Review of “Juvenile Offenders: From Big Wheels to the Big House”

Review of Juvenile Offenders: From Big Wheels to the Big House

By Meredith Coleman McGee, Acquisition Editor/Publisher, Meredith Etc

With comments from James Howard Meredith

Juvenile Offender's HB coverJuvenile Offenders: From Big Wheels to the Big House lets the cat out of the hat. The cat stinks. Readers will smell the funk.

These stories awaken sleepy souls. Hopefully, sweeping changes will transpire. My second cousin Ronald Patterson contributed several pieces to this work. Our family migrated to Los Angeles, California in the 1950s. 

In 1980, at age 16, Ronald became a juvenile offender and entered California’s prison system. 

James Howard Meredith, the first Black to enroll at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) during the Jim Crow south reviewed Juvenile Offenders: From Big Wheels to the Big House.

Meredith said, “I was touched the most by the writings of Ronald. I have been corresponding with him for over 25 years. I have a cabinet full of letters from Ronald. I bought him two typewriters over the years, and now he is a great writer.”

Below are the words of James Meredith about Juvenile Offenders: From Big Wheels to the Big House.

These are stories of cure that every Christian should read. Ronald Patterson is the        youngest of my many first cousins. I have known him since he was 10 or 11 years old. I exchanged letters with him weekly for more than 25 years. I have learned a lot from Colonel Ronald Patterson. The most important thing I have learned is “prevention is better than cure.

On the national level, judicial reform activists are springing up. The student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida have made their quest clear, “Human life is more important than gun sale profits.” Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed new gun laws because of the public cries of Florida’s emerging activists. The youth’s #NeverAgain movement is well funded and going very strong! They launched a March on Washington which garnered over 750 million onlookers. They even visited my hometown this Summer. Prison reform and judicial reform are equally important.

The Hip Hop Artist, Activist, and Actor Common was in DC with the #NeverAgain movement. Ironically, Common’s tweet,  At $75,560, housing a prisoner in Califonia now cost more than a year at Harvard revealed the extraordinary cost of mass incarceration. Common, John Legend and others are prominent social justice advocates. Books by Angela Davis describe in detail issues related to the Prison Industrial Complex.

In the wake of The State of Mississippi losing 16 inmates while in custody during August of 2018, the community seeks accountability and massage change.  Recently, inmate activists jumped on the national stage and participated in 19 days of resistance from August 21 to September 9. They refused to work, engaged in hunger strikes, and boycotted commissaries. It goes without saying that inhuman prison conditions are counter productive toward rehabilitation.

Author/Activist Rosemary Jenkins has been stirring the pot too.  She noted in her article Restorative Justice: Save the Prisoners, Save the Neighborhood:

The purpose of prison is not only to punish but also to rehabilitate, to teach inmates how to take responsibility for their past actions, to provide education and training opportunities for eventual return to society where they can be contributors… 

Too often, that is not happening. A large proportion of prisoners are not learning how to re-integrate into their respective communities upon their release…

Today, this day, we can no longer remain silent while men of color in particular die in the ‘killing fields’ where there are disproportionately too many villains to call by name.

Anthony Andrew Ferguson, an adult male, who entered the California Prison System in 2002, at age 17, posed the following questions to readers:

If we do not help these once-young people resolve their issues, what will happen to them and to us once they are eventually released? The kind of rehabilitation that we envision will not have been achieved and recidivism will be the eventual result—often from new crimes that are even worse than the original. If these inmates are not treated as human beings capable of reform, what can be expected of them when they are re-introduced into society?

Ferguson and Patterson paid the ultimate price to learn a lesson about crime. These offenders have spent most of their lives behind prison walls. They came of age on the yard, in cell blocks, and while witnessing race wars. The dysfunction inside prison walls from sagging pants to extreme individualism spill out into the streets.

The incarceration of juvenile offenders is a very complex issue in our society. I have lived long enough to feel the sting of both sides of this equation having fought for the humanity of an offender as well as advocated for the vindication of a victim.

