Thursday, May 7, 2009

"I was in prison, and you visited me." - Matthew 25

This year I have learned a lot about how criminalization of the poor does little to solve crime or poverty. Immigrants or teenagers turn to selling drugs or prostitution because they see no other options for survival. If they get caught and sent to jail, they'll have trouble affording or even understanding the legal system. Once they are released, they are again penniless and homeless. This time, though, they are branded with a criminal record that scares employers away. So what are their options for survival? Crime again.

There are no easy solutions to this cycle of poverty, but understanding how it works is the first step. A NYT Op-Ed today by Nicholas Kristoff shines some light on the tragic teen prostitution in our own country.
If a middle-class white girl goes missing, radio stations broadcast amber alerts, and cable TV fills the air with “missing beauty” updates. But 13-year-old black or Latina girls from poor neighborhoods vanish all the time, and the pimps are among the few people who show any interest.
Kristoff cites the example of Jasmine, a young woman who was a prostitute at age 14. She was abused by her pimp and even had undercover cops extort sex from her.

Today Jasmine is 21 and changing her life thanks to...Covenant House! (Texas Volunteer works at their St. Louis location.) Jasmine's story of a broken home and search for love and security reminded me of the Let's Start women. Last month we heard these ladies share their journeys out of addiction, crime, and poverty. Yes, they needed to stop their illegal activities. What they needed more, though, was a sense that they had value, dignity, and the ability to change their own lives.

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