In psychology, we talk about “normalization”- our human instinct to take something that is not at all normal and, by sheer repetition in our life to begin to accept it as the way things should be. I have see this many times with battered women and abused children. These victims have found a way to mentally and emotionally survive by not only accepting what their life is buy trying to see it as – well, normal. This is one reason that women return to abusers and why it is possible for a child who has been abused to abuse the next generation. Normalization.
Those are clinical situation and as a criminologist I am used to seeing them. For several years, I have worked with at-risk youth in both church and secular programs. I have lived in neighborhoods run by gangs and I have taken on young clients who came from very wealthy homes. Pastor’s kids or kids of inmates- it did not matter. They were kids and their world had turned upside down and they were trying to make sense of it. But nothing prepared me for a conversation I heard one day at an after school program for at risk youth out in the desert beyond Palm Springs. The deal was that they would come five days a week after school and we would feed them and do their homework with them and give them access to some very cool video games. We would stay in touch with juvenile probation about them if that was necessary and we would work with their teachers to get them the help they needed. But most importantly, my colleagues and I would be there to talk and listen.
One afternoon, I walked up to a table where there were junior high boys talking- comparing the quality of hamburgers. Each was very opinionated on the topic. This one was bigger…this one came with chips…this one had really good buns…I finally asked what hamburger places they were comparing. McD’s? Carl’s Jr?
No, came their answer- they were comparing the hamburgers at the different prisons where they had visited family.
My world stopped turning for a second after I heard that. Who did I think I was trying to help these kids? What could I understand about their reality- what was “normal” to them. My kids spent their weekend playing soccer. These kids spent their weekends doing visiting hours and hoping for a good hamburger at a prison. I had gone through a Masters and PhD with the hope of being able to reach kids just like this. I felt helpless and thoroughly unprepared. I continued listening to them chat as I looked out the window and then, the Lord gave me the answer- or at least a start. There it was- right at the other end of the parking lot- a few dozen yards away. A new normal!
“Come on, guys”, I said to my young charges. “We are going to go get a hamburger.”
Did a short walk to a hamburger stand and burger and shake change their lives? No- not really. But it was a start of a new “normal”. And we can all reach kids and families – one hamburger at a time.
George Bresnan, Advocate, Ex-Pats
Jim Gabal, Development
Babz Rawls Ivy, Media Contact
We are grateful for donations from individuals, religious groups, charities, foundations and the like. Donations can be made by credit card/PayPal, or by sending your check payable to: “Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc.” P.O. Box 1232, Weston, Connecticut 06883. Progressive Prison Project/Innocent Spouse & Children Project are missions of Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc. We are a CT Religious Corp. with 501c3 status – all donations are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law. Thank you for your support and generosity.