Young Voices On Violence

Posted: December 15, 1994


I live in Suburbia, U.S.A., where crime does not happen. My school is named Strath Haven, but I think we all see it as our "Safe Haven," where we are free to express ourselves and get an education without worry about our well- being.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to be in the position that I am, eternally grateful to my parents for choosing a secure place to live and instilling peaceful values in me. When I think of how many kids feel the need to carry a weapon to school to protect themselves, I wonder who went wrong, when and where.

It horrifies me to think of what the world has become. Every night on the news, I hear multiple reports of homicide, of babies killing babies. Sometimes, the reports make me sick to the stomach. Other times, I want to sit down and cry. I can't begin to even imagine what it is like to live the tragic lives that many children lead. All I can do is pray that someday there will come a change and the violence will stop. Until then, I hope I'll stay safe

from harm in my safe little town and never end up as a statistic.

Karen Gehrman

Age 16, Wallingford

Strath Haven High


I live every day with the fear of being killed or seriously injured for absolutely no reason at all. It's really scary when you know people carry guns and other weapons to school, but it is even more scary when you know they will use them. For me, school was a place where I could take shelter from the violence of the outside world. I felt safe, as if I had an invisible shield around me that could not be shattered. Now that has all changed. The world inside my shelter is as unsafe as the outside world.

Cori Billman

Age 17, Sharon Hill

Academy Park High

I am sometimes afraid to express my opinions with fellow classmates, although discussions are supervised by teachers. I am afraid that if a disagreement should arise with a peer, outside the classroom I may become a victim of violence.

Violence is a problem outside of school because I have to remove expensive jewelry and sometimes even costume jewelry when I am in public places such as on subways and outside of movie theaters. I am also constantly looking over my shoulder while walking alone because I am scared that fellow school-age children will taunt me or resort to violence because I am alone and someone may want the hard-earned money I made for working all week while they did nothing.

Yolanda Lowrie

Age 17, Philadelphia

Franklin Learning Center

A girlfriend of mine was shot to death in 1991 over a pair of earrings. I was numbed at the thought that I would never see her again. A few months later, the effect of Shadel Williams' death wore off and it felt like she never died at all. What was I supposed to do, mourn for the rest of my life?

One might argue that my reaction to violence is insensitive and uncaring. What else can you do, when you're bombarded with images of death two hours a day, seven days a week? It leaves a person no choice but not to care.

Aaliyah Hill

Age 16, Philadelphia

High School for Creative and Performing Arts

The violence is growing. It's stretching its hideous arms out to my untouched world, and with each passing day, it gets closer to me. How long do I have until, finally, it traps me and begins to collapse on my life? How long do I have until one of my friends becomes the person caught in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Last year, a boy from Perkiomen Valley shot and killed a fellow student.

And the violence took a step closer to me.

Than a boy from East Norriton Middle School, the school I went to, shot a girl who rode his bus.

And the violence took another step closer.

And then last week, I heard it knock on my door, when my school was evacuated because a student planted a bomb in the third-floor bathroom. The funny thing is, though, that I still feel safe going to Norristown. It hasn't hit me yet that something bad may happen to me or any of my friends.

Missy Toto

Age 17, Norristown,

Norristown High School

I pray each night that I won't fall victim to a random drive-by shooting, be injured in a gang attack or get caught in the cross-fire of drug addicts. There is a serious illness in America when children are praying to God each night that their classmates won't kill them tomorrow in school.

Catherine Kennedy

Age 15, Marlton

Cherokee High School

In today's world, I am proud but sad to say I am a minority. What I mean to say is that I have lived such a sheltered life in my middle-class neighborhood that the only time I have felt fear is when I hear ghost stories.

It is time for people like me to wake up and face reality. Violence these days is not discriminatory. I could be standing on a corner, waiting to cross the street, and be killed by a bullet. Wrong place, wrong time; oh well, another drive-by shooting. That is the way our society interprets such crimes and to me that is sick. To be able to become immune to such crimes is unbelievable.

Jennifer Abel

Age 16, Swarthmore

Strath Haven High School

So things are bad at home. Or, if they're not, somebody you know has trouble at home. At school, you feel unsafe if you don't have a gun, and the situation becomes even more dangerous if you get your hands on one. (Which, by the way, is increasingly easy to do.)

You feel completely alone. Your friends, your family, the normal stresses of life. Violence is all around you, directed at you, or by you, or at people you know. Your pain, normal human pain, has nowhere to go, so it curdles into hate. This hate has nowhere to go, and so it builds up into the strongest wall there ever was. And it's inside you, with no where to go.

Then you hear your friend is raped, or you see a rival, or you want revenge. Or maybe, you just have to get rid of the unnamed hate and bitterness in you.

Any little thing could set a person off in a state like this, and this is your life. Every day, the anger builds and never gets a release. Every day, things get worse around you and you get worse with it. So any little thing does set you off one day, or maybe nothing sets you off. But anyway, you're off.

Something inside you snaps, and you stop being a person. All the terror around you and in you turns into some kind of primitive fury, and you can't stop.

If you're hitting some kid with a baseball bat, you're not thinking, you're just feeling. What you're feeling is what you've seen and experienced since the day you were born. It has to go somewhere, and you've no place to put it, so you just let it go.

Becky Shaeffer

Age 14, Warrington

Lenape Middle School

What I find is that I'm getting colder and colder to the outside world. I keep my emotions so controlled that I'm almost not aware of them. It's almost as if there's this plate of steel protecting me from harm. I tend to turn a blind eye to trouble. This is not because I don't care. Actually the opposite; I'm afraid to care too much. I don't think that I can handle the burden of all the emotion. It's a lot easier to go on with your life pretending everything is OK. At least until you're personally affected.

It may sound selfish, but that's what most people my age are doing. Some of us genuinely don't care. We're just out to get what's ours and blast out any interruptions. But I believe that there are many like myself. We do care but are afraid to let out our feelings. They've been bottled up so long that they may be overwhelming.

Francine Morris

Philadelphia High School for Girls

Because of the fear of crime and violence, my activities are restricted. I can only walk to the train station if I have someone to walk with me. I can only go jogging in the early afternoon. I have lost the freedom to go out by myself when I want to without fear of being attacked. When I see a stranger on the street, my first thought is how they might try to harm me. I make the assumption that every other teen on the street is a possible attacker. In doing so, I have lost the automatic faith in human goodness that I had when I was younger.

The savage and terrifying crimes committed by young people our own age are taking from my generation freedom and faith.

Mara Dowdall

William Penn Charter School

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