PART 2: The Trifecta of Social Failure: The scarlet letter


NOTE: This is a three-part series by WGXA's Eric Mock. Read and watch Part 1 here.

MACON, Ga. -- Nineteen-year-old Ian Colbert of Macon says he sees young people in his neighborhood turning to crime almost every day.

“You see people younger than me doing crazy junk," Colbert said. "You probably see someone younger, like [age] 16, breaking into houses -- just because they ain’t got nothing. They ain’t got no money in their pockets."

According to the Bibb County Sheriff's Office, the average age of juvenile suspects arrested in Macon is 14.5-years-old.

RELATED: PART 1: The Trifecta of Social Failure: A generational problem

Colbert said there's one thing keeping him from ever wanting to commit a crime.

“Because I got a brother and he’s in prison," Colbert says, adding that his brother is behind bars for murder. "He’s in there as we speak. He’s been in there since he was 16 -- now he’s 31. I ain’t trying to go down his path."

Jeffrey Tarver, associate professor of criminal justice at Middle Georgia State University, said many young people caught in the cycle of generational poverty and turn to crime when they feel like that's their only option.

“I don’t have the skill-set to go out and earn that BMW, earn that $50,000 to $60,000 to $100,000 a year in a legal way -- so I know what I know," Tarver said. "Which is, I can go out here and sell drugs and rob and boost to get what you got the legal way.”

Tarver’s background is in juvenile justice. He said the reasons some young black men feel like crime is the only way to get ahead are rooted in slavery and Jim Crow laws.

“When a particular group of people have been ostracized from the mainstream society, what you see is subcultures being developed, right?" Tarver said. "Deviant subcultures, sometimes. And at the end of the day, these young black men have created subcultures of ‘How can I feel like I have value,' right?’ And that’s what you’re seeing with a lot of these black men joining these different gangs in Macon and across the nation."

According to U.S. Census data, African Americans make up about 30 percent of Georgia’s total population. However, according to data from the Georgia Department of Corrections, African Americans make up about 60 percent of the state’s prison population.

Tarver also said once someone gets convicted of a felony, that record marks them for life -- even if they decide to turn their life around.

“That minor felony or drug charge is equivalent to a scarlet letter in our society today," he said. "We know if we put that scarlet letter on that person for that drug offense, now he or she can’t get a job because no one wants to hire someone on drugs. So what am I going to do? I’m going to go back to what I know, which is committing crimes -- be it selling drugs or robbing people. So the cycle continues over and over again because society set it up that way."

But Colbert says he isn’t headed down that path. He warns his friends and other young people in his neighborhood about the costs of crime.

“You get caught, you going to do some time," Colbert says. "You get caught kicking in doors, that’s 10 years. You shoot somebody -- murder -- that’s life in prison."

Because having a brother in prison is a constant reminder of what happens when you choose that life.

"When I talk to him on the phone, he's trying to tell me, 'Don’t go down my path. Be better than me,'” Colbert said.

Part 3 of The Trifecta of Social Failure will run May 15 on air and online.

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