A few short months ago, my husband, his first cousin, and I sat at the table with the Assistant District Attorney Kimalon Campbell in our hometown on behalf of my aunt-in-law, the late Odessa McGee, who was raped and murdered by a 17-year-old juvenile offender, who had been adopted into the family as an infant through the State of Mississippi’s foster care system. Odessa’s demise hurts very deeply. Closure of the case gave us some solace but it did not make us whole.

James Meredith proposed that the root of Ronald’s juvenile delinquency was ‘family breakdown.’ Ronald’s parents divorced when he was an toddler. Ronald was raised in the Pueblo Housing Complex. In the absence of his father Ronald looked up to his peers who generally offered misguided advice. Like them, Ronald latched onto the highway which led him to hell. Our race has lost millions of Black males on this highway (War on Drugs, Mass incarceration, Black American Gang era).

Several juvenile offender writers confessed to becoming drug dealers and criminalized in prison while others discussed their long and rugged road to reform. Several stated that they joined gangs in prison for protection and ending up extending their stay an additional 10 to 30 years. According to several writers, prison survival is as narrow as thin air because any and everything goes on behind prison walls.

I once heard the late Afeni Shakur, mother of slain rapper Tupac Shakur, say to a crowd at Jackson State University’s eCenter, “We have to do something about the conditions of our prisons.”

Rosemary Jenkins, Los Angeles Progressive, and others who facilitated a writing program contend change is necessary. These advocates must be commended for using their resources to help rehabilitate juvenile offenders.

One juvenile offender, Mark Edward Vigil, comes to mind. He is one of the writers in this series; he is home. He made it. He spent 36 years in California’s prison system. He participated in this writing project and found the strength to leave the pain in prison and has focused on his freedom every since. Vigil has already broken records. He has been home working – two years and counting.

Shame on a country which allows human mayhem to reign with the gods. Glory to decent lawmakers ready to put their pens to paper to transform the Prison Industrial System.

Power to the assembled voices seeking justice!


Visiting Despair at Adelanto

by Rosemary Jenkins     LA Progressive     March 1, 2018


Unlike my experience about which I wrote last year, my visit to Adelanto Detention Center this time was very “pleasant” (if that can be considered an appropriate description).

Several of us drove together by car (not the chartered buses to the men’s facility which shares the same campus when we were unceremoniously and heartlessly blocked from entering last year) and, despite encountering cold weather and a little snow, we were welcomed to the women’s section by friendly staff.

Having earlier been provided a list of names, country of origin, and ID numbers for the detainees, we registered at the front desk, requesting a visit with one of the women on our list. To our surprise, many of the listed inmates had been released–hopefully finding asylum in this country rather than deportations to the menacing nations from which they had escaped in the first place.

We then sat in the waiting room until our client’s name was called. While there, we had the opportunity to interact with others and observe. There were families with children, spouses or friends, community leaders, and attorneys. So many have children from whom they have been separated for years (and still cannot see them).

So why do they find themselves in such a position, you may ask? Idealistically, many came here for a better life for themselves and, thus, for their children; yet these women now find themselves incarcerated often without access to the children they were making every conceivable effort to help. Many came from countries where boys are taken from homes to be impressed into armies of rebellion; where girls are stolen from homes to be raped and often left pregnant with no means of support; where husbands are taken and tortured to death; where wives become indentured servants and raped and tortured as well; where grandparents and infants are left to fend for themselves. These women came with a sense of hope and naïveté. America, the nation of immigrants (a phrase whose use is now forbidden by the Trump administration at the highest levels) is supposed to welcome such immigrants who come here for a better life and with the goal of being contributors to our diverse society but that is not what these immigrants are finding to be the case.

Finally as we were called up, we traded our drivers’ licenses for a visitor’s badge and a key to a locker where everything had to be stored. That included paperwork and notepads, photos that could not be shared of family and friends who could not make the often arduous trip, or money we would have liked to pass on for detainees’ use in the “commissary.”

When called again, we went through a metal detector and were also wanned. Our pockets were turned inside out to prevent any contraband from getting through.

