"The world is before you
and you need not take it
or leave it as it was
when you came in."
–James A. Baldwin
At Native Sons, we know that literacy can make all the difference in whether or not a young person locked up in juvenile detention winds up returning to prison. The fact is that 85% of the 55,000 juveniles who are detained every year are illiterate. We also know that these young people have just a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive none. And wouldn't it be even better if we could invest in those who are most at risk to prevent them from ever ending up in detention? We believe so. These are opportunities that inspire us at Native Sons.
With our purpose of fighting mass incarceration from the inside out, Native Sons is a literacy program aimed at getting books and reading materials—culturally, sociologically, historically relevant and appropriate ones—into the hands of juveniles disproportionately caught up by the School-to-Prison Pipeline. The reality is that many of these young people attend our schools, thus our aim is to meet them where we can--be it in or out--to change the trajectory of their lives through mentorship and literacy.
Our team of advisors includes some folks who have found their way out of the criminal justice system back to their communities, people who know how tough it can be to realign, how important mentorship and access to instructive materials can be. Other Native Sons mentors are still serving time in prison, yet have committed themselves to serving others in order that their mistakes might be used for good. Others yet are educators, musicians, and coaches who have never personally been caught up, but who care deeply. We share a passion for equity, even as we bring our unique and diverse backgrounds and experiences to this work. Our aim is to fight the injustice and impact of mass incarceration by focusing our energies on communities bearing the heaviest weight of systemic racism.
Already, Native Sons has collected and brought hundreds of copies of new and lightly-used books and other literacy materials to young people held in juvenile detention facilities, at-risk high school classrooms, as well as adult prisons. Young people serving time are benefitting tremendously from our investment in them, and thereby returning to their communities better-equipped and more hopeful about the future.