Prisons have become the primary institutional interface for more and more youth, informing everything from pop culture to worldview and life expectations.
by Dan Hoyle, AlterNet
If so many young people are growing up in prison, what exactly are they being taught?
“In prison, you learn to talk less, listen more, and observe — and you learn patience,” says Eddy Zheng from a pay phone in Solano State Prison in Vacaville, CA. In 1982, when he was 12 years old, Zheng came to America from Canton, China, with his family. His parents worked full time — “my Dad worked at McDonalds; all he memorized was how to say ‘mayonaise, lettuce, tomatoes.'” Zheng didn’t adjust well. In 1986 he was convicted of kidnapping with intent to commit robbery, and was charged as an adult at the age of 16. “I grew up in prison,” admits Zheng. Still learning English when he was admitted, Zheng took ESL classes and got his GED, and then went on to receive an Associate Degree of Arts through extension classes at San Quentin State Prison (he has since been relocated to Solano State). He plans on starting a youth guidance center for new immigrants when he is released. Zheng realizes his story is unusual and praises the “huge support from family and friends beyond the community of incarceration” that have helped him make the most of his time in prison.
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