At length, we were led to a medium-sized room where several detainees were eagerly awaiting their visitors. Some rarely get visitors so they are grateful and appreciative and even touched by anyone who takes the time to come by. Some get more frequent visitors while others get none.

Adelanto (as is the case with other similar facilities–private, for-profit institutions) is in the middle of nowhere (icy-cold in the winter, murderously hot in the summer). Its location, therefore, makes it difficult, costly, and time-consuming for people to make the trip. Many are in no position to do make that journey.

When visitors look at the faces of the detainees, they recognize immediately a certain sadness. Many are depressed (even suicidal) and are on medications.

When visitors look at the faces of the detainees, they recognize immediately a certain sadness. Many are depressed (even suicidal) and are on medications. These women (and men in their separate section–many of whom have been beaten mercilessly, so much so that some have committed suicide while others have gone on a hunger strike for better conditions)–these women are not animals (PETA would never allow such treatment) and yet we treat them as sub-humans. Some have been in legal limbo for months or even years. Such a process is long, drawn-out, tedious, overwhelming, and too often unsuccessful.

The woman whom I visited had been repeatedly abused in the past–psychologically and physically–by her then boyfriend and when she tried to defend herself, he called the police and she went to prison on trumped-up charges (nothing happened to him–a real #MeToo abomination). Her country of origin is a murderous one–hence her coming to this country in the first place. If she is not granted asylum here, she will be deported and almost certainly sent to her death. She is such a sweet, gentle soul. Surely, she deserves better than the life she has experienced so far. She is waiting for her asylum hearing later this week after almost a year of waiting. Many of us are seeking justice and mercy for her; let’s hope she gets it.

During our visit of an hour, we could look around the room and notice uniforms in different colors: Blue is for detainees whose only “fault” was coming here as an undocumented individual. Orange is for those who have already successfully served their prison time and are now waiting to learn of the outcome of their plea to remain in America. Finally, there are a few red uniforms which indicate a higher risk for certain specific individuals and, yet, when engaging them, they display a warmth not unlike that of any family member or friend and so it is left to wonder why they are wearing red.

Ultimately, it was time to leave behind this facility and the wonderful women we met. It was depressing for all of us. We held out hope for their futures and yet reality may dictate that what lay before them might be a burden too heavy. Many of us will visit again or write to them or send them money to help out. Many of us will continue to work with organizations and attorneys who are working, often pro bono, to represent them and help them obtain the justice they deserve.

All of us must keep ourselves up to date on what transpires at these facilities, the conditions under which detainees live, and more about the stories of their lives. It is incumbent upon is to do what we can to seek justice for each of them and to support such efforts. Remember, there but for the grace of God could go any one of us (or our predecessors or even our progeny).


by Ronald Patterson

southern phoenix cover jpeg 2Despite my serving time in prison for the last 38 years (I was sentenced at the age of 16), I do a lot of reading, especially non-fiction and historical fiction. “The Southern Phoenix” by Rosemary Jenkins is labeled a work of historical fiction but every word comes to life as real and true. It has become a valuable addition to my library and a treasured gift, with scenes I love to describe and share with others. As a Black man, I know that many of us don’t know our own history.

For many of those who are aware of our past, that knowledge is often too painful, so this book is an important tool on our life’s journey to learn about ourselves and understand each other. The title and cover art to me are very symbolic. The reader is redirected spiritually toward the light which makes vision possible, reminding us that light represents truth. Light shines equally on all of us regardless of color or environment or race. Ms. Jenkins is unique in her ability to reflect that light in the truths that unfold in her book. The idea of the phoenix rising from the depths of despair to the light of wisdom and certainty is something we can or should all relate to.

The Southern Phoenix is a valuable contribution not just to Black history but to the history of all of us with all our shared and separate experiences. What is precious about it is the possibilities it offers for dialogue among those who read it– discussions that teach and opportunities that assist in learning. Pearls of wisdom are found within for those who seek to find them. This book deals honestly with how races– Black and white– have interacted with each other over time– past and present.

I highly recommend it to all readers.