He Could Have Been My Son

Hank Mattimore
March 29, 2017
Reproduced with Permission

He sits across the table from me, this nice looking young man of 15 years, attired in his juvenile prison grays. I'll call him Alonzo.

"Do you shave yet Alonzo?", I ask him. He self consciously touches his face. "Yea, once." He smiles and adds "But I really didn't need too."

I smile back. "Yea, believe it or not, I remember the first time I borrowed my dad's razor and made my first attempt to shave. That was a heck of a long time ago." We both share a laugh.

My mind drifts to some lyrics from the musical, Les Miserables. An aging Valjean is standing over the wounded young man, Marius. He sings from the depth of his humanity,

"God on high, hear my prayer….He's like the son I might have known...bring him peace, bring him joy. He is young. He is only a boy."

Alonzo is only a boy,too.Some would call him a "bad boy", a rotten kid who urged on by gang members, tried to rob a 7/11 store. I would not call him a "bad' kid. Life is never that simple. We have all made our share of mistakes.

But yes, he committed a crime and justice demands that he pay for it. However, I question whether taking a kid from his family, his neighborhood, his school and isolating him in prison is the best way to punish him.

As parents didn't we figure out other forms of discipline for our errant kids than taking a belt to his backside? Didn't we find that a judicious combination of taking away privileges or giving our kids extra work or withholding allowances worked better?

I am convinced that we can find better ways of rehabilitating our kids than locking them up. Incarceration should be the last resort not our punishment of choice. Teenage kids can and do change, if we give them a chance, if we work with them. It's not a case of being soft on kids who screw up; it's just being smart. It's also being compassionate and willing to give a child a second chance.

Kids like Alonzo didn't come here from Mars. He came came from a family here in Sonoma County. He is a product of local schools,our own community. He is one of our kids.