Tillman Clifton sits down with eight teenagers in a room in Colorado Springs municipal court.
The kids, ages 13 to 17, have been sent here by Teen Court for offenses ranging from shoplifting to fighting to marijuana possession.
They look like there are plenty of places they’d rather be. Two brothers slouch in their chairs, never taking off their coats. A girl sits anxiously on the edge of her seat. One boy, sitting the farthest away, is wearing a pair of woolen gloves. He swivels his chair constantly.
But when Clifton starts to speak, the teens seem riveted as the 35-year-old ex-convict and former Chicago gang member tells them his life story as part of a program called “Straight Talk.”
He tells them his mother was a crack addict. He and his brothers and sisters went to live with her after their parents split up.
“We had Christmas 12 times a year — at the beginning of each month when the food stamps came in,” he explains. On those days, his mother would bring back buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and videos.
By the end of the month, the kids learned to beg food from neighbors, he said.
When a friend was badly beaten by a drug dealer, his friends started walking the streets in twos and threes for protection. When they got a chance to inflict payback on the dealer, they took it.
“So before we realized it, we had become a gang. We weren’t just a group of friends any more,” he said. “We quickly forgot what we had started for and became what we didn’t want to be.”
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Monday, December 07, 2009