The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
I am a public-school teacher. A few years ago, I was physically assaulted by a student. It is a class 3 misdemeanor to assault a public-school employee. The student was paper arrested on campus and formally charged. As the victim, I had the option to go to juvenile court, to face the parent(s), the student, the parole officer, and the judge assigned to the case.
I wanted this individual to understand the severity of the action. I wanted the student to pay for the crime!
Something did not feel right in the days leading up to the court date. It was clear by the time that I stood in front of that judge that I had changed my mind about pressing charges against the child.
I saw this system as the beginning of a harsher life for this student had I pressed charges. It was a system foreign to me, but as a black woman, I understood how systems can work against people of color and poor people regardless of race.
I did not want to contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline because in that moment, I felt that the judicial system was the only corrective system. There had to be another way. I dropped the charges and asked the judge if the student could write me a letter and have another opportunity to perhaps sit down with me.
I wanted a restoration. I wanted to save a life from a system. And in my mind save a life that is a part of the greater society. How to discipline with dignity, and hold responsible one’s actions?
What surprised me, and the person who went with me to support me on that day a few years ago, was that the judge, the lawyer, the family, the probation officer, and maybe even the student, was their shock at my request for case dismissal. I wanted an opportunity for reconciliation.
Mass Liberation Arizona is a grassroots movement/organization created out of necessity to address inequities within the judicial and incarceration system. One of the principles Mass Liberation Arizona advocates for is community-based alternatives to incarceration and community healing.
When incarceration is the first/only solution, it’s a disservice to society. What is being created behind the walls of a jail cell? Understanding? Remorse? Collaboration? Empathy? Joy? What becomes of these lives once they are returned to society?
When monies are solely or primarily invested in the prison system, it takes away from other entities and community services. Reallocating funding to communities to build an infrastructure of programs for children, jobs and other opportunities leads to community growth.
Why not institute more counseling, mental health and social health programs? Real opportunities to thrive! These should be goals. Options should exist.
I don’t know what ever happened to my former student but I feel that my act of humanity might soften the situation and perhaps soften some hearts that must function within that system.
Lucy LiBosha is a math teacher and small business owner living in Tucson.