Yesterday, just before I finished reading Sikes' book I read this article in the New York Times about a new violence intervention program in Chicago which targets at risk children.
Sikes' book begins with a description of "TJ" getting ready for, and executing, her first revenge kill. The book then takes the reader into a world in which this kind of killing is normalized. Poverty, lack of education, or adequate health care, all contribute to creating this world, in which sexual abuse is also normalized. Children as young as ten or eleven are raped by stepfathers, boyfriends, or rival gang members, and accept it as a part of life. It is a world in which becoming a teenage mother actually may represent a chance for improvement in one's life. When the young women become mothers the responsibility they have for their child marginalizes them from their gang, and, in some cases, they eventually mature out of it all together. In TJ's case the church saved her.
The girls and young women whom Sikes interviewed often thought that their boyfriend's jealous rages were how they showed they cared for them. This, too, was all part of normal for them.
In her Afterword, Sikes compares the cost of imprisonment for a child ($32,000 in the early '9os) with the amount spent on education each year in California (about $4,000). She says "I believe society has an obligation to save its children, simply because they are children." Until we, as a society, are willing to throw enough money at education, health care and other programs for children and families, we are spouting only rhetoric. We like to say we care about children, but in many cases we have given up hope for the most vulnerable.