Clinton Walker on the Social Costs of Being “Tough on Potential”

Clinton "Nkechi" Walker
Clinton “Nkechi” Walker
Excerpt from an Interview with Nkechi on 2/2/15

In your last set of responses you describe a system and approach to young people (and particularly toward urban youth of color) that has become “tough on potential.” Layne and I thought this phrasing was very powerful. We wanted to follow up by asking, what does it mean for a society to be “tough on potential” and what are its impacts? What would a different approach that alternately encouraged human potential look like?

A society is tough on potential when its first course of correction towards its citizens is punitive.

The essence of tough on potential begins and ends with the children of its society. I believe education is a direct root to all potential. When society and its electors allow its educational system to fail in value and care, it do so with deteriorating the growth and possibilities of its children. It’s the epitome of being tough on potential when society allows its children to be subject to the harshest penalties of the judicial system such as a Life sentence in prison. It’s tough on potential when an ex-offender returns to society only to be confronted with a depressing and discouraging reality, that many opportunities to become a productive citizens are limited or stripped from them, opportunities such as adequate employment, state and federal benefits and the right to vote. It’s tough on potential when society and its elected refuse to recognize and exercise the ability to forgive and allow a second chance to those who have been incarcerated for decades and has achieved the highest degree of rehabilitation. Finally, it’s tough on potential when the lawmakers and members of the court who make up the judicial system blatantly disregard the lasting effects of sentencing a person to a prison stint of no return. These effects consist of displacement of families and the dismantling of communities.

Those who have endured and experienced hardship should be the first to be called upon for the task of deterring others, such as troubled youth, from experiencing that same hardship. With a sentence of no return, it eliminates a potential outlet to redirect the mis-directed potential of communities and their youth.

An approach that would encourage human potential in PA would be an approach that would adopt serious methods and strategies toward rehabilitation in all prisons. It would be an approach by the entire prison industrial complex to encourage programming that strengthen bonds within the family and community structure, and not tear them apart.

The conditions of poverty, gritty street mentality and the lack of economic know-how to capitalize off of opportunities are major problems within our communities. It would do the overall community justice to offer some kind of training in entrepreneurship within the prison structure to counterattack the criminal element, which will simultaneously attack what has become mass incarceration in PA and beyond. I believe another approach to encourage human potential would be to reform our broken schools. In turn, it will decimate what has now become the school to prison pipeline. It’s imperative that society and its inhabitants re-sensitize themselves to the ruthless and reckless criminalization of today’s youth. Doing so would be the ultimate approach that would encourage human potential.