Reaching out to the new ‘ lost generation’
“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.