Magazine article "The Chain Gang Show" by Brent Staples, September 17, 1995, and an article in The Source by Susan Carpenter, "Grave Diggaz," December 1998, (111), p. 62-3.

3. Changing people: What works?

In a radio interview, William Ayers described Mr. B’s attitude about punishment: "There were a couple of standard, simple punishments in these classrooms. Mr. B. had kids ‘stand on the wall.’ It was five minutes for cursing, ten minutes for threatening. He was saying, the punishment should fit the crime–there are consequences, but they aren’t crippling or life-changing. The consequences are that you have to pay more attention."

After reading that quote and this book, and thinking about the various punishments described–from chain gangs to prison time, what kinds of prison reforms would you suggest to make sure that punishments aren’t "crippling or life-changing"? Why is this an especially important consideration for juvenile prisons? Support your argument with data you find in this chapter.

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After reading the book:

1. Changing the status quo.

After reading the stories of these young men and women in prison, examining the Data section, and contacting some of the prison and human rights organizations in the Resource section, what are your questions and conclusions? Knowing what you know now, what will you do?

Some ideas:

You may want to start or participate in a letter-writing campaign.

You might do more research and write a newspaper story.

You could write letters to young people in prison.

You will have many ideas of your own. Don’t wait–do something!

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Topic Index:

Abuse: 36-9, 62

Alcohol/drugs: 63, 65, 130, 158-61, 180, 197

Audy Home: see Juvenile Temporary Detention Center

Automatic Transfer: see Transfer (to adult court)

Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center: see Juvenile Temporary Detention Center

Crime: 73-8, 175-80

Date rape: 121-23

Family Values: 190

Gangs: 105, 110, 142

Gault case: 26-7

Gender: 112-24

Guns: 106, 109, 148, 163, 178-80

Jane Addams: 24-26

Juvenile Court: xiv-xvii, 24-44, 79

Juvenile Temporary Detention Center: 13-7

Love: 94-5, 110-11, 117-19, 124, 167

Media: 68-81

Police: (harassment by) 103, 108

Race/racism: 30, 47, 87-91, 165

School: xiv-xv, 12-6, 56, 143-4

Sex: 65, 116-19, 121-24

Sexuality: 114-19, 122-24

Station adjustment: 31-2

Transfer (to adult court): 32, 36, 115

Violence: 8-9, 62, 79-81


  • There are more than five million people in the United States incarcerated or on probation, or parole, an increase of 179 percent since 1980.
  • Almost one in three (32%) young black males in the age group 20-29 is under some type of correctional control (incarceration, probation, or parole), as is 1 in 15 young white males, and 1 in 8 young Hispanic males.
  • Women are the fastest growing prison population.
  • 76% of women in prison have children.
  • 54% of women in prison are women of color.
  • An estimated 41% of female inmates report being either physically or sexually abused at some time in their lives before their incarceration.
  • 94% of adult prison inmates are male, 6 % are female. In juvenile institutions, girls are 11% of those in custody, and 89% are boys.
  • More than 3,500 children are housed in prisons with adults.
  • 65% of state prison inmates in 1991 had not completed high school.
  • 33% of jail inmates in 1991 were unemployed before entering jail.
  • 32% of inmates in 1991 who had been free for at least one year before their arrest had annual incomes of under $5,000.
  • 68% of those sentenced to state prisons 1990 were convicted of non-violent crimes, including 32% for drug offenses and 31% for property offenses.
  • Most juveniles–71.9%–are incarcerated for non-violent offenses. In 1994, 28.1% of juveniles were incarcerated for violent offenses.
  • 57% of jail inmates in 1989 reported they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time they committed their offense.
  • 1 in 4 jail inmates in 1989 was in jail for a drug offense, compared to 1 in 10 in 1983; drug offenders constituted 21% of 1991 state prison inmates and 61% of 1993 federal prison inmates.
  • Black males have an 18% chance of serving time in a juvenile or adult prison at some point in their lives; white males have a 3% chance.
  • By 1990 the average sentence for black people in the United States was 49% higher than that for white people.

All the above data are for the United States.

Sources: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Corrections Compendium, Federal Judicial Center (The General Effect of Mandatory Minimum Prison Terms, 1992), National Council on Crime and Delinquency, National Women’s Law Center (Washington, D.C.), Prison Activist Resource Center, and The Sentencing Project (see Organizations), The Nation (November 16, 1998).


Parole - Release from prison before the full sentence has been served, granted at the discretion of a parole board.

Probation - A system of supervised freedom, usually under a probation officer, for persons convicted of a criminal offense. Typically the probationer must agree to certain conditions such as getting a job, avoiding drugs, and not traveling outside of a limited area.

Misdemeanor - A criminal offense, less serious than a felony, punishable by a prison sentence of one year or less.

Felony - A serious criminal offense punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year.

Attorney/Client Privilege - Whatever you tell your attorney about your case is secret and confidential. The information cannot be disclosed to anyone without your permission.

Reasonable Doubt - The standard used to determine the guilt or innocence of a person criminally charged. To be guilty of a crime, a person must be proved guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." Reasonable doubt which justifies acquittal (innocence) is doubt based on evidence or lack of evidence, and doubt which a reasonable man or woman would have.

Curfew - The time, varying across the United States, after which young people may not be outside on the streets.

Vandalism - A crime to damage property by drawing or defacing it with paint or other substances. Graffiti (tagging) is considered vandalism and is a crime.

