In Nathanial Hawthorne’s novel, “The Scarlet Letter,” a woman who committed adultery was made to wear the scarlet letter, “A” for adulteress, when she was found out. Women have been punished for centuries for even being suspected of being unfaithful to their husbands, who have always had all the rights.
In today’s America, society has shifted its public shaming, labeling and scheming system and is attempting to brand as many young black males as possible with an “F” for felon. Once “branded,” they are placed upon a much more difficult life spiral of never escaping the penal system built to close in on them from all directions.
The best man in our wedding, a former college basketball teammate and competitor in Junior College, called me much later than usual one night last week. He told me his two boys, aged seventeen and fifteen, had been caught smoking weed in a friend’s car at the local park. His sons were on-track, following in their dad’s footsteps to college, had placed themselves precariously close to the intake chute of the “Branding 101” class of 2018.
My teammate, “M.,” the youngest of eight children himself, had earned his masters degree plus his full-ride four-year basketball scholarship BA degree. He did this as the best way to create a legal path to success and to keep himself from being “branded” during his upbringing while being surrounded by multitudes of dangerous street choices of wanton need. He has raised his sons, both of whom have 3.5 grade point averages, to follow in his college footsteps to become the second generation college graduates in his family.
All that hard work now seems a distant future. Because they are both minors, as long as the older one is not charged and tried as an adult, they may narrowly miss having that permanent “F” branded on them for life. “M” has raised two respectful semi-athletic young men thus far, by allowing them enough rope and freedom of choice to hang themselves. Now that they have had their first real brush with the law, he must decide how to proceed with a more structured, disciplined, and regimented oversight to their remaining high school years. He has made clear the dangers of the system. He has reiterated what they must do in the future for their life success and for them to be eligible to play college sports: to get a good post-college job and employment, they MUST have the ability to pass all future drug tests.
Even with America’s changing views to a more lenient approach to marijuana, many states (theirs and ours included) still view weed as a felony “F.” The boys insisted they were just experimenting with friends no more than a month. Dad’s dilemma now, is to make sure they understand the gravity of the situation-just how close they came to certain systemic involvement. He has to do this without over-reacting and jeopardizing their all-important father-son relationships.
We discussed several ideas (with their mother’s input and support, of course) moving to a more overseen, far less free-time approach. Gone are the days of weekends alone at Mom’s house when she is out of town. Their dad will be even more involved than he already was in his sons’ immediate day-to-day schedule and freedoms. They will be working for dad, completing assigned chores for him instead of for the system.
We discussed his stressing the importance of the lack of idle “down-time” for their immediate trouble-free success, is for their own good. When they are both busy, they have no idle time to get into trouble. “M” is debating their opportunity to run cross- country in the fall, play basketball in the winter and play baseball in the spring season.
Currently only the older son plays basketball. The younger son showed some real flashes of brilliant talent in baseball before he stopped playing a few seasons ago. Finding a solution- one last glorious senior season together, as brothers, on three teams together for the last time- working out with their dad- building those family bonds, to prevent them from ever needing any bail bonds, seems like a small price of their personal liberties for the choice that imperiled their family and their lives
As he goes forward, I know “M.” will strike the right balance of tough love and a real world no-nonsense approach with his sons to insure that they do not ever again become actually “at-risk” to the system. I will support him and the boys with a visit later this summer.
In closing, we discussed the difference in their “doing time” for dad now so they don’t end up doing real time in the system. The good news is, we both had friends and teammates who had similar young age experiences yet still recovered to become successful in life.
Meanwhile, the boys will come to understand that in today’s America, they, as young black men, don’t really get three strikes. They are now down to their Dad’s “zero tolerance” mindset; better to pay Dad now then to pay the system with your life, for life, branded “F” as felons.
Sean C. Bowers is a local progressive youth development coach, author and poet, who has written for the New Journal and Guide the last eighteen years. His recent book of over 120 NJ&G articles detailing the issues is available at V1ZUAL1ZE@aol.com and he does do large scale solutions presentations.