Book Breaks the Chain of Silence for Incarcerated Teens
  Contributing Writer: Natalie A. Mitchell

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 consequences.”

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 activities.

“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.

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© 2005 If these Chains Could Talk | Adkins Publishing |

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