Just Cause

Some Santa Cruzans are thinking creatively about our state’s children and their futures. That creativity is embodied in two upcoming events featuring two authors, both of whom have witnessed up close and personal what juvenile incarceration is like.

The first event is What’s Just?, happening Feb. 13-14 at Inner Light Ministries.

The Santa Cruz Warriors basketball team, Barrios Unidos and Resource Center for Nonviolence are all sponsoring the event, along with Inner Light.

On Friday night, the summit, which explores the theme of “juvenile justice,” tips off with award-winning journalist Nell Bernstein, author of the new book “Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison.”

Bernstein says Santa Cruz has a reputation nationwide for its focus on rehabilitation and the attitudes of its probation department. She was impressed by how many different groups have come together for this event.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a community come together with this diversity in terms of who’s involved,” she says. “And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the community is showing its support for the kids, and that your public systems are in general well-regarded.”

Saturday’s events will include panels, group discussions and art.

Warriors forward Anthony Vereen has pledged to work with youth from inside Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall and made his first visit with the children last week.

Bernstein argues in her book that the juvenile prison system is broken. She says that while many kids break serious laws, rich kids for the most part avoid state prisons, often because they are sent to diversion programs, which are proven to better rehabilitate kids. Other times, the criminal issues are simply dealt with by their families and communities. Bernstein says it’s largely the poor kids who go to state prisons, and often emerge worse than when they went it.

“There’s actually no such thing as a juvenile delinquent. It’s a developmental phase that all kids go through,” she says.

Although Bernstein says she’s “not naïve enough” to think that all kids can be left alone, she argues that public institutions would have more success if they focused on supporting children “with relationships with positive adults.”

The importance of positive vibes is also a message of Santa Cruz journalist Ami Chen Mills-Naim, who worked five years in juvenile facilities, including a year and a half teaching at a maximum-security institution.

“They really responded to that core belief in their potential,” she says of the kids she got to know.

Her new book, “State of Mind in the Classroom”—which she will discuss on March 15 at Santa Cruz Yoga—explains how adults can help kids find their inner truths and sense of wisdom, or as she calls it “their resiliency.”

“It’s about educators and parents finding their own sense of being present,” Mills-Naim says of the book.

What’s Just? begins at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 13 at Inner Light Ministries in Soquel. Ami Chen Mills-Naim will speak at Santa Cruz Yoga on March 15, from 1:30-4 p.m.

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