Has Most Christmas News Ever Been About Joy?

              In spite of Internet access to all things current, as well as magazines, newspapers and radio, television allows us to witness events. We would rather watch a presidential news conference than read about it. Inflection, facial expressions and body language tell a lot more about what is going on than does the written word. And the amount of time dedicated to particular stories, along with the subject matter of commercials, tells us a lot about our culture. And it’s not mostly about chestnuts, good tidings or messianic forgiveness.

            Starting with Thanksgiving weekend, TV makes it appear that Christmas is primarily about three things:

            A) Giving material things; most of which we don’t need;

            B) Getting material things (see line above);

            C) The misery of those too poor to participate in A and B.

            There is so much misery and sadness associated with the less-fortunate at holiday time that we wonder why yuletide is so universally associated with cheer. We can’t even run routine chores near our home here in San Jose without getting stuck in traffic jams on the streets and in parking lots.Teen prisoner

            The most disappointed folks must be those kids who won’t be getting a new X-Box, Barbie doll or Wii, or whatever the latest ass-kicking gadget is that kids must have. That is, except for the even more disappointed kids who will be spending Christmas behind bars.

            Approximately one-fourth of all the prisoners in the world reside in the United
States, at taxpayers’ expense. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, at any one time in 2008 more than 80,000 juveniles were locked up in America. And it can’t be much better, emotionally speaking, for the millions of adults in the slammer.

            Where we live, in California’s Santa Clara County, many of the inmates at Juvenile Hall have little to look forward to at Christmas time. According to an article in the December 19th San Jose Mercury News, the best that many of these 13- to 18-year-old offenders get comes in the form of special meals from volunteers. As Ninveh Joseph, a senior group counselor at the facility put it, “I think most of the volunteers are here to let the kids know, ‘We understand you made a mistake, but there are people who still care.”’

            Of course, very few parents expect to raise kids who will spend time in “juvie.”  It’s likely that with young inmates rotating in and out of the system during the course of a year, considerably more than 80,000-plus kids spend some time incarcerated. Over the five-year span of ages 13 to 18, it’s hard to calculate how many youngsters will spend time in juvie.

            But that’s part of the gamble of having kids. Some parents – or would-be parents – may argue that they will be raising their kids in more privileged surroundings, that their children will live in good neighborhoods, or go to good schools, or that they are knowledgeable and loving moms and dads. True, that mitigates the odds of their offspring falling into self-destructive or criminal lives. But we have personally known many young adults who were raised in such circumstances but who ended up incarcerated, drug-addicted or who somehow evaded the criminal justice system in spite of being miscreants.

            So, with the holidays upon us, it saddens the heart to know that millions of kids will be disappointed by their parents’ inability to lavish them with the booty that has become the primary object of Christmastime. And sadder still is the thought that young adults languish behind bars, for the most part lonely, afraid and without an inkling of where their lives are headed.

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