The causal way of looking at things always answers only the question, “Why?” but never
“To what end?” ... However, if someone asks, “For what purpose should we help one another,make life easier for each other, make beautiful music together, have inspired thoughts” he would have to be told, “If you don’t feel the reasons, no one can explain them to you.”
Without this primary feeling we are nothing and had better not live at all.Albert Einstein, Collected Papers
Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, once called the “largest ghetto in the country,” is home to more than 150,000 people. The area has undergone a great deal of development in recent years, but it still holds pockets of extreme disadvantage. It suffers high rates of crime, poverty, and unemployment. Its residents are also disproportionately affected by incarceration. As the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, a 43-year-old community non-profit, notes: “The cycles of poverty and low academic achievement have seemingly been intractable, channeling children into the cradle to prison pipeline. Bedford-Stuyvesant has the highest rate of adult prison admissions in Brooklyn.” In “Bed-Stuy,” as in many other places around the country, prisons have become a central institution in the lives of an extraordinary number of people.
In light of this, it is perhaps easy to understand why some took offense at the children’s play structure that the city erected behind one of the neighborhood’s public housing projects. The play set was fairly typical, constructed in bright oranges and purples with a low silver slide. However, rather than depicting a castle or car or tree house, or one of a dozen other traditional children’s themes, the main feature of the playground was designed to resemble a jail, complete with a large painted lock and small barred windows on a festive blue, child-sized door. In a community where a large proportion of children have at least one parent who has served time behind bars, in a neighborhood that contributes a disproportionate number of its residents to state prison populations, behind a public housing project that was notorious for gang activity, the government installed an incarceration-themed play structure for kids.