“The world is cold and dark…Who cares?!” That’s what’s on the book cover of Juvenile Offenders: From Big Wheels to the Big House (2018) by Rosemary Jenkins.
The page-turner is a learning journey of what it’s like to survive unthinkable victimization, learn to be accountable and then, in the process, generating personal hopes and dreams.
Juvenile Offenders is an anthology from about two dozen writers, all living in that cold, dark place called prison. That being said, it’s hard not to care after taking in their stories — each from a person directly affected by the criminal justice system. Readers get the opportunity to peek into the writers’ lives through candid commentaries that depict what it’s like to live behind bars. Articles from San Quentin News are included in the anthology, some that I’ve written.
Writer Mark Edwards Vigil is one of the strongest voices in the anthology. He navigates readers chapter by chapter, aptly called Juvenile Offenders, described as “…the collective journey through time of those whose articles are included in it. Each writer has run the gam- ut of the prison system and has come to realize that there is more to life than wasting what remains of it — lost in the grips of drugs, gangs, and criminality.”
Writer Ronald Patterson describes the grip of criminality and coming to realize it as follows: my friends and I were fascinated with players, hustlers, gamblers, dealers, and gangsters because they played by their own rules, despite the law. Ignorantly, we admired and emulated them and would eventually turn into monsters who killed people and destroyed our community.
Patterson’s ability to articulate the impact that his crimes have had on others al- lows readers to witness maturity under the most unlikely circumstances; Patterson il- lustrates the resilience of the human spirit.
Juvenile Offenders is far more than the realization of mistakes and redemption thereof. It is divided into sections that address criminal justice reform advocacy, among the examples: it touches on the benefit of offering aid to college bound incarcerated students; it looks into the “ban the box” campaign (an effort to end employers from asking formerly incarcerated people about prison convictions prior to hiring); as well as the connection between mental health and incarceration.
Here’s what Rosemary Jenkins writes about domestic violence:
“These victims are subject to constant threats, in part, because the offenders have the power to take advantage of their positions in the family hierarchy.” Her goal in Juvenile Offenders is to “define, inform, and educate about domestic violence, offering instruction in on how to recognize such cruel behavior and what to do about it.”
Jenkins’ article in the anthology, The Mentally Ill Do Not Belong in Jail, is also solution based. She writes that people with mental health and drug abuse issues should be treated with appropriate counseling, not punishment.
The chapter, “Vignettes, Poems, and Artwork by In- mates — Writings Meant to Inspire” is the most entertaining section of Juvenile Offenders. It begins with nine pages of artwork that depicts the emotional toll incarceration takes on human beings. From Big Wheels to the Big House is a drawing by A. Wilson that’s used as the book cover. The first image is of a mother holding a child and is placed next to Vigil’s piece, Thinking of You, a greeting card style drawing of flowers and roses—followed by pages of poetry and illustrations that cover subjects such as redemption, cause and effect, aging while incarcerated, and hope.
Juvenile Offenders closes with Vigil writing about get- ting out of prison after 36 years and working toward preventing anyone from go- ing down the road he once traveled. He now teaches youngsters how to recognize and seek authenticity and care from the people around them.