&#91FOUNTAIN&#93Don't turn back on these kids

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[FOUNTAIN]Don't turn back on these kids

A pimple-face middle school girl, whom we will call Suk-yeong, is financially secure because her parents are wealthy. But she had trouble dealing with her parents' divorce.

Suk-yeong found comfort in her friends. Her mother, with whom she has lived since the divorce, was having a hard time getting over the painful separation. Suk-yeong became a trouble-maker hanging around friends who enjoyed riding motor bikes. This little rich girl with pimples stole a large amount of money and was arrested by the police. Suk-yeong was put on trial and had to spend time in a juvenile prison. Suk-yeong's mother, with tears covering her face, said, "Why did you steal so much money with all the financial support you have?"

Suk-yeong, said to herself, as she was being taken away by the police, "It was love, not money, that I was trying to steal."

This is an excerpt from a middle school girl's confessional.

A minor sentenced to a juvenile prison is referred to as a "sleeper." Sleepers face a bleak future after they are released from prison. Six out of 10 commit crimes again and are sent to adult prisons, according to a researcher's statistics. Juveniles sent to reformatories for committing theft more often than not return to a life of crime after they are released, the statistics say.

A movie made in the United States tells the story of two sleepers who 14 years after they were released hunted down and killed the prison guard who had tortured them. One sleeper who escaped the improbability of a fruitful life became the world's most famous jazz musician. Louis Armstrong, who was born poor in New Orleans in 1900, was sent to a reformatory at the age of 13 after accidentally discharging his father's pistol. While in detention he learned how to play the cornet. As everyone knows, Louis Armstrong became a jazz legend.

Evidence shows that sleepers often grow into adult criminals. The reason, sociologists say, is that no one cares about them. The number of second-time offenders is growing as the average age of juvenile delinquents declines.

The environment of juvenile prisons could be called a living hell. These young people need hope and love. There are 2,800 juvenile delinquents in Korea. These sleepers need to listen to one of Louis Armstrong's most famous lyrics:

"And I think to myself, what a wonderful world."


by Lee Kyu-youn

The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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