February 8, 2012
CfJJ hosted a Juvenile Justice Forum at the Boston Bar Association featuring author David Chura, a veteran teacher with over 40 years of experience working with at-risk teenagers, including 26 years spent teaching English and creative writing in community-based alternative schools and in a county penitentiary in New York. A self-professed story-teller, Mr. Chura gave the audience a remarkable inside view into the lives of youths who have been incarcerated as adults, a perspective captured in his powerful book, I Don't Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine: Tales of Kids in Adult Lockup.
Through personal stories and readings from his book, Chura sought to give the audience “a picture of who these kids really are” – to provide an authentic understanding of the how these youths end up in adult prisons, so that when legislation is passed, those involved “know who they’re locking up.” Chura detailed the shift in public perception in the 1990s when youths were no longer thought of as delinquents but as “superpredators,” providing momentum for the harsh laws that regard children involved in crime as adults. As an English teacher to youths in adult prison facilities, Chura related his first-hand observations of the emotional,psychological, and even developmental consequences these decisions could have on incarcerated young people – from the interaction of these kids with adult criminals in the facility, to a staff untrained to handle and counsel juveniles, to a release process that consisted only of “a blackbag full of your clothes and a bus token.” Mr. Chura’s moving stories of how youths handled their experience in these facilities demonstrated the resilience and hope he came to recognize in his students, despite their lifelong status as “children of disappointment.”