Sometimes it is easy for all of us to be frustrated with the political process. We have been talking in class about HOW we can change things through social media, but I think deep within there can be the question, CAN we change anything? Young people often ask with disgust at the game being played, “what is the point?” The older generation asks, “Did YOU vote?” in a condemning tone that says it is because we are not involved in the political process that America is falling to bits.
Maybe it would be encouraging for us to hear some stories when the political process did work. When getting involved had a point and the political lobbying paid off.
Out of the many problems in the world, one that hits us the strongest is when we see injustices with children and youth. I happen to work at a group home called Mapletree that helps a specific part of this population. Mapletree is an organization that works with Juvenile Offenders and we often see first hand how often they are a victim of the system. Maybe the foster care nurtured them poorly. Or they changed schools as often as seasons changed. They bounced from house to house to house and from state to state. From a semi-stable environment to an abusive environment. Eventually, the failed parenting and lack of community support takes it’s toll on them and they become the abuser. Mapletree is one of only two homes for boys in Minnesota that takes in Juvenile sex offenders.
It doesn’t matter if your foster parent made you sleep in a bed with someone else at to old of an age and you just started experimenting. If you were both minors you can still become a sex offender if you were just a few years older. There is a good chance you will be registering as a sex offender wherever you go. Neighbors will protest. Landlords will refuse to sign a lease with you. The government will exclude you from many jobs, and sometimes rightly so, but you get it, the picture is bleak.
What you need is a stable place to live and get your shit together. In comes Mapletree. Here you get help recovering your personal documents, finding a job, starting therapy, and being surrounded by supportive staff that believes in you and keeps you accountable; sometimes with some tough love. Life is starting to turn around until you turn 18.
In comes the state. The state used to mandate that anyone over the age of 17 is no longer to live in a state funded group home. Does it matter that you haven’t finished high school? Does it matter that you don’t have a job? Does it matter that you don’t even have references? Does it matter that you don’t have any rental history? It does matter, and if you don’t get more time to get your life together you will be sucked back into the prison system for life. I was recently speaking to co-founder and director of Mapletree, Jon Brandt, who told me that over 1% of the US Population is in prison. That is 10 times as much as most European countries. Canada only has .015% of it’s population in jail. Why is it so high? European countries know how to rehabilitate their convicts by giving them skills to live in society. America tries to punish people into better people, but for some reason that does not help them become better people, huh.
Mapletree tries to be a supportive environment that gives the boys what they need so they can make a fresh start of their lives. They also saw the need to raise the legal age of those living in the group home to 20 to give the guys the extra time they needed to put their lives together. They worked in collaboration with another group home for sex offenders and were successful in passing a bill in Minnesota to change the law. This small organization of less than 15 employees affected Minnesota legislation!
The point of this post is not to help you understand how to make change in the political process, but to tell you that you CAN make change. It is to give you a snapshot of a small organization that is grinding away in the community at the roots of the problems of our society by working with just one troubled youth at a time, but still found a way to make a difference for the whole. If we see how small and down to earth this organization is and how it was still able to make a difference, maybe our perspective will be broadened on who can make a change in the political process. The question becomes, what injustice do you care enough about to try to change?