Arrest - A person suspected of a crime, is taken into custody by the police.

Stop and Frisk - If a police officer reasonably believes a person is behaving suspiciously and is likely to be armed, the officer may stop and pat down the person to check for weapons.

Probable Cause - A reasonable belief that a crime has been committed and that the person accused has committed the crime.

Mob Action - If you are in a group of two or more people and cause a disturbance, you can be charged with Mob Action.

Accountability - A person is responsible for the conduct of another when he is involved either before or during the offense and has the intent to help, tries to help, or agrees to help commit the criminal act.

Miranda Rights - After a person is arrested, before the police may start asking him or her any questions, the arresting officer must inform them of the following rights: You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of law. You have the right to a lawyer and to have one present during questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you before questioning begins.

Transfer to Adult Court - Depending on your age, record, and the crime you are charged with, your case can be transferred to an adult court, and if convicted of a crime in adult court, a long prison sentence could result.

Source: Street Law Education Project, a joint project of the Children and Family Justice Center of the Northwestern University School of Law Legal Clinic and the Youth and Family Justice Project of the Southwest Youth Collaborative (Chicago).


Amnesty International

322 8th Avenue

New York, NY 10001

(212) 807-8400


This London-based human rights monitoring organization is famous for its successful letter-writing campaigns and thorough documentation of human rights abuses around the world. Their report on human rights issues in the United States, Rights For All, is available from the address above.

Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice

1622 Folsom Street, 2nd Floor

San Francisco, CA 94103

The Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice is a public policy organization which engages in research and provides technical assistance on criminal and juvenile justice issues. The Center issues reports which will be useful to students researching the juvenile justice system.

Children and Family Justice Center

Northwestern University

School of Law - Legal Clinic

357 East Chicago Avenue

Chicago, IL 60611-3069

(312) 503-0396

Fax (312) 503-0953

The co-creator (with the Southwest Youth Collaborative, see below) of the Street Law Education Program and curriculum, which trains young people to be peer educators, to teach other youth and community members about the law.

Children’s Express

1331 ‘H’ Street, NW

Suite 900

Washington, DC 20005

(202) 737-7377

Fax (202) 737-0193


Children’s Express is a news service reported and edited by teenagers. They have headquarters in Washington, and news bureaus in several U.S. cities.

Human Rights USA Resource Center

310 Fourth Avenue South

Suite 1000

Minneapolis, MN 55415-1012


Fax (612)341-2971


The goal of Human Rights USA is to help create a new level of awareness about the scope, relevance and meaning of human rights in the USA, and to foster action to guarantee these rights. Contact them to order their curriculum guide: Human Rights Here and Now.

Prison Activist Resource Center

P.O. Box 3201

Berkeley, CA. 94703

A good resource for materials about women in prison, and political prisoners in the United States.

The Sentencing Project

918 F. Street, N.W.

Suite 501

Washington, D.C. 20004

(202) 628-0871

Fax (202) 628-1091

The Sentencing Project has issued a number of reports that pull together national data on criminal justice topics.

Southwest Youth Collaborative

3154 West 63rd Street

Chicago, IL 60629

(773) 476-3534

Fax (773) 476-3615

Co-creator, with the Children and Family Justice Center, Northwestern University, of the Street Law Education Program and curriculum.

United Nations


2 United Nations Plaza

Room DC2-853, Dept. C005

New York, NY 10017

(212) 963-8302

(800) 253-9646

Fax (212) 963-3489



Numerous publications on topics from the World Summit for Children to the Yearbook on Human Rights. Excellent research resources.


Bernstein, N. (June 23, 1996). "The gap in Ella Fitzgerald’s life." New York Times.

Bureau of Justice Statistics. (1992). Crime in American Households. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Bureau of Justice Statistics. (March 1991). Women in Prison. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Carpenter, Susan. (December 1998). "Grave diggaz." The Source, (111), p. 62-3.

Chesney-Lind, M. and Sheldon, R. (1992). Girls: Delinquency and Juvenile Justice. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks - Cole Publishing Company.

Clark, J. (1997). "After my arrest." In"Aliens at the Border, Hettie Jones (ed). Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York: Segue Books.

Males, Mike. (1996). The Scapegoat Generation: America’s War on Adolescents. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.

National Council on Crime and Delinquency. (1994). Juveniles Taken Into Custody Research Programs, Total Admissions for Public and Private Facilities. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Prison Activist Resource Center. (1998). Eleven Things You Should Know About Women in Prison in the U.S. Berkeley, CA.: Prison Activist Resource Center.

Peery, N. (1994). Black Fire: The Making of a Black Revolutionary. New York: The New Press.

Staples, Brent. (1995, September 17). "The chain gang show." The New York Times Magazine, p. 61.


We are grateful to reprint the following copyrighted material: From Black Fire: The Making of a Black Revolutionary, by Nelson Peery. Copyright 1994 by Nelson Peery. Reproduced by permission of The New Press. From Street Law Education Project, by the Legal Clinic of the Children and Family Justice Center, "Street Law Program," Cheryl Graves, Staff Attorney. Used by permission of the Children and Family Justice Center.


I am grateful to Bill Ayers, whose mentoring friendship just flows.

Thanks also to Carrie Bryant and Pat Walker for research assistance.

About the Authors

Therese Quinn is an education activist and scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She can be contacted at:

William Ayers is professor of education and University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago.