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An Evolution - From the Cradle to Life: two little girl’s journey to life in prison
By Ruby J. Joyner LMSW, CJM
Published: 05/24/2010

Babyincrib As new parents examined the tiny fingers or cuddled their bundle of joy for the first time, likely they only imagined the great things their baby girls would accomplish in life. To the surprise of some, many young girls have grown up to live much of their adult lives in jail or prison. Poet, Robert Southey (Mother Goose Society), as far back as 1820 whimsically defined girls as being made up of “sugar and spice and everything nice.” That same prose posited that boys were made up of “snips and snails and puppy-dog tails.” Certainly, the inference remains that girls are expected to simply be sweet while boys are expected to be a little rough around the edges - to say the least.

Truly, crime is now an equal opportunity event. Serious offenders are getting younger and younger and little girls are not being left out of the phenomenon. The hypothesis here is that there can be no single answer as to why girls are committing crimes that in times past were only being committed by boys. Understandably, there are multisystemic factors that contribute to female involvement in serious felony offenses. This paper will examine two interviews with girls who committed crimes around the age of 16 that resulted in life sentences.

While we whole heartedly want to protect our children, communities should also be able to expect to be safe where they live and work. What do we do when a kid shoots into a crowd and innocent people die? What should happen when a kid has poor impulse control and flies off the handle and shoots you because he or she wants the $20 you just withdrew from the ATM? While there are people on both sides of the issue, the overwhelming inference seems to be that criminals should be held accountable for their actions regardless of age, race, religion, national origin or even gender.

Personal Communication – September 15, 2009

In 2008, Rokisha Alderson pled guilty to double homicide. She and a couple of guys entered a store and demanded money. The store owners were doing their part to comply yet, they both ended up dead. Rokisha had one of the guns in her hands. While she maintains that she shot in the air, two store owners ended up dead and a customer ended up critically wounded. Her sentence: two consecutive life sentences plus 15 years for the attempted homicide of a third person. Growing up, she never knew her father. Getting high with her mother was quality time. She spent more time in juvenile detention than she did in school. As a result, today she reads on about a 3rd grade level. While she reports having seven brothers and sisters, all eight children have different fathers. On those occasions when she found herself in juvenile detention, she didn’t mind because she got to see her friends there and it gave her a break from using drugs. At the time of this interview, Rokisha presented very melancholy; depressed and remorseful with a congruent affect. She very candidly shared details of her life that at one time she would have never shared with anyone. Today, Rokisha lives in general population along side of women much older than she. All of the people she called friends and family don’t visit and they don’t write. She has accepted the fact that she will age out in the Tennessee Department of Corrections.

Personal Communication – September 15, 2009

In 2004, Cyntoia Brown was charged with the murder of a local business man. Local news headlines read: “Former Teen Prostitute on Trial for Murder.” Friends later testified that she bragged about killing the man and stealing $50,000 from him. While she was charged with premeditated murder and especially aggravated robbery, on appeal the especially aggravated robbery charged was remanded back to the trial court. Cyntoia, like Rokisha is bi-racial and very pretty. From her soft looks, you would never guess that she prostituted herself to make a little money. She was deemed a gifted child by the 3rd grade. Rather than finding herself in honors classes, Cyntoia spent quite a bit of time in “Resource” classes for behavioral reasons. Adopted at a very early age, she reveals that her biological mother is in prison on serious drug charges. She recalled being left at houses where men took advantage of her. When asked about her biological father, Cyntoia explained that her mother reported that her father could be one of five men. At the time of this interview, Cyntoia seemed happy despite the number of years she is expected to spend behind bars. Her adopted mother visits her often and sends her money to spend on commissary.

Hunt (1999) purports that we live in a nation of murderous children. Who’s to blame? Some would posit that the deteriorating family is solely to blame. Some may say the absence of a positive role model is to blame. Clearly from the interviews examined here, neither position is entirely true. As much as these two young ladies are from different socio-economic places, there are commonalities in their stories. Both young ladies started experimenting with drugs and alcohol early on. Both young ladies lacked meaningful supervision. Both young ladies were either never diagnosed or misdiagnosed with various mental illnesses. Neither young lady has experienced motherhood and likely never will. Most notable, both young ladies are convicted murderers. Both will likely spend at least 50 years in prison. One or both may actually die in custody.

There are no cookie cutter answers. Interventions must be individualized. Indisputably, family must still be recognized as part of the problem and a huge part of the solution. This article attempted to compare and contrast interviews with two convicted murders - both 16 when they committed their crimes. The hypothesis remains that multisystemic interventions are essential and that families can be (more often than not) part of the problem and part of the solution as it relates to juvenile involvement in serious criminal behavior. References

Former teen prostitute on trial for murder. Retrieved May 19, 2010 from
http://www.wsmv.com/news/9717301/detail.html

Hunt, C (1999). Juvenile sentencing: effects of recent punitive sentencing legislation on
Juvenile offenders and a proposal for sentencing in the juvenile court. Boston
College Third World Law Journal

Mother Goose Society. Retrieved January 13, 2010 from
http://www.delmar.org/mgs-long_folksmadeof.html

At the time I encountered both interviewees, I was the Jail Administrator at the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office Correctional Development Center for Females. Both interviews occurred after both were convicted.

Many thanks to Tennessee Prison for Women (TPW) Warden – Jewell Steele who permitted the interviews and to the interviewees for consenting to the same.

Click here to view the full interview transcript of both Rokisha Alderson and Cyntoia Brown

Editor's Note: Corrections.com Author Ruby J. Joyner is the Training Director for the Davidson County Sheriff's Office.

Other articles by Joyner



Comments:

  1. debmac on 05/28/2010:

    Juvenile facilities are basically warehouses for juvenile offenders. Though they are mandated by law to provide four hours of education they are neither mandated or adequately funded to provide behavior modification programs for youthful offenders.

  2. Swartz on 05/25/2010:

    There are certainly external risk factors that could influence one's behaviour however not everybody that were exposed too such conditions become criminals.Offenders often use mollification to justify their behaviour.The choices that you make today control your future,blaming your past for future behaviour makes you powerless,you are not in control of your life if everything you do is because of what happened in your past.Female offenders especially the youth are easily influenced by peers and toxic relationships.Many of the crimes were comitted with males eg,robbery,murder females are often accomplices in these crimes.The majority of offenders are raised in broken homes or suffered some form of abuse,what about those victims that choose not to commit crime?Certainly this is not the only option.Society have a responsibility to accept and reintegrate these offenders only if they show remorse and genuine willingness to change.Our socio economic conditions and substance abuse are the main factors giving rise to the increase in female offenders.


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