Tag Archives: youth

On this birthday I have an ask

Never been a big fan of birthdays or naming a desired gift.  Somewhat of a personal carryover from growing up without many material items and watching my mom provide as best she could from paycheck to paycheck along with limited help from government and occasional help from family members.  My siblings and I weren’t raised on the ilk of “closed mouths don’t get fed” but more of “show humility and dignity about yourself and be thankful for what you have”.  Neither philosophy is wrong and both have their benefits.  We just knew if we wanted more we had to work for it.

On this birthday, I’ll be begging that you feed me- my soul.  To do this my first ask is that you please write my son, Andrew Platt.

Andrew lives in the Louisiana State Penitentiary.  He’s served 12 years of a 75 years sentence for armed robbery.  You can go here to read more about his case from the perspective of the State of Louisiana.  His address is:
Mr. Andrew K. Platt #509383
Louisiana State Penitentiary
Gator 4L3
Angola, LA 70712

Andrew and I met when I lived in Shreveport, Louisiana while serving at Barksdale Air Force Base.  He was one of many players on one of my AAU basketball teams.  His life circumstances were some of the toughest I had come across.  After I got out of the Air Force in 1997 and moved to Fort Collins, CO to work for HP, some parents on the teams and adults in Andrew’s life felt that he would benefit from my discipline and structure as well as being out of the corrosive environment he was living in in the “Bottoms” of Shreveport.  His father gave parental guardianship to me on October 1, 1997 so Andrew could join me in Colorado.

That lasted just over a year before he pushed hard enough and my patience and parenting skills were weak enough to send him back to Shreveport.  He made great leaps in so many parts of his life.  Academically he was above a “B” average in a more rigorous curriculum.  He was able to order at a sit-down restaurant, understand basic table manners, display common etiquette, and gained self-confidence to achieve no matter the place, setting, or challenge.  That didn’t change him being a product of his environment and me being an immature parent of a teenager with my own strict regiment from my life growing up in and surviving life in the projects.

After back in Shreveport, Andrew would transition from the homes he previously lived.  A family who also was on the basketball team I coached in Shreveport and who helped facilitate his move to Colorado was in touch with him on occasion and attempted to assist where possible.  Unfortunately, Andrew would eventually go to foster care.  He remained in foster care until graduating high school, emancipating and going to college at University of Louisiana-Monroe.

I was able to travel to Louisiana to spend time with him while he was in college.  I’d later learn from a different old basketball family Andrew had left college and was back in Shreveport.  He spent a quick time in the US Army and even had a chance to spend a day with my mom while he was at Basic Training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, SC.  But he would have an early exit.  Some point later, I’d learn he was in jail.

You writing Andrew will help reduce the feeling of isolation and boost his morale from not focusing on the norms of caustic life in prison.  It also helps him to have a view on life beyond prison.  I believe he won’t serve that unjust sentence and when he gets out it’s important that he can connect with “reality” beyond the prison cells.  And it helps boost his cause when evaluation is done regarding his readiness to leave.  A post card, a joke, a few sentences, a few questions, pictures, a newspaper article, a complaint about me, or anything you choose to write is appreciated.

My next ask is more of an ask to and admonishment of myself.  Talk about your personal and family encounters with law enforcement and corrections.  A black person in jail is often as much a statement of America’s legal, education, and health systems as it is a about the action that resulted in the arrest.  We have to talk about the ridiculousness of a bail system that forces jail time because people are poor versus guilty.  Talk about a system that looks at black children and encourage school suspension, labels of learning disabled and emotionally handicapped, and fast-tracks to a regiment of government punishment without due resources to address underlying struggles, hunger, and family conditions which were directly created by government policy and laws.  Talk about discrepancy in sentencing, in charges brought, in searches of property, in property seizure, in stops by officers, in recommended charges by probation and parole.

None of these things would change the fact that Andrew knowingly conspired with others to fake as if there was a threat of a fast food restaurant being robbed at gun point by an unknown robber (Andrew).  He’s guilty of that and respects that he’s to be accountable for that crime.  However, 75 years is a life sentence.  A sentence all too often given to the poor, black, and brown so the injustice system can ensure there’s a population to provide profit with the industrial prison complex.

Please help me make sure Andrew’s name isn’t forgotten.  Don’t let him just be prisoner #509383.  Thanks in advance for the birthday gift.

