Never once have I imagined either of my daughters ever going to prison. Never have I had the image in my head of my children getting finger-printed, photographed and processed by police officers at the local precinct. Never have I imagined Aoki or Ming in an orange jumpsuit walking through in-take at LA County Jail. This is not their reality. This is not in their cards. This is not the eventual outcome of their dream deferred.
I moved to California about a year and half ago to be closer to my two beautiful daughters. As they got older, I wanted to be part of their lives everyday, and being on the other side of the country just wasn’t working. I know that these two girls are blessed. Their education is best in the world. They have the best mother a kid could ever hope for and they have material advantages that other kids their age do not. However, what I admire about Ming and Aoki is that they recognize that kids from other neighborhoods, places that look more like where their daddy grew up, have tremendous obstacles to overcome that my daughters don’t have to worry about. So, I try to teach them to not just worry about their own welfare, but also worry about the well-being of all children living in their state, their country and their world.
For far too many children who live just a few miles away from where my daughters are being raised in Los Angeles, going to prison is a norm. And this standard is sadly reinforced by the investment, or lack thereof, of our taxes in their future. In the state of California, we now spend $62,300 per prison inmate per year while only $9,200 to educate a child in a K-12 school. If that statistic doesn’t disturb you, consider this: since 1984, the state has built 22 state prisons while only one new University of California school. As a taxpaying citizen, I find it deplorable that our priorities are focused on expanding our prison system rather than expanding the mind of a child. As I have stated many times in the past, I have no problem paying taxes, as long as it serves to uplift people and keep them out of the justice system, rather than further create space to put more into that system.
That is why I am proud to be the Executive Producer of a new television ad from Californians for Safety and Justice, an organization bringing together Californians to replace prison and justice system waste with common sense solutions that create safe neighborhoods and save public dollars. This ad, part of their #SchoolsNotPrisons public education campaign, highlights the implications of perpetually investing in prisons at the expense of our next generation. It highlights the backwards thinking that has infiltrated the mentality of the powerful. The system as set up now serves to maintain a never-ending cycle of loss. Loss of friends. Loss of mentors. Loss of the family unit. Destruction of community. Recent studies have revealed that for many kids, having a parent in prison is more detrimental to a child’s health and development than divorce or even the death of a parent. Hundreds of thousands of children in California have parents who are incarcerated. Investing in prisons at the expense of our children is more than tacit approval of dismissing a generation of young children. It is willful ignorance.
We must create more winners, and keep that force moving throughout generations to come. We have already allowed huge a portion of the people I grew up with to fall by the wayside. The deterioration stops NOW. It’s time for us all to stand up. California is at the forefront of this shift. Now is the time to join our movement and fight for #SchoolsNotPrisons.