Jail, A Harsh Reality for A Lot of Teens

It’s not often one gets to enter a high security prison only to get out hours later. That’s what HarlemLive did recently when we went to present our program to some all male high school classes at Rikers Island in New York City. 

HarlemLive has traveled around the globe showing other communities the power of the web in creating outlets for expression and the journalism process which expands the youth’s view of their world. For the last five years, HarlemLive has provided a teen centered program unprecedented in New York City. Our young people have traveled to Sweden, Rome, and Washington, DC to accept awards for their success at producing a domestic and international award winning state-of-the-art news and cultural web magazine

What made this visit a surprise to us is that we bumped into a couple people we knew. 

While we sat in the principal’s office, many of the guys were filing past on their way to lunch. Through the window to the hallway, one 18 year old teen did a double take as he recognized HarlemLive teen spokesperson, Melvin Johnson. Both grew up in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx. He was incarcerated for being present at the scene of a gang assault. 

The incarceration has changed his attitude about wanting to stay in gangs. What really hit him was his younger brother asking when he was, “going to grow up and start being a real older brother,” who could serve as a role model to his younger siblings. 

After chatting with the young inmate, we got a chance to speak to the principal, Frank Dody. Dody came to work many years ago as a one year stint but stayed on seeing how much in need the teens were of caring adults. There are 10 prisons on Rikers Island housing up to 17,000 inmates. Of the 10, there are 4 that house adolescents and teens. HarlemLive was visiting the Adolescent Reception and Detention Center (ARDC). It houses adolescents who have yet to be sentenced. “They could be here for a day or several months,” said Mr. Dody. 

At the ARDC, most of the teens that are not deemed to be dangerous to the others live in large dorm areas that sleep 50 inmates with individual cots separated by a small locker. There is at least one fight a day, usually about “who’s in charge”, among the youth.

In the classrooms, there are 15 male students to a class. We noticed that the teachers were all male but that many of the security guards in the halls were female. Our visit stirred some excitement as Melvin Johnson, Danya Steele, and Justin Young walked through the halls to the first of three classes. 

Pressed against one of the plexiglass windows that allowed the guards to peer into the classrooms was a young teen. It was a teen who was part of the Urban Youth Bike Corp, with whom HL has collaborated. While most alumni of the UYBC are now attending college, this young man chose a different path and was convicted for two armed robberies. 

The prison personnel allowed the teen to attend some of the classes with the HarlemLive editors as they made their presentations. He was even able to speak to the director of the UYBC by using HL’s cell phone. It seemed our visit and the fact he knew us helped increase his stature with his fellow classmates and teachers. 

We spoke to the teens about HarlemLive possibly working with the teachers and providing an outlet for them to publish their poetry, stories and artwork. Melvin spoke of how his life changed once he chose to work with HarlemLive, a choice that lead to an increase in his skills and self esteem and away from the scene on the streets. Some of the teens acted in the normal classroom atmosphere of “let’s perform for the visitors” while many of the other teens seemed to be extremely quiet and reserved. 

We’re hoping that our message made it to at least one teen and that they find a program or place where they can find their niche in life, where they’ll know they can be a valued and productive member in their community, and aybe even a “real older brother,” to their siblings and friends. 

Sites to view: 

NYC government’s Department of Correction web pages: http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/doc/home.html 

Description of the 10 Rikers Island Jails http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/nycdoc/html/jailist1.html

Creative Kids Publishes The Franconian

Introducing The Franconian, produced by HarlemLIVE

Where did we get the name? Franconia, a place in Germany, is etched in stone over the doorway. It is currently hidden by scaffolding.  We made it a noun by adding an ’n’. However, we’re open to a name change based on feedback.  Many of the area’s pre-war buildings have names. Take a look. 

Creative Kids of HarlemLIVEbegan with the help of a former school teacher and youth living in our building, 19 – 25  St Nicholas 

This is a trial run of our newsletter. We’re welcoming anyone  to contribute to this occasional publication produced by the building’s youth.

Feel free to suggest or offer any stories. recipes, poems, artwork, adventures, for future issues

Suggestions can be directed to Djeneba Ballo of the 5th Floor or Abdoulaye and Muhammed Diop of the 3rd floor.

Creative Kids

Editor: Djeneba Ballo

Contributors: Abdoulaye and Muhammed Diop and Mamady, Mawa, and Aboulaye Ballo.

What’s Up with the Cat Downstairs?

In spring 2013, an outgoing tenant abandoned a female kitten to the basement. For many weeks, it hid in the shadows. Then she timidly befriended the super and other tenants.  Not long after that, a large grey alley cat made friends with her, too, and by summer’s end, she was a very young mother.

