Ready for some really tough earbud moments? Download “Caught,” the free nine-episode podcast by WNYC about kids in prison, told by the young people themselves. It puts voices to a problem you’re probably already aware of, but not invested in, if you don’t have a friend or family member embroiled in the system.
Host Kai Wright curates the storytelling from a team of journalists and the young people who are brave enough to share their stories in “Caught.”
“All of the kids we introduce you to in this podcast remain — in one way or another — caught in the system,” Wright tells Metro. “They shared their stories with us at a time when they are terribly vulnerable. Having heard their stories, all I can conclude is that we owe them a lot more than this. How do we stop punishing and start helping people who do harm, to others, or to themselves?”
Roughly 53,000 young people are incarcerated in this country on any given night. And the number of those kids who could benefit from support rather than suppression? The vast majority. We spoke with Wright to learn more about both his podcast and the problem that faces the country.
What leads to so many young people ending up on Riker’s Island instead of in high school?
We’re criminalizing trauma, and simple teenage behavior — schoolyard fights, that sort of thing. We’re arresting 10-year-olds instead of working to help these kids.
That young? Really?
The sorting of innocence from irredeemable guilt starts SO young. And more often than not, that stark divide depends on what you look like and where you live. We wanted to tell the stories about young people who are not innocent, and yet, due to troubling disparities, or just plain luck, they face very different consequences for their choices. For millions of them, once they get caught, that’s it. They’re stuck in a system that will shape the rest of their lives.
Isn’t the prison system meant to help rehabilitate offenders?
Once a young person is put into detention, often for trivial offences, it’s very rare for them to recover and return to life as a child, with support and opportunities. Even when they’re out of the system, these kids are in crisis.
These stories that you’re sharing are visceral because they’re so personal.
What we’re doing is asking someone who has never been asked to tell their story. We hear from activists, cops, government officials — but never the young people in the system
So what’s the next step?
For the young people? While some get second chances or learn from their mistakes, others get trapped in a web of cops, courts and jails.
For the country? It’s hard to say ‘here’s what to do’ — I just hope this storytelling opens up a conversation about what we’re willing to consider. Do we abolish this system altogether? Address it differently? Let’s talk about it, and then we can think about next steps.
It’s difficult listening to what these kids are going through, but I hope we get to a place where, as a listening audience, we don’t approach them with pity and instead we act. We have a roll in changing this system.
These are hard, hard stories, but to sit there, listen, feel sorry — or even angry — for them, and do nothing? We can actually do something.
Nine episodes of “Caught” are available free, now, at wnycstudios.org/shows/caught