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When did Jail Become Cool?
berdine dennard
Kenney Dennard

Growing up as a child I had a friend that got everything he wanted. During those days, in the 80's, whatever was in style; from Gucci Sweaters, Members Only jackets, Izod Shirts, Jordache Jeans etc, he had it. All the new Atari games, stereos, albums, walk-men, etc, he had them. I loved to go to his house to play with his latest toys and gadgets. Every now and then he would give me the old thing because his mom had just bought him the new one.

In school, everyone admired him. He was cool and was always in style. Every girl I knew had a crush on him. Girls that I liked didn't pay me any attention but suddenly when they saw me walking with him, they would talk to me. Guys loved to be around him as well. My friend did average in school at best. The older we got, the worse his grades got. He would cut class in high school, and sometimes not show up at all.

It was around that time that I noticed that he never got disciplined. His mother was only about 15 years older than him and was rarely home. He didn't know his father. Many times whoever was dating his mother bought him stuff to get in with his mom. It worked. At age 14-15 he was coming in and out the house when he wanted to and so was his mother. I thought this was so cool as a child. I wished my parents were more like his. I'll never forget the night my dad and me were pulling up and my friend was standing on the corner with 3-4 more guys that were slightly older. It was a school night. My father said, "You see those guys there? None of them will amount to anything. They'll spend the rest of their life in and out of jail and on the corners." I wished I was out on that corner with the 'cool' guys. My friend finally just dropped out of school and embraced the street life, smoking weed and drinking most of the day.

After high school I left my hometown of Macon and went off to college. I later moved to Atlanta. I didn't see my old friend for years. I asked about him one weekend I was home and heard he had been in jail for some petty crime. A few years later I would see him and although I enjoyed seeing him, I noticed he was still trapped in his glory days, his teenage life, although he was maybe 27-28 at the time. But he had nothing else going on in his personal life. He came across pretty silly still talking about girls that liked him in high school. I had moved so far beyond that.

Although I kept his number, we barely talked after that. We had very little to talk about other than reminiscing about high school stuff.

The other day I was home I asked about him and found out he was in jail again. Later during the week I was talking to my cousin and he told me some stories about some teens in our hometown that just seemed to have no value on life. We talked about how crazy things had gotten. He was going on about how they disrespected their parents and hung out on the streets and pretty much did as they pleased. He said at such a young age they are already in and out the jail system. As we talked and he began to question how it could get so bad so quick I thought about our childhood friend.

I then thought about the people I admired when I was a teenager. My musical idols were New Edition, Public Enemy, Run DMC and Whodini. My favorite ball players were Dominique Wilkins, Dr J and Magic Johnson. From what I knew these were all intelligent, classy guys. Nowadays, kids heroes are Snoop Dog, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, T.I. and Michael Vick. Each of these guys has been in the public eye for their battles with the law. In children's eyes to see their heroes in and out of jail, it makes it seem like jail couldn't be that bad.

I told my cousin this and also stated that we came up with different values because our parents raised us different. They wouldn't let us stay outside after the streetlight came on. We couldn't get every new pair of shoes that came out. They monitored the music we listened to. We couldn't watch but so much TV because there was only one or two in the house. After mom and dad got home, the channel was on whatever they wanted to watch.

So now as I wonder what happened and how so many of our youth just seem to not care as they grow up with no values I think about my childhood friend. He was so cool at a young age. I think about how he got trapped in a mind state of trying to be cooler than he was educated. I sadly look at today's youth and see whom they emulate and look up to most and see it's that same mind state. So it suddenly all makes sense. But does it really make sense?


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