I originally posted this to the Scouts-L youth programs discussions group as well as a potential chapter to a Scouting book I am still writing called "Eagle Feathers." I dropped it from there so I may use it with a new project I'll start after the first of the year.
General John Vessey died in Minnesota on 18 August 2016. He started his military career as I did, as an enlisted Soldier but unlike me received a battlefield commission and eventually rose up the ranks to become one of America's senior military advisors to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He retired but continued to keep his oars in the water, so to speak. The local chapter of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) in which I served as Vice President for two years was named in his honor. The photo above was taken after one such meeting. )
Around the second full week of December each year, I post a holiday message to the participants of the youth programs discussion list I co-manage, called "Scouts-L." My posting is designed to remind people of their obligation to turn off their mailers if they are going to go away for the holidays and also to remind others that the list will continue through the December holidays as well as to offer my family's best wishes for each participant.
I found this past year’s greeting to be especially telling. In the local paper that day, a young man received "community service" for breaking, entering and injuring people in a house in my parent's town.
Here's what I wrote about "Community Service":
We started this year at war, and we will close out this year at war. Youth agencies and programs have traditionally supported the nation increasingly during times of war. We have a lot of work to do on the homefront...
We need to re-emphasize the need for service. I attended a breakfast meeting last week where the speaker was the former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Minnesota resident General John Vessey. During his speech at that Friends of Scouting breakfast, General Vessey stated something that has bothered me all that week and into the weekend.
He was speaking about the idea that Scouts did service projects for their communities. Entire units, he said, would go out and help some family or fix some homes, wearing the Scout uniform and showing the power of youth and enthusiasm. Today, he stated, we have inmates performing "community service," wearing orange vests as they pick up paper or clean lots, guarded by police officers, many times armed.
"When did we make the idea of 'community service' a punitive, negative thing?" he asked the audience.
That bothered me something fierce, especially after leaving the downtown hotel and while driving back to my office, heard on the radio that yet another "famous person" would not do any jail time but instead would be performing "community service" for a crime she committed.
Five hundred hours of "community service."
It is NO WONDER that we cannot get Scouts or Venturers to do community service projects -- they associate it with negativity and punishment.
We need to TURN THIS TIDE QUICKLY, Scouters. We need to instill into our youth the idea of doing good things for others, that it is a good thing to do for ourselves, and we need to continually beat it home that criminals don't do "community service" -- no matter what it's called.
We need to insist to our judges and reformation people in our courts that "Scouts do "community service" and we are proud of doing for others...please don't have those who commit crimes do "community service." Have them to do jail time...and when it is not feasible to do jail time, have them to do work to repay for their crime. Please, please do not call it "community service". Call it what it is -- RESTITUTION. PUNISHMENT. PENALTY.
As I drove down the street, listening to a radio station, I overheard an interview with a rap artist. He told of his time "as a guest of the State" and how when he finally came out, the mere fact that he was a "tough man" and did jail time actually pulled in MORE kids toward his albums and concerts. He could now say that "he was locked up." Kids actually saw "jail time" as a POSITIVE THING.
When did this happen? When did we make punishment a positive thing? It is no wonder that when a child gets picked up by the police for any sort of crime, the first words out of his or her mouth is NOT "call my momma" or "get my daddy" but instead "This ain't nothin'...I'll be back out on the streets and FAMOUS!"
I am SCARED of a jail...of the outside of a jailhouse. I am a 58-year-old man, father, married twice over. I am fearful of any kind of lockup! I can remember clearly when the Army took officers on tour of the federal jail at Leavenworth, and how my heart was beating several hundred times a second faster than anything else in my life when they placed me into one of the jail cells and closed the door "so that I would know what it felt like".
Why would ANY CHILD think that jail is a "good thing," a "resume builder"?
Isn't that what our youth programs are all about...good things, resume builders, character enhancers??
When I finally pulled into the gates of the Army side of Fort Snelling, and after I showed my ID card to get access to the parking area, I was reminded again by the radio of the challenges we face as youth agency volunteers and professionals. On yet another radio station, I was told that "kids don't read anymore. They want to see things interactively through their computers...we should do away with books."
Scouting's programs provide ways for enhancement of the education process. We encourage our youth members to read and to share what they read with others. We require them to write and express themselves to others in their group and outside their group. We need to encourage and inspire our youth to continue to read, to write, to understand, and to express themselves. That's where ideas come from....ideas like a machine which can take typed impulses and place them onto a screen.
Our youth are much better than what society paints them as, folks. We need to continue to make our communities aware of what we are doing to make our youth better than the "average kid" and at the same time, we need to allow our youth members to work and gain that recognition for their efforts.
Until we all work together, no matter what program you belong to, or what nation you're living in, or whatever faith or religious observances you honor -- our youth will continue to take values and turn them upside down in the interest of "being a part of the in-crowd."
We are the role models, the patterns, the examples.