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Thousands of teens are being punished — by being locked in a box.

A room 10 feet by 7 feet. No human contact for months. How does this do teenagers any good?

In March 2014, Reveal, one of the websites of the Center for Investigative Reporting, did some investigating into the treatment of teenagers imprisoned on New York City's Rikers Island.

And what they found was pretty shocking: Teenagers were regularly put into solitary confinement.

"At any given time, about 100 teenagers are housed in solitary confinement at Rikers Island. ... Every day, thousands of teenagers around the U.S. are held in solitary confinement, but no one knows for sure how many. That's because the federal government does not require prisons, jails, and juvenile halls to report the number of young people they put in isolation or how long they keep them there." — Reveal

Reveal spoke with a teenager, Ismael "Izzy" Nazario, who throughout his time at Rikers Island spent a total of 300 days in solitary.


That's right, 300 days.

So teenagers — young people in their most formative years — are essentially being locked in a box.

Image by Wolfram Burner/Flickr.

A 10-by-7 room. They have no human contact. Just a toilet, a sink, and a bunk. Food comes in through a slot in the door. They might go on like this for six months.

Imagine how someone might react after days in that condition. Well, you don't have to imagine. Reports show evidence of young people pounding the walls, screaming, hallucinating, self-harming, and attempting, and committing, suicide.

Image via YouthSpeaks.

Many people were outraged by what CIR found and by Izzy's story, like Gabriel Cortez, an incredibly talented slam poet. Cortez believes that solitary confinement is a form of torture and that youth should instead be receiving the support they deserve.

Through art, writing, and good old-fashioned protest, he spoke out.

"But what room is there for growth in a cell with barely enough room to stand? What room is there for therapy and rehabilitation when trauma is promised 23 hours a day?"
— Gabriel Cortez

Check out his amazing video here. Heads up for some disturbing visuals.

The good news? As a result of the findings, Rikers Island will no longer place individuals below the age of 21 in solitary confinement.

But there's more work to be done.

Want to get other cities and states on board with protecting more young folks from this treatment?

You can. You have many options: from helping fund nonprofits like the National Juvenile Defender Center, to using ACLU's advocacy toolkits from its Stop Solitary campaign to organize in your region. You can also sign ACLU's petition to the Attorney General demanding an end to youth solitary confinement.

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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