Cover image for My story starts here : voices of young offenders
Title:
My story starts here : voices of young offenders
ISBN:
9781773061214
Physical Description:
178 pages : illustrations ; 27 cm.
Added Author:
Summary:
Deborah Ellis, activist and award-winning author of The Breadwinner interviews young people involved in the criminal justice system and lets them tell their own stories. Jamar found refuge in a gang after leaving an abusive home where his mother stole from him. Fred was arrested for assault with a weapon, public intoxication and attacking his mother while on drugs. Jeremy first went to court at age fourteen ("Court gives you the feeling that you can never make up for what you did, that you're just bad forever") but now wears a Native Rights hat to remind him of his strong Métis heritage. Kate, charged with petty theft and assault, finally found a counselor who treated her like a person for the first time. Many readers will recognize themselves, or someone they know, somewhere in these stories. Being lucky or unlucky after an incident of shoplifting, or the drug search at school, or hanging out with the wrong kids at the wrong time. The encounter with a mean cop, or a good one, that can change the trajectory of a kid's life. Couch-surfing, or being shunted from one foster home to another. The effect of youth crime on families (the book includes the points of view of family members as well as "voices of experience" -- adults looking back at their own experiences as young offenders). The kids in this book represent a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations and ethnicities. Every story is different, but there are common threads -- loss of parenting, dislocation, poverty, truancy, addiction, discrimination. Most of all, this book leaves readers asking the most pressing questions of all. Does it make sense to put kids in jail? Can't we do better? Have we forgotten that we were once teens ourselves, feeling powerless to change our lives, confused about who we were and what we wanted, and quick to make a dumb move without a thought for the consequences? --
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Summary

Summary

Jamar found refuge in a gang after leaving an abusive home where his mother stole from him. Fred was arrested for assault with a weapon, public intoxication and attacking his mother while on drugs. Jeremy first went to court at age fourteen ("Court gives you the feeling that you can never make up for what you did, that you're just bad forever") but now wears a Native Rights hat to remind him of his strong Métis heritage. Kate, charged with petty theft and assault, finally found a counselor who treated her like a person for the first time.

Many readers will recognize themselves, or someone they know, somewhere in these stories. Being lucky or unlucky after an incident of shoplifting, or the drug search at school, or hanging out with the wrong kids at the wrong time. The encounter with a mean cop, or a good one, that can change the trajectory of a kid's life. Couch-surfing, or being shunted from one foster home to another. The effect of youth crime on families (the book includes the points of view of family members as well as "voices of experience" -- adults looking back at their own experiences as young offenders).

The kids in this book represent a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations and ethnicities. Every story is different, but there are common threads -- loss of parenting, dislocation, poverty, truancy, addiction, discrimination.

Most of all, this book leaves readers asking the most pressing questions of all. Does it make sense to put kids in jail? Can't we do better? Have we forgotten that we were once teens ourselves, feeling powerless to change our lives, confused about who we were and what we wanted, and quick to make a dumb move without a thought for the consequences?


Author Notes

Deborah Ellis is a member of the Order of Canada. She has won the University of California's Middle East Book Award, Sweden's Peter Pan Prize, the Governor General's Award, and the Jane Addams Children's Book Award. She is best known for her Breadwinner series, which has been published in twenty-five languages, with $2 million in royalties donated to Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kids International. deborahellis.com


Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up--Ellis's collection of interviews offers a varied and deeply humanizing picture of young adults who have interacted with the criminal justice system. The book effectively ties the issue of youth in conflict to poverty, substance abuse, violence, intergenerational trauma, and failure of government programs to provide an adequate safety net to children and families. The volume offers an alternative to institutionalization in the restorative justice movement, which is defined as a process that culminates in an opportunity for the offender to "make restitution to the victim and to the community." Readers may wonder how much liberty the author has taken with editing the narratives, as the writing voice is noticeably consistent throughout the book despite a diverse interviewee cohort. This leads to a tone that feels inauthentic at times, but the benefit is a very clear, concise, and readable set of interviews. VERDICT A worthy addition to a middle or high school library, especially one that serves students in conflict. A sensitive and informed look at court-involved youth with writing that is thought provoking and precise, if somewhat specious.--Mallory Weber, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York


Publisher's Weekly Review

In this eye-opening compilation, based on original interviews, Ellis (the Breadwinner series) allows Canadian young people who have experience with the criminal justice system to tell their own stories. In addition to a young person's story, each chapter includes relevant research--rates of suicide and drug overdose for homeless youth, the high percentage of high school dropouts who do jail time. Sidebars include probing questions ("If your parents are not good role models, what can you do to find other mentors?"), and "Taking Steps" sections suggest positive, practical actions. While the young peoples' family structures, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, gender, and sexual orientation vary greatly, common themes recur: domestic violence; foster care and group homes; early exposure to alcohol, drugs, and criminal behavior; and frequent moves and repeated school transfers. Stories also relay the powerful effect that kindness from teachers, foster parents, cops, and counselors can have on an individual's ability to sustain hope, and they also make clear the benefits of alternatives such as diversion programs, which offer an opportunity to avoid a criminal record, and the restorative justice process, rooted in indigenous cultures. Ellis deftly combines heartbreaking recollections, stories of recovery, and concrete suggestions for cultivating resilience, while making a powerful argument for breaking cycles of trauma by investing in preventive measures. Ages 12--up. (Oct.)


