I have complete respect for your personal experience Faceman; in fact, my experience is actually somewhat similar as I left home young and am now working my second degree. I do somewhat disagree with your position, however. In my experience, people very rarely follow a different path than their parents. I've had friends with parents who could not be classified as productive members of society, those friends roughly followed the same path. I've had friends whose parents were both highly educated, they're now highly educated. I've had friends whose parents are moderately successful but uneducated, again, they followed the same path. Obviously those are just my highly unscientific observations, but I do see a general consistency. For whatever reason, a child almost undoubtedly mimics their parents life. I would think it's totally learned behaviour, and that should be taken into consideration when a person is being rehabilitated in prison.
I agree, but that is exactly my point. The fact that many people overcome obstacles and adversity to lead a productive and successful life is proof that it can be done, and is proof that those obstacles are NOT valid excuses. If no one ever pulled themselves out of the abyss, then perhaps those could be used as excuses, but that is simply not the case.
I worked with the "underserved" community for 15 years while with the federal government, most of which were in the blighted Mississippi Delta region in Arkansas, consisting of poor, uneducated minorities. I worked directly with the people and with community and church leaders, and know first hand the difficulties you point out. It is a complicated issue, particularly with people coming from several generations of ignorance and poverty, because ignorance tends to beget ignorance as you obviously know. However, those with the character and motivation to get out can and do get out. I personally know and have worked with lots of people who escaped the fate of their parents and grandparents and are very successful - and likewise I know many that put forth a half hearted effort (or no effort at all) and have spent their lives scratching out an existance from government assistance and crime.
While I am knowledgeable, sympathetic, and empathetic with those obstacles and adversities, and the effort, character, and determination it takes to overcome them, I do not, and never will, accept those obstacles as excuses or justification for murder, rape, stealing, doing drugs, or any number of other crimes. There is no justification beyond poor character and the refusal to put forth the effort...