Reach­ing out to the new ‘ lost gen­er­a­tion’

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - RELIGION - Rev. Scott MacIsaac View From Be­hind

“Welcome fresh­man to ori­en­ta­tion.”

So shouts the sopho­more stu­dent leader into a squeaky mega­phone to the new vic­tims/ at univer­si­ties ev­ery­where. Thus be­gins a week or two of hu­mil­i­at­ing tasks, es­tab­lish­ing a peck­ing or­der and a bond­ing of mis­ery of cre­ated be­tween the new­bies, most of whom are strangers to each other prior to at­tend­ing univer­sity.

The same sort of process is to be found in univer­si­ties of hard knocks known as jails and pris­ons. The first-timers are of­ten sub­jected to ini­ti­a­tions of sorts — ask­ing of the guard on duty for a pair of swimming trucks so that the new in­mate can join his bud­dies in the weekly swimming out­ing is a fa­vorite. A peck­ing or­der is es­tab­lished, and the new­bie learns it one way or the other.

All across Canada, jails and pris­ons are wit­ness­ing an un­prece­dented in­flux of new­bies. Based on the latest cen­sus in­for­ma­tion, se­ri­ous crime in Canada is at a 30-year low.

Yet along with women and First Na­tion’s peo­ple there have been in­creases in in­mate pop­u­la­tions for youth — new­bies. Count­less dol­lars have been ex­hausted on changes to the crim­i­nal code for young of­fend­ers and on re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. De­spite this, more youth are end­ing up in prison when they pass the magic 18 years of age. I would sug­gest that most cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers and po­lice­men in Canada would say that there is a youth prob­lem.

Could the prob­lem be that in­stead of fo­cus­ing on the causes we have been fo­cus­ing on tried and true so­lu­tions from the past with a few age ap­pro­pri­ate tweaks? A low­er­ing of aca­demic skills, high youth un­em­ploy­ment, in­creases in youth preg­nan­cies, gang vi­o­lence and drug abuse even a re­turn to smok­ing. These are best seen not as causes of crime but rather as symp­toms of a big­ger so­ci­etal prob­lem among our youth.

In­creas­ingly as a prison/com­mu­nity chap­lain I am en­coun­ter­ing young peo­ple who aren’t nec­es­sar­ily bad kids; in­stead they are peo­ple who just don’t seem to care. It’s as if they have lived a rud­der­less ex­is­tence.

Could they be­long to the new “lost gen­er­a­tion”? This term de­scribes the gen­er­a­tion that came of age dur­ing the First World War. In Eng­land it came to re­fer to the dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­bers of Bri­tish up­per class peo­ple, the fu­ture elite, who lost their lives in the trenches. It robbed Eng­land of its so-called flower of youth. Flow­ers don’t grow in jail.

The youth of to­day (nine to 25 years) make up the first gen­er­a­tion in Cana­dian history which is the prog­eny of the unchurched. In this gen­er­a­tion, the ma­jor­ity of mar­riages end in di­vorce and nei­ther par­ent ever regularly at­tended any type of re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion. How could this not be one of the causes for the lost gen­er­a­tion? Mar­riage has been re­placed by con­ve­nience and God by a 52-inch flat screen TV. Most of the youth in my church ( jail chapel) have never heard of Je­sus or Buddha or Mo­hamed.

Moses led his Is­raelites in the dessert for 40 years. Only when they had ad­mit­ted they were lost could they be found. Seek­ing an­swers to youth crime won’t come from more im­pris­on­ment. It will only come when we ad­mit we are lost.

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