Kirkus Review

Ellis' (Sit, 2017, etc.) compilation shares stories from Canadian youth and adult offenders, many of whom have experienced homelessness and been in and out of juvenile detention centers, foster homes, and group homes.Nearly all the people profiled had troubled childhoods, with parents or caregivers who were abusive, neglectful, substance abusers, or a combination of the above. The stories connect the history of physical and emotional violence in their families with the young people's own experiences of mental health challenges, anger, theft, drugs, and gangs, mirroring the negative models and environments they had growing up. The stories are compelling and dark, with some sharing how they have taken responsibility for the role they played in perpetuating the cycle of inflicting pain on others with their actions as well as how they have begun to turn their lives around, especially with the help of restorative justice practices and diversion programs. Each story is told in a short chapter of four to six pages. Text boxes offer discussion questions, action steps, and contextual information that could be used as prompts with teens. While the stories are quite moving, readers may wonder how Ellis gained access to these individuals; transparency regarding the sourcing and adaptation of the stories, as well as around agency, privilege, and civil rights of this vulnerable population, would have provided valuable ethical context. The people profiled represent diversity across multiple dimensions.A powerful collection. (references and resources) (Nonfiction. 13-18) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

Young people of different genders, sexual orientations, and ethnicities share powerful stories of being incarcerated or homeless. All but one are Canadian. They share how addictions and problems with anger led to incarceration for offenses like stealing or assault. Many of their parents were unfit to care for them because of their own drug, alcohol, and mental health issues. These stories are poignant, hopeful, and rage-inducing because so many of these young people were let down by abusive parents. Mothers, siblings, and older ""voices of experience"" also share their perspectives. Many stories are supplemented by statistics and sidebars on related topics, and focused questions allow the reader to consider each person's situation. Many of the contributors now have their own children, for whom they want a better life. They share their hopes for the future and offer advice for other young people. Their stories show how important social service support is for young people to help prevent them from committing crimes that can lead to incarceration.--Sharon Rawlins Copyright 2010 Booklist


Excerpts

Excerpts

Ian, 17 My trouble with the law started in grade four. Me and some friends started fires in our town. There were some caves in the areas I was living. We liked to explore the caves and we thought it would be great to have campfires there. We gathered up some branches off dead trees and made a fire and it was fine. We might have been okay if we'd left it there. I mean, we should have known more about fire safety, but I don't think we were bothering anybody. But we decided to keep building fires and to build bigger ones. It's against the law to start fires like that. People caught on that it was us because we needed paper to build these fires. We would go to those free-newspaper and free-magazine stands and empty these out and run down the street with armloads of these things. It was a small town. People knew us, got to wondering what we were doing, put two and two together and called the police... I got into more serious trouble in grade nine. I didn't like school and skipped it all the time. This one day we skipped classes the whole day then came back into the school at the end of the day to catch the school bus home. We were walking through the halls, goofing around, and we walked right into the principal. We were high. The principal searched us, found our joints and rolling papers. ... That principal never liked me. The police didn't charge us but the principal suspended us -- two months! -- for just that little bit of drugs. After the suspension was over, he said he didn't want us back in his school. My parents split up when I was young. It was not a good break-up. Lots of yelling and fighting. It was bad. I went with Mom but she had a breakdown so I couldn't stay with her. Dad couldn't take me. He was breaking too under the strain of everything. He didn't know how to care for me, or maybe he knew how but knew that he couldn't, or maybe he just didn't want to.... When I was sixteen I got charged with B and E. I got put on probation for a year and I had to spend a week in Open Custody. Open Custody was not really open because I couldn't leave. They set the bedtime, and it was very early. You couldn't use knives. They had very specific rules and if you broke one of those rules they wouldn't let you play video games or go outside. I did a lot more B and E's than the one I was charged with. They were all about getting me money for weed. Me and my friends would walk around town looking for easy places to get into, going into cars that weren't locked or shops or houses or whatever. I never thought I would get caught... I've been in five foster homes. My foster mom, the one I have now, says I can stay with her even after I turn eighteen. I have a job now at a place that replaces car windshields and I like doing that. Maybe they'll keep me on. I have this thing in my head that tells me that as soon as something good happens, it's all going to get ruined. It's hard not to give up on myself. I feel like there's something deep inside me that won't let me do anything good... Excerpted from My Story Starts Here: Voices of Young Offenders by Deborah Ellis All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.