Understanding Youth Violence

The other day I was honored to address an audience of formerly incarcerated women at a woman’s conference who are in the beginning stages of the reentry process. Before I was introduced, they had an opportunity to view Time Zone, a documentary about the first year of my release. Watching Time Zone, along with an audience for the first time, was overwhelming to say the least. Oftentimes I look back and I

can’t believe that I was once the person I used to be.

Every time I speak publicly, I always state simply that as a result of circumstantial and environmental issues I became immersed in a life of crime at a young age. Then, I state hesitantly that I committed some grave acts that landed me in prison for 18 years. I was 19 years old at the time. Someone told me recently that leaving out my actual crime of murder leaves the feeling that there’s “an elephant in the room.” I think many people believe that if I share what I actually did it will help inspire change in others more so than it does when I attempt to withhold it, and perhaps that’s in part why I’ve stated here.

The truth is that I was a menace, but I firmly believe that if I can change, anybody can change. I always describe the turbulent streets I grew up in, but the fact is that as a human being I know that I have choices in life. The trouble is, back then I didn’t realize it. I grew up in an area where you had to have a reputation in order to walk through certain areas, or you had better be prepared to defend yourself by the time you made it from one end of the block to the other.

The other day I shared a few secrets with my audience. I told them how much of a coward I really was before I created the image that led me down a path of destruction. I thought that image would protect me. Maybe it did, because I survived, but it cost me, and many others, dearly. When I was a little girl I used to run home, and sometimes I would hide behind the guys in my neighborhood. I was petrified of violence. After being chastised and coerced enough I decided to fight back. My dad, older siblings and the boys in the neighborhood were downright sick of me being such a coward.

I began to fight back and it seems that the level of violence increased over time, until one day a girl swung a baseball bat and I fired a gun. She died as a result of a gunshot wound. Gone forever. I shared that with the audience the other day. It wasn’t planned. I think it was provoked by the conversation I had about the elephant in the room and watching Time Zone. I spent the next few minutes trying to convince the audience how a wayward young girl, a girl of 19, could commit such an act without truly understanding the finality of her actions. How a troubled young person could be so unaware of the value of life and the implications of her actions. I wonder if they got the picture.

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About Lashonia Etheridge-Bey

Lashonia Etheridge-Bey is a Public Speaker who can candidly and articulately speak to the consequences of youth violence, the effects of incarceration and the challenges of reentry into society. Read Lashonia's Full BIO Here 


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