American society is built on the prison industrial complex. It might not be obvious at first, but the more you look and the more you learn, the more it is clear how much is invested in this billion dollar industry. And it is kept up by each and every one of us, from huge private universities, to companies that sell products we use everyday, to the way newly released prisoners are treated in civil society. Is there a way to change it completely? Well, yes, but I think the only way to do that is to overthrow and completely reform the entire system that has existed for centuries in America, and that is difficult to do. Are there ways to slowly improve it? Perhaps, but we never know until we try. For example, we visited a youth rehabilitation center (Rancho Cielo) for young former gang members or children who were being pulled into gangs and from what I could tell there, a small incremental change could be made with hard work in different sectors can begin to change things.

I saw hope after visiting the prisons and then visiting Rancho Cielo. You could see the true dedication that the NGO put into making sure the lives of so many of these kids were not destroyed by the gang violence that surrounded them from birth. You saw what the inmates in our group discussions had wished for when they were younger, someone to simply say that they care about them. It was only a simple thing, but to see the difference that just empathy and love could do in trying to combat a systemic problem that comes out of the hopelessness of youth was truly something special and touching. Of course, I recognize that this is not the only way to begin solving such a huge problem, but it’s a start and it’s those little steps that can really add up to pushing forward towards the positive change in a system fraught with violence.