25 Jul 2014 6 Comments
Today we’re back in prison with Tyler, who has a thoughtful and poignant piece of writing to share with us. If you have yet to meet Tyler, he is a young man serving life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for a nonviolent crime he committed as a teenager. Tyler was tried in adult court, where he was treated as adult, and where he was given a sentence far more befitting of an adult, career, violent criminal.
“Kids who commit serious crimes shouldn’t go scot-free. But if they are too young to vote or buy cigarettes, they are too young to spend the rest of their lives behind bars.” ~ Alison Parker, senior researcher with Human Rights Watch
Behind and Beyond the Wall
July 7, 2014 (Monday)
Recently, my father asked me, “If you could go back in time and talk to yourself, what would you say?”
The more I thought, the more I realized how complex a question that is. For example, when do you feel you could have used the advice from the future “you” the most? Do you think you would have listened? Do you know not only what you would say, but how to say it? These are only a few of the questions that come to mind. It makes me wonder…
How many of you out there can relate to this topic?
As for myself, I sure as hell wish I could go back in time. If I could, here is a little bit of what I would say to myself.
“Hey Tyler. It’s me. Well…by me, I actually mean you. The “future you,” that is. I’m here to talk to you about some of the choices you are going to make, and the paths you are going to walk if you continue on your course.
No, don’t shut down. Don’t tune me out, or try to explain. Don’t get angry and all worked up. I know what you are going to say. Hell, I am you, remember?
Ty, I want to address the immediate issue. I know that you are at your breaking point and have been thinking about becoming a gang member.
Actually, I take that back. Thinking is too strong a word. That’s part of the problem. Thinking is something you haven’t been doing much of lately.
You feel as though this is the life you want now – a life representing a “set.” A brotherhood of others who are just as screwed up as us. You find comfort in an identity of “Me against the world.” This inspires purpose and meaning within you. Believe me, I get it.
You ran away from home almost a year ago, and have felt the “freedom” of the streets ever since – late nights spent with the homeboys talking about how “fucked up” life is, a group of teenagers blind to the fact that they cannot see reality for what it is. No rules, no school and no one to point out how lost you really are. In your mind, you are in control and can handle whatever comes your way.
Tyler, the road that you are choosing is dark and cruel, kid. Things are going to become far crazier than you can keep up with. Oh, you will stay alive. You are lucky enough for that. But, how you feel right now will change. The way you look at life is going to shift drastically.
When you come out of this fog and the dust settles, the weight of your choices will bow your shoulders and bend your back. What I mean is you will feel so bad about who you have become, the decision you have made and the circumstances as a result of those choices that life will seem unbearable.
It is going to quickly become brutal for you, Tyler, and you will continue to lose yourself for a long time.
It is not too late! Go home! Life is going to become better with your family. They miss you more than you realize. Right now, you remember the bad times, but they think of the good. They want you back. They need you! The feelings you have of young comrades and “Us against it all” pale in comparison to Christmas with your brothers and sister, Mom tickling your back with her long fingernails, or hiking in the mountains with Dad.
Think Tyler! I know that it is painful to remember this, but don’t push it away. You have been angry long enough. Remember that you are smart, funny, likable. Life will be so much more if you would only go home and give up this way of living.
Damn It! You know this! All I want is for you to see! You are so stubborn, trying to prove that you can make it. Why not prove that you can handle something else? Can you handle a job? High School? College?
No…I can see it in your eyes. You have stopped listening. Even though it is me…you…us.
Instead, you will have to prove you can handle other situations. You will have to prove that you will fight for your shoes in juvenile hall. That you can handle the “hole” in county jail and the “bucket” in prison. You will prove that you can survive race riots and “Torpedoes,” broken bones, block guns and razor blade slashes.
You will have to make it through the betrayal of those “homeboys,” and the hurt you have caused your family and the shame of victimizing innocent people.
But the day will come that you will blink and suddenly you will start to think differently. You will crave the love of your family, and want to be a part of them again, so much it hurts. Realizations will set in that “this person” is not you, nor who you were raised to be. You will see others around you for the examples that they are. Men who went too far for too long and aren’t coming back.
Imagine extending your arms and touching both sides of a concrete cage you call “Home.” It will cause you to cringe, because you will finally be thinking, and your thought will be…
Is this Forever?”
Thanks for reading.
The United States is one of only a few countries in the world that permit children to be sentenced to Life Without Parole. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by every country in the world except the United States and Somalia, forbids this practice
Tyler’s father – Nicholas Frank – has written a memoir of his family’s experiences, which I highly recommend. Nick’s publisher recommended he change all names to protect everyone’s privacy. In the book, Tyler is called Nathan. Here he would like to be known by his own name.
By all accounts, Nathan Frank started out as a terrific kid with the brightest of futures ahead of him. With the advent of adolescence, however, Nathan’s world and his relationships begin to unravel. No matter which way he turns, he seems to find conflict. Eventually, with his powerful personality, he becomes his own generator of conflict as he steadily enters a world of drugs, defiance and ultimately a criminal street gang. Finally, he runs off the rails at full throttle, coming to a hard stop at seventeen years old when he is arrested for his participation in a botched robbery. With his arrest, Nathan is swept into a justice system of condemnation and ruination for those who enter its control. There, the fact that he is a troubled teen means nothing – maybe less than nothing. Nathan is tried as an adult and sentenced to multiple life terms for his crimes. So at seventeen, he enters a world where exploitation, violence and abject hopelessness reign. Forgiveness, rehabilitation, redemption are hardly even notions within our justice and corrections systems. Logically, Nathan should be crushed by his fate. He very nearly is. But, the man Nathan becomes, a man who finds his strength in fundamentally good qualities that he suppressed for so many years, will not be crushed. Somehow, in one of the worst places on earth, he rediscovers the best parts of himself. Destructive Justice follows Nathan from the great promise of his earliest years, to the great tragedy of his adolescence, to the small light of hope for an even greater redemption.
Links to Tyler’s previous essays:
I don’t know of anyone who got through his/her teen years without making mistakes. Some of us made bigger mistakes than others did. And many of us only escaped prison because we didn’t get caught. How is locking a teenager away for life, on his first offense, considered justice?
Thanks for reading.