THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Our Lost Children

What the hell is going on with our children?

In one high school in Palo Alto, California four teenagers, acting separately, killed themselves recently by stepping in front of a train.

And who wasn't stunned by the recent reports, also from California, about a group of 20 high school kids either participating in or standing around watching the brutal 2-hour long gang rape of one of their female classmates? The attack took place outside Richmond High School during the homecoming dance. Not one person bothered to call 911. Police are still struggling to identify those involved.

Who is responsible for that ghastly crime? The rapists, of course but also responsible are those who watched, and by some reports cheered on, the attack. Legally, nothing can be done to them because the law there only mandates eyewitnesses report a crime against a child under the age of 14. This unfortunate victim is 15.

I blame faulty parenting for failing to instill the basic idea that if you see a crime in progress you call the cops! To paraphrase the old saying, evil triumphs when good men (and women) do nothing.

As a nation we fail our kids in many ways. We continue to look past all sorts of troubled children. A recent FBI sweep arrested 700 people suspected of trafficking American children into prostitution. 52 kids were saved, the youngest just 10 years old.

We've got to try harder to keep kids from being pulled into this desperate, criminal world in the first place.

Numbers are difficult to come by but it's believed police get reports of about 1.6 million children running away from home every year. Many return, voluntarily, within a short period of time but there are countless others who are chronic runaways, children whose home life is so horrific they'd rather take their chances on the streets.

We often know who these kids are but communities haven't made it a priority to protect those minors whose parents have fallen down on the job due to drug abuse, mental illness or other of life's maladies. These kids didn't wake up one morning and decide, "Gee, I think I'll run away." Children who are loved and cared for do not leave home.

Once on the street the most popular way of earning a living is prostitution.

Case in point: 11-year-old Sara Kruzan. She was raised in Riverside, California by a drug addicted, abusive mother. When a 31-year-old neighborhood man named G.G. befriended Sara, plied her with attention and gifts and began grooming her for a life of prostitution she was too young to realize what was happening. By the age of 13 this honor roll student and aspiring writer had lost her virginity to G.G. and he had turned her out onto the streets. No one stopped him. Ultimately, things got so abusive Sara killed her pimp, was convicted of 1st degree murder and sentenced to life without possibility of parole. This 11-year-old victim had been transformed into hard-core criminal status in just 5 short years. She's condemned to die behind bars.

This is not an isolated case. In the United States there are nearly 2,300 boys and girls convicted of crimes and serving "life without" as they call it. Amnesty International reports in the rest of the world combined there are just 12 children serving such sentences. A disproportionate number of these juvenile offenders are members of a minority group.

In other words, America seems okay with condemning children, many who were victimized first, to die in prison with absolutely no chance of ever having a full, free life.

I'm not okay with that.

Currently, 42 states allow children to be sentenced to prison without the possibility of ever being released. Judges have no discretion in these states; they must sentence these kids to the max. Only eight states -- New Mexico, New York, West Virginia, Maine, Kentucky, Kansas, Colorado and Alaska -- and the District of Columbia have banned "life without" for juveniles. There's a bill pending in California, which imprisons 227 of these unfortunate convicts, but it's not clear it will pass.

For Sara Kruzan, who is now 29 years old, the change would be welcome but it means she'd still have to serve at least a dozen more years before it would apply to her. She's expressed true remorse for her crime, she's dedicated her time behind bars to furthering her education and she's reported to be a model prisoner. Doesn't she deserve some sort of break in her life?

If we don't deal with the needs of kids like Sara from the get-go we'll likely have to deal with them later in their scarred lives. If they are, indeed, part of our future we're all in deep trouble.