As an elder in the reentry community I sometimes counsel parents and grandparents in regards to their wayward wards, and on more than one occasion I’ve had to ask, “Would you rather visit him in prison or in the graveyard?” That’s the question Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson has to ask himself after his grandson’s latest brush with the law.
Frank Q. Jackson Jr., age 20, was recently charged with a fourth-degree felony for carrying a concealed weapon, and when his previous run-ins with the law are taken into account the only logical conclusion any clear-thinking person can come to is that this young man is a stone-cold hood rat. I know, I’ve had hood rats in my family, and I wish we — our family — would not have made such Herculean efforts to rescue him every time he broke bad. We were successful in keeping him out of prison, but now he’s dead of a gunshot.
The mayor’s grandson is a product of his environment. He’s from the same neighborhood that I was raised up in … the one we call “down the way” … which runs from 22nd Street out to roughly 79th Street along Community College, Central, Cedar, Woodland and Kinsman Avenues. A five-mile radius that probably has as much public housing as anyplace else in the country. And those streets are sometimes rattlesnake mean.
Poverty breeds crime and a disrespect for the rule of law. It’s virtually a guarantee that all of this dude’s road dogs are running around strapped too … all of them are probably carrying Glocks, or can get their hands on one in a moment’s notice. It’s a dangerous mix: wild-assed youth and guns.
Now it’s abundantly clear that this young man should have been shipped off to military school five or six years ago; that environment probably would have instilled the discipline and values that I know the Jackson family attempted to inculcate into him. Of course hindsight is always 20/20, but someone should have seen this coming years ago. But now I fear it might be too late … at least in the short term.
Could this latest incident be the wakeup call that causes the young man to turn his life around, clean up his act and adhere to the straight and narrow? Certainly it could be, but if I were the mayor I wouldn’t want to bet my grandson’s life on it. I wouldn’t want to be that kind of enabler, and the odds are weighted heavily against this dude seeing the light. This is just a tough fact of life.
What’s closer to the truth is that at this point in his life Jackson Jr. is too far gone; he isn’t going to be able to pull back from the thug life he obviously has adopted. What is he going to do, get a whole new set of friends? Not likely. He’s going to continue running with the same dudes, but now he has a target on his back. The police know that he’s prone to carrying a gun.
He needs a time out … he needs time to grow out of his juvenile behavior and a few years behind bars might do him a world of good at this juncture in his life. At least he would be alive when he gets out.
That’s what prisons are for, to prevent young people from hurting others, as well as preventing them from being hurt by others. There may be some fistfights behind bars, but there are no guns. Back to my original question: Where does the mayor want to visit his grandson: in prison, or in the morgue? It’s time for some tough choices, Mr. Mayor.
From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.com.