Poor family structures, the life of despair and fighting the age-old
cliché phrase “shoulda-coulda-woulda,” Duval County
teenage inmates have offered their intensive, graphic letters as a
plea for help. Duval County School Board District 5 Member and education
consultant, Betty Seabrook Burney, is the compassionate mastermind
behind this dynamic, touching project.
In “If These Chains Could Talk: Teenage Inmates Offer ‘Off
The Chain’ Advice to Students, Parents, Teachers, The Faith
Community and the Community-At-Large,” Burney illuminates the
stories of young black males, ages 13 to 18 that were unfortunate
risk-takers. to other males in the Duval County School System.
As an initial form of mentoring, this project developed rapidly and
evolved into a book; in which Burney attributes the book writing process
to her encouraging sister, Priscilla Jenkins. “The assignment
was for the young men to write a letter to students in Duval County’s
six academically-challenged schools to offer them advice regarding
skipping school and other poor choices that teenagers often make,”
Burney said. “If These Chains Could Talk” will be published
in August and will be available for all students to read. The dramatic
letters offer advice for each of the entities, and provides a raw
and personal look into the lives of the yearning to be loved inmates.
Burney’s overall goal was to convey a real depiction of why
adolescents commit crimes and offer the reader tactics to maintain
a law-abiding life.
But the irony penned in this well-written story indicates that juvenile
offenders reflect the American society in all facets of life; no discrimination.
Many of the inmates could perhaps be your kind neighbor next door,
the gentle-spirited usher on the church youth usher board, or the
product of an affluent socioeconomic background. While many parents
pray incessantly during the adolescent years, no parent is exempt
from this burden. More terrifying, in all three respective lifestyles,
these young men could potentially alter their lives in no time-- permanently.
“I quickly realized that there is a thin line…a very thin
and fragile line between good and bad,” Burney said. “It
only takes a split second for a risky choice to have dire and life-long
An array of contributing factors can be affixed to this ubiquitous
problem. Some include teen’s rebellious failure to heed the
advice of parents, poor family structure or ‘daddy drama.’
In some cases, the local community, including civic and faith-based
organizations (i.e. churches), have failed to intervene on behalf
of the inmate’s parents in the early developmental stages of
their lives. In any case, the text aggressively raises awareness about
this burgeoning issue and requires immediate attention from all members
of the community, because it offers detailed plans of action; which
encourages proactive decisions in redirecting misbehavior and criminal
“Teachers will learn how extremely important it is to develop
a ‘relationship’ with each child. Ministers and community
leaders will recognize that our youth need meaningful activities that
will engage them physically and emotionally…as well as spiritually,”
Burney said. Speaking honestly regarding the faith-based community,
Burney challenges clergymen to develop a better rapport with adolescents
to demonstrate their interest in them instead of condemning youth.
A mother of two sons, Burney is highly familiar and empathizes with
parents raising teens. Although Burney understands that peer pressure
is extremely high and can collapse the best parents’ years of
building and teaching, fortunately, Burney’s sons spared her
any stress of misbehavior or unlawful activities. In that respect,
Burney praises God for his guidance during the writing process of
“If These Chains Could Talk.”
Demonstrating her zealous demeanor to the lives of adolescent inmates,
Burney has designated a portion of the book’s proceeds to the
Juvenile Jail Program for the establishment of a foundation dedicated
to intervention and recidivism. Perhaps with the publication of Burney’s
book, “If These Chains Could Talk,” the Jacksonville community
will experience strong auspicious results soon.
“Thug life is something that these guys would trade any day
for freedom,” Burney said.