Think Outside the Box: Jesus and Diana

Nov. 1, 2012 / By and

By Jesus Almaraz

This chance to decide where this money will be spent it is a great honor. To know where this money would be placed and where it is most needed will not be hard because there is one thing that needs it. In this case, it is not education system that is in place.

Money would make a greater impact if it is invested in the future and the people of tomorrow: the youth. The ones that will one day be the doctors that will save lives and the teachers that will teach the generations that follow. That is something that we all as a community should think about.

[pullquote]The youth should be our priority and it’s good that we try to fund education as much as possible, but what happens to the youth that don’t last in the education system? What happens to all the ones that drop out because they got pushed out of the schools? How many good people are we pushing into another system that criminalizes them? Why do we give them a second chance? This is where our focus should be on, in helping those students get back in to the school system. We cannot forget about them.[/pullquote]

We might ask ourselves, “How we can get the youth that are out in the street back to the school system?” The answer is in LA and it’s called the Chuco’s Justice Center. Aside from being the home base of several non-profits, the center is a high school for students who have been pushed out from schools or are coming from the prison system. They can provide a high school diploma so that the youth can succeed in society.

The community might label them as a bad student, but at this center the teachers teach the youth basic skills to be a community organizer. The community sees that this center can really help put the changing point in the life of these young men and women. This is where our focus should be in these youth that can still be fixed. These students can come back and be our future  and we don’t need to build prisons based on their test scores.

It is centers like Chuco’s will help shape their life and the life of our nation. Between these young men and women we might find the person that will change the system in the way that there will no longer be push outs, suspensions, and or dropouts. We have to give them a chance to find their true potential and their passion.

Building more types of these youth centers will make the difference in the community. These centers will be the places that get the youth to become successful because they are operated by the community, for the community.

One of the most important is being listened to. The truth is that the actions of each and every one of the youth out there are only a reflection of what is going on in their life. Often some youth keep it all in, and for others, the only way that they feel that they are letting go of all of that is by acting up and making bad choices to let the adrenalin not let them think about the things that are going on in their life.

The point of these youth centers is to help out the youth become more successful, even if it is not through the regular school system. The difference that we would create would be giving them a chance to speak up and let their story’s be heard without the fear that they will be judged. In this process, parents will also get a chance to hear what their son or daughter have to say not only to them, but to the world.


By Diana Cardenas

Something huge is happening in California, as it is all across the country. It is up to us to stop it from ballooning in our backyard. If we have ever cared about education, the arts, health, social services and programs, and ultimately preparing younger generations so that they do not fall into the pattern that currently many felons and ex-felons face, it is time to put our money where our mouth is.

[pullquote]This is a complex issue but it should not deter us from taking action. Let’s start by educating ourselves and other. Let’s listen to the stories of despair and success and let’s share them with others. Let’s find genuine allies in our communities and our governments. Let’s bring together the bright minds so that they can help us with research that can redirect, if not rewrite, our approach to crime. Let’s do this so that we can have more bright minds in the future that can help us resolve other issues.[/pullquote]

Over the past several years, a significant amount of California’s budget continues to be funneled into the prison industrial complex– a term that has been popularized but should not be taken lightly or dismissed. This has significantly had an impact on other priorities. I personally care about the fact that this is an unequivocally a system that is not working for any of us and that something drastic has to happen. The priorities we have are misplaced. As proof, we continue to put money into this prison behemoth and leave what is important up in the air. We then turn it into politic mayhem labeled as a  budget crisis, sell it as an issue of law and order, and  normalize it for citizens of this state to accept it as a fact of life. But the hard facts are there, the stories are many and that is why a change needs to happen so that these stories stop being reproduced.

For many of the folks who one way or another are involved in the prison system it does not end with completing a prison sentence just as it did not begin the moment they were arrested.  A lot of them have not been given even a first shot at living to their fullest potential. If they are falling through these cracks we should not be so quick as to demonize them. Sure, punishment needs to happen but the system should deliver punishment in a realistic manner. We need punishment that is effective and goes deeper than the tip of the iceberg. We have to prepare the youth taking into account the fact that some will face some disadvantages over others in their lifetime. We should not blame them for these disadvantages but rather do something about it. It is also time we revisit our get-tough policies that are riddled with biases.

The real question is, is this really thinking outside the box? How much do we have to go outside this box to justify investing in public education, in our health, and in fixing a system that is unequivocally broken? If we think this is thinking outside the box, then rather we should be doing first a self-reflection of where our priorities and values stand and how these affect our families and society at large.


Every tax dollar funneled into jails and prisons takes funding away from other services and needs, including K-12 and higher education. California currently allots $10.7 billion to its criminal justice budgets.

VoiceWaves asked its new youth reporters how they would change the system by entering the Think Outside The Box Contest, a project of the ACLU of California whose objective is to engage voters, youth and young adults around the California budgeting process.

The youth were asked to answer questions like, “What do you care about?”; “What would you do with the money saved if you were Governor of California?”; and “What kind of difference could you make?”

Every week, VoiceWaves will continue to showcase two youth entries.

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Jesus Almaraz

Jesus Almaraz is a 21 year old Mexican-American. He was born in Zacatecas, Mexico and brought to the US at age four. He has lived in Long Beach since then. Being an undocumented youth, Jesus has had lots of struggles growing up. He began to volunteer for the community and got involved with Californians For Justice. Jesus wants to use his talent in film-making and photography to help the voices of the youth in the community get louder.

Diana Cardenas

Diana is proud to call Mexico City the place she was born and raised in. At five she reunited with her mother and moved to Torrance where she has lived for the past 22 years with her two younger sisters, mother, and stepfather. Right before turning 21 she started to discover the wonders and challenges of Long Beach as a transfer student to CSULB and fell in love with all of it. It was there where she first started to come to terms with her undocumented identity in a community of students and supporters. This not only helped her understand herself better but also the world around her and the multiple injustices that go on. As Audre Lorde, one of her favorite feminist writers, once said, “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” This is a mantra she lives by. She graduated with a double major in Sociology and Chican@/Latin@ Studies and continues doing advocacy work in Long Beach.