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'Born, Not Raised' Explores The Links Between Development And Juvenile Crime

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March 20, 2012 1:09 p.m.

Susan Madden Lankford, is a San Diego photojournalist, her new book, ""Born, Not Raised: Voices From Juvenile Hall," is the third part of a trilogy exposing the lives of America's downtrodden.

Related Story: 'Born, Not Raised' Explores The Links Between Development And Juvenile Crime


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

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CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Kids who circle in and out of juvenile hall are mostly termed at risk. They are at risk of not finishing school, falling into a life of drug addiction or crime, and winding up behind bars as adults. And society seems not to know how to stop that sad progression. In her new book, born not raised, Susan Lankford provides insights into what's going on inside deeply troubled kids and offers some surprising ideas about breaking the link between juvenile crime and adult criminality. Welcome to the show.

LANKFORD: Thanks so much for having me.

CAVANAUGH: The new book, born not raised, is the last book in a trilogy about people struggling with poverty, addiction, jail. There's a progression between the books. Can you tell us about that?

LANKFORD: The progression actually started with the streets. It started with me doing photo journalistic interferes with the homeless. And I discovered they all went to jail. So I had to get into jail, I did for 2.5 year, and that's where I discovered that the women I had spent so much time with all had children and they were all having children. Where were the children? The children were in various facilities, foster Carics juvenile hall, with random relative, there were drugs and all kinds of things going on in their background. Now I had to get to the juvenile hall. That's where the book came from.

CAVANAUGH: And all of them are situated in San Diego?

LANKFORD: All in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: On the inside cover of your book, there's a timeline from birth to 20 years. Can you describe that timeline and why you included it?

LANKFORD: Absolutely. When I finished doing all of the interviews, one of my daughters, I did the interviews of the juveniles, she was doing it as an internship for her graduate work in psychology. And as Pauline and I went in and got involved with the kids, we started seeing Traum Aneglect, Abus, alienation, all types of things that we had never experienced around a wonderful neighborhood. So I left and I had to talk to doctor Diane Campbell who's a specialist in speddiat Rick psychology. And she said let's draw a timeline. Let me show you where the derailments take place, where if we don't have the bedrock of good, solid, early childhood development, 0-2, when we miss that, bad behavior is carried forward.

CAVANAUGH: This book is I different kind of visual experience. Tell us what it looks like.

LANKFORD: Well, it looks as if we have some banners that are put up as a warning. Born not raised, voices from juvenile hall, with my name on it. We have one of the youth drawings of what the inside of the facility -- he has to go through bars and razor wire, and he's telling -- he's going to wind up in prison. And that's the cover of the book.

CAVANAUGH: What you see inside are small little essays included in the text of the book. Written in the children's own handwriting.

LANKFORD: Correct.

CAVANAUGH: And a lot of them are underneath photographs that I've been asked to comment on in one way or the other. They talk about their lives, they tell stories about these pictures that they have been asked to comment on. How did you come up with that way of approaching kids in juvenile hall?

LANKFORD: As a photographer and as a photo journalist and anthropologist, I had to find a way I could work with the kids and images. And I couldn't use a camera. Cameras are not permitted inside the hall. For us to be work income there as many times as we were, we couldn't have cameras in there. So I said ah, we'll take our pictures, and we'll let the kids ruminate or what the pictures mean to them, and see if we can enlist some emotion that we may not get out of these individuals. Then Pauline and I constructed these questionnaire enforce the kids, and of course they had to be approved by the DAs and the Public Defenders, but the kids dug into them. And I wanted to have the public to be able to see, some of these kid vs very poor syntax. But you still get the feelings. Somehow through their drawing, they will have some depiction of what has gone on in their home, and that's what I want to have the general public get to see. This is a huge group of kids that are growing, we have a million kids in the U.S. either in foster care or matriculating through the local facilities, and we've got to do something about it.

CAVANAUGH: You have pictures in this book that are lovely but they're somewhat nonscript, pictures of a sad-looking woman or a pensive man. And underneath, the kids will write an essay what they think is going on in the picture, and it's so telling about what is going on in their own lives, the things they've experienced, the Hoss they've experienced in their lives. Tell us, was this surprising to you?

LANKFORD: Well, the little boy who's playing soccer, and the kid who is writing about him, oh, what a lucky guy that is, his dad is out there in the field with him, I wish I had a dad. These kids are so deprived, and in the juvenile Locke up situation, they're not learning. All they're learning is more criminal behavior, and getting another badge for getting in the hall. Once, ten times. Some of the images I got, I photographed down on the harbor, and they would really be moved, that would be what a grandmother would be like. They're fighting, but they stayed together for a really long time. How impressive that was to me that they could see this old couple was still together but survived through fighting.

CAVANAUGH: How much time did you spend in detention with these kids?

LANKFORD: A year and a half. But I was also there a year trying to get in there.

LANKFORD: Then it was another year and a half of doing research before I started writing the book.

CAVANAUGH: There are a few articles published in CityBeat recently alleging that there's sexual abuse in the juvenile detention centers. From what you could see and hear from the kids, any indication of mistreatment or abuse?

LANKFORD: I did not see mistreatment or abuse from the guards to the kids. But you're working with kids who a lot of them have very sexualized aggression. And you're going to house 60 boys it other who are at the ages of 14-17, there's going to be acting out, and they do have to deal with this. At any given time, they have 40 sexual offenders inside the juvenile hall.