After successfully nursing three females and one male for two months with the help of the super and tenants, the mother was taken to get her shots and spayed.  

Attention was given to make sure the kittens were people friendly. The super’s daughter and a former tenant each adopted one of the females, while the other two found homes with the help of a posting on the website, Craigslist.   

 The proud mother cat now patrols her territory, greeting those doing laundry and doing her part in keeping mice away. The occurrence of mice dropped dramatically once she took up residence downstairs 2 ½ years ago. 

Feel free to say hi. She’s very friendly. She was never given a name. Try “Here Kitty, Kitty.” 

Scaffolding, Fresh Paint, New Store Front

2015 – A change in the building’s management over a year ago brought about several developments. Scaffolding was put up last fall. Many apartments changed hands. The halls went from white and green to shades of brown and beige around Labor Day. What looks like a fancy coffee shop in the corner store front, is actually a real estate broker. The hair salon is gone.

Ballo Family’s West African Summer

 
by Djeneba and Mamady Ballo


 This summer, we went with our mother and older sister, Mawa, to the west African country, Cote D’Ivoire. Our parents were born and raised there. 

On our way to Cote D‘Ivoire , we were so nervous. I, Djeneba hadn’t been there for 13 years. I kept asking myself if my relatives would remember me and if they would like me. 


Once we got there it was a total shock, We were expecting there to be no supermarkets, that we’d be staying in an apartment, and to only have outdoor showers. Instead we stayed in a beautiful house that had a shower, supermarkets, and much more.  


What really shocked us was the cultural differences and how, wherever we went, people treated us like we always lived there. Even if they did not know you, they were willing to help you.

We learned a lot about the government and the school systems.  

This trip was fun. We got to know more about our family, and met some we never knew. The Ivory Coast is a very special place to us. The stereotype that all the people are poor is not true. 

Overall we had an amazing time learning and understanding the world better.

Taking Wax to the Max

by Tiffany Santiago Photos by Johnny Holmes

On December 7, 1996, Angel Colon, Johnny Holmes and I visited the first and only African American Wax Museum of Harlem. The founder and owner is Mr. Raven Chanticleer. Mr. Chanticleer lives next door to the museum with his wife. 

Raven Chanticleer was born to a prominent family. His mother was born in Barbados, and his father in Haiti. He has one sister and one brother, his brother was born in Haiti. His father was a principal. 

Some of the wax figures he has made includes David Dinkins and Martin Luther King. It takes Mr. Chanticleer about one month to finish a figure. He uses paper mache and plaster from the feet up. 

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and Honorable David Dinkins, former NYC mayor

Raven Chanticleer made a lamp out of popsicle sticks and it took him about a month to make it. Besides running the museum, he writes for a newspaper. He used to teach at a college but found it more interesting to teach younger kids. He is now writing a book called “Taking Wax To The Max”. 

Raven Chanticleer

Mr. Chanticleer’s dream is to make his museum bigger and to install a computer room. Right now he is working on a figure of Bob Marley. He says that making wax figures and art objects is what he always wanted to do, that this was his calling.

Celebrities Go To School

by Keisean Marshall

How would you feel if you walked in to your classroom and saw a famous celebrity; like Madonna, Snoop Dog, Cameron Diaz or even Bill Gates? This is the case for some colleges around the nation. 

Courtesy of MTVu; a network dedicated to all aspects of college life both on and off campus. 

“Stand Up” [the program] brings the class to life in a way that few would ever imagine,” said Stephen Friedman, MTVu’s general manager. 

The network had envisioned a series where colleges would compete to hear a celebrity speak. But that proved too time-consuming to organize and when its second speaker, Marilyn Manson, nailed his appearance at Temple University, MTVu knew it had a better format. 

The goal of this program is to make the classroom fun, entertaining and make the class more interacting. 

Colleges and the network try to keep the program under-wraps- they manage to keep this serious secret by telling fibs to students who may wonder about the cameras when they show up to class. 

Hunter College in New York City participated in the program last week, a film class was told it was screening Madonna’s new documentary, “I’m Going to Tell You a Secret,” and discussing it with the film’s director. With an endless stream of adults- including big colossal bodyguards walking in and out of the room during the movie, smart students figured out what was happening. 

Student, Pinar Noorata, a junior film major said, “Since there were security guards all lined up I figured she was coming,” “That was kind of a dead giveaway. But I think everybody was still surprised. It was kind of surreal.” 

MTV and Viacom is considering giving “Stand In” some exposure on the main network, Friedman said, and is also mulling making extended versions of the appearances available on the Internet.