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Grooming Leaders versus Prisoners

Murder, armed robbery, rape, and assault with a deadly weapon were some of the charges being faced by the young men I spent time with yesterday (Saturday, April 26, 2014) while at the Sacramento County Juvenile Detention Facility.  I sat and listened to them, hugged and dapped them, talked trash to them, laughed with them, gave them pointers on exercise, played basketball with them, and just built rapport.  The time was huge in helping me to correlate many events and feelings I’ve faced as a child and as an adult.

As much as I hurt for the victims of the crimes these young men are charged with, I also hurt  and want for these young men.  For the most part, I related to their stories from my own childhood or from time spent in communities I’ve lived as an adult.  I believe love and structure will do so much more for them and society than punishment and incarceration.  This is separate from the justice, compensation, and help clearly needed for the victims of the charges.

Some of the young men reminded me of myself as an adolescent and I told them that the difference between me being where I am versus having to also struggle through the situation they’re in might simply be because I was a faster runner than some of the friends I grew up with and those friends didn’t “rat” me out when they got caught by the police.  Today, I’m frequently viewed as a clean-cut, no non-sense, up and coming leader in a Fortune 20 company.  And that is an accurate description of who I am and how I carry myself at work.  It’s also frequently assumed that I was reared in a middle-class house with both parents who owned a vehicle, benefited from a private school education, and was an A-B student in school.  All of those are incorrect assumptions.

Despite not liking what I heard from some of the young men at juvenile hall, I related to what was shared with me.   Minus most of the violent acts I could personally associate in some way.  Before the age of 14, I had plenty of experience with the wrong side of the law including criminal damage to property, petty theft, underage drinking, drug possession, and one near-reported instance of breaking and entering and attempted rape.  I was lucky in avoiding a police record.

The summer following 7th grade, I was caught shoplifting in a K-Mart.  Luckily the store officer was also a local police officer who recognized me as one of the better athletes from my All-Star baseball team and I was released to my mom.  At the time, I thought being released to the police was far better than being released to my mom… and so did my behind after getting home.  Less than 6 months later I was questioned by police following significant property damage to cars from rocks being thrown at a train transporting the vehicles.  There simply wasn’t enough evidence to establish a case against me or any of the other potential co-defendants, but again, that didn’t save me from my mom but it saved me from a police record.  The summer following 8th grade, I was shipped to Flint, MI to be with my uncle who was serving in the US Army.  Most of my childhood mates weren’t so lucky to have such an outlet.

Looking back at my poor choices as a child, I believe a 2014 version of me could very easily be one of the young men that I visited yesterday.  In contrasting my adolescence with the young men I spent time with yesterday and guys I grew up with, I found (non-scientific assessment) a few things of note.  1. To a person, they had an “initial” recorded contact with police before they ever got to their current crimes to get them in juvenile hall.  2. One of their early contacts,  was for something that my 17 year old son or others in my upper middle class community could have easily dismissed with a “low cost” attorney, 3. They remained in or were returned the same home environment and/or community following their initial contact with police, and 4. Having no mature or positive outlet to communicate and work through emotional and mental stress without drugs.  Other symptoms include growing up in homes with a single or no birth parent, low-incomes, failing grades, contact with foster care system, access to guns, and incarceration of family members.

Regardless of social situations and personal circumstances, we’re a nation of laws  and it’s absolutely appropriate to hold people accountable for their actions.  Thus I’m more focused on actions that can be taken to prevent or reduce the likelihood of children getting to a point where such serious crimes seem to be an acceptable option based on illogical thinking or external influences.  Regardless of the outcome of the current charges being faced, most of these young men will some day be released and it’s to all of our financial benefit (tax dollars) and personal safety (future crime potential) that their return to society is much improved from the life they lived before being incarcerated.  And who knows, maybe, just maybe they did not commit the crime they’ve been charged with.  As far fetched and unbelievable that might be to some, I had a personal experience of advocating for a young man in 2005 where the police clearly got the wrong person and a high school student was wrongly incarcerated for 5 months.

My hope is we (American society) will work more diligently to 1. stop escalating the criminalization of American children for minor crimes which typically become learning lessons for those above working class incomes, 2. redirect children and their families to community service and improvement projects that include counseling versus places of incarceration following “contact” with police, and 3. treat drug usage more as a mental or medical condition versus a criminal act.  Though, I don’t believe these steps alone will stop the criminal activity of all children, I’m confident they will result in more cases of career leaders and fewer prisoners.  Essentially, I think our country greatly benefits by having more 40 somethings like me who were lucky than to be caught in a rotating door of a criminal justice system that hurts tax payers, brings little to no benefit to our economy, and potentially threatens the safety of others.

I also encourage others to seek the experience I had yesterday.  I’m going back and could use the help of many others to do the same across the nation.