CAVANAUGH: How difficult was it to get these kids to actually trust you, to open up to you? The

LANKFORD: It's interesting. The boys in the groups seem to trust us a lot more readily than the girls. Boys revere women, they revere mothers. They can have a mother who has ODed on heroin, but still she has a very tender place in their hearts. Therefore we as a mother/daughter team meant something to the boys, they would write please don't forget me. The girls on the other hand were a tougher group. We had to show them that we were real. We had to get them into small clusters and little groups, and we worked with them in little groups. And after several sessions of working with them, they got really interested in my daughter. Oh, she's dating, is she? What kind of much is that? Then they started identifying with us on a level of mother and daughter, and there might be some hope out there. If I recalls are competitive with -- with their own mothers, there are a lot of mothers who are still acting out as teenagers having kids. And it gets overwhelming.

CAVANAUGH: You had to form relationships with the kids in juvenile hall. How difficult was that for you to walk away at the end of this project?

LANKFORD: Very painful. But part of the pain was that we weren't being is it removed from the hall in a very nice way. We had been there under -- Sarah bickers was the director, and she was terrific. And we had the best individuals. Lots of things have championed. When the director changed, she came right up to me and said, you know what? You two are out of here. And we were out. I wasn't allowed to go back and gather up the writings that the kids had done from that particular session, and one girl came up and jumped on me and hugged me and said oh, no why aren't you coming back! So we had broken into something that we represented that was not clergy going into the hall, it was not staff, and a lot of the staff are terrific with these kids, but we represented something else. The outside and should hope

CAVANAUGH: Why were you thrown out? Were you given a reason?

LANKFORD: When directors change, there can be a whole change of guard. They can operate their way. You can go from being fairly rehabilitative and trying to get some type of education and programs in the facility to all of a sudden a very militaristic, very hard line. And there are rules we had to do, a 3-day self defense course before going into the hall, and that was 5. But to be extricated the way we were and never able to talk to them again, and tell Matt Jenkins, who's the chief of operations right now, a terrific guy, and he receives people, he let's people come in, he welcomes people. This is the opportune time for us to create a bureau, one-on-one dove someone to something of good to these kids.

CAVANAUGH: There's an official in your book who says that things are getting worse, not better, in the juvenile justice system. What do you think he meant by that?

LANKFORD: We have way too many kids. It's just like governor Jerry Brown is now closing down DJJ, who are the worst felons, the kids who have committed murder, where are they going? They're coming back to the county.

CAVANAUGH: And do we have in the facilities in where are estimation to handle it?

LANKFORD: I think probation is going to find something suitable, but it's Dick Murphy scary. East mesa is a traffic facility, very, very organized, and some of the boys would have gone off to DJJ. But there's a lot of control, a lot of education, a lot of hard work going. I can't imagine what a disruption of bringing these boys down and putting them in something that has had this positive construct, yep.

CAVANAUGH: Because the kids in the DJJ are in for worse crimes?

LANKFORD: Oh, yes. That's serious stuff. They are the ones you do not want to try to do therapeutic material for because they're just become more sociopathic. In all fairness, those kids are going to be in lock-up forever. They're going to reoffend if they do get out, and then they'll go to state prison anyway.

CAVANAUGH: What kind of changes do you think need to be made?

LANKFORD: Missouri and Texas, even Santa Cruz California, and now LA with something called every child foundation, they are doing terrific things to create group homes so we can have evidence-based therapeutic treatments for kids who are not serious felons. And they have the opportunity to live in a life style, maybe have a dog in the house, 8-10 kids in a group home, with a man and a wife, acting like mother and dad, and the kids have to act and do jobs. They aren't just sitting around and being ordered around by forkeds. There's actually hope, there's inspiration, and maybe they can get past the alienation.

CAVANAUGH: You make a statement in the book that all some kids need is one good enough adult in their lives. Explain what you mean.

LANKFORD: There are lots of kids who have trouble. They have parents who are either using alcohol or drugs or smoking pot in front of them, or have various thought processes that are not healthy are if the kid. Maybe there's a special teacher, a grandmother, an auntie that encourages whatever sparkle they have that is going on in them that keeps their imagination and creativity moving ahead. They may have delays. They may not keep up with a grade level. But somebody who says you're going to make it. That's what it's all about.

CAVANAUGH: Are there success stories in this book?

LANKFORD: Absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us about one.

LANKFORD: We have a success story of a kiddo, and all she wanted to do was to stay in the hall because it was more of a family than being out. And now with a lot of work, and we saw her outside the hall as well as inside, she has moved ahead into her education, and I have good hopes for her.

CAVANAUGH: There is also I documentary film of this.

LANKFORD: I made a documentary film called it's more extensive to do nothing, after this painful experience, and I'm not saying I was suffering, I enjoyed it. But the documentary film, I had to are put doctor Bruce Perry, a judge, a doctor from UCSD who's worked with bone Dumanis, all these people had to be in my film to tell what happens from early childhood trauma to the recidivism rate we have. We have to break that, and we can't afford it. We can't afford 13 million dollars a year in tax dollars. Early releases from a state prison at the adults. How are we anything to take this burden on in the future and pay for youth who at state level are $220,000 a year? At the county level, I don't know what that's going to cost. But we can do more with therapy and rehabilitation. And then they become taxpayers.

CAVANAUGH: I want to let even know that you can see this book and hear more from Susan LANKFORD. On April 21st at Warwick's in La Jolla. Thanks so much.

LANKFORD: Thank you, Maureen.