Susan Madden Lankford’s book Born, Not Raised: Voices from Juvenile Hall has, since its 2012 publication, earned enthusiastic praise at the website Goodreads.com. Back in 2012, a reader identified as “Videoclimber” effused:
This book should be required reading for anyone who works with children. Teachers, social workers, guidance counselors, doctors and nurses, foster parents, church workers, and anyone who cares about children will benefit from reading this book. This is not a fun read, but it is very educational and will leave you wanting to help children in some way, shape, or form. These kids, whose drawings and writings are shown throughout the book, are all crying out for love, guidance, and acceptance. Ms. Lankford does a wonderful job of showing us the feelings and reasoning behind the lives of these children.
That same year, “Susan (aka Just My Op)” wrote:
This book and the two others of the trilogy, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes and DownTown U.S.A, should be required reading for anyone who knows people, judges people, or cares about the marginalized of our society.
In this newest book, Susan and daughter Polly tackle the prickly problem of teens who are living in Juvenile Hall, essentially prison for children. Ms. Lankford’s photography is astounding. Her writing is beautiful. But most importantly, she lets the people she and Polly interview speak for themselves.
She has asked some of these teens to write stories or write about themselves or answer questionnaires. That she printed the actual written responses made these writings all the more powerful. Violence, heartbreak, hardened shells hiding broken children, it’s all there for the reading. The photos in the book, both those taken by Ms. Lankford and those taken by others and used for children to write about, are perfect.
This trilogy is so full of compassion and understanding without crossing that treacherous line into being maudlin. The author doesn’t excuse the behavior but explains it. When I read the first book, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes, about incarcerated women, I was very impressed but I doubted Ms. Lankford’s ability to live up to that first book. Silly me. The second,DownTown U.S.A., about homelessness, affected me even more. By the time I got to this book, I expected great things and I was not disappointed. I highly recommend it as well as the other two.
That same year, “Emily,” who also gave the book a perfect five-star rating, wrote:
I’m gonna need about a hundred more copies of this book. As a person who is currently transitioning from being a Chemical Dependency Social Worker to being a Children’s Mental Health Social Worker, I found it incredibly timely and useful. The insight into the contributing factors and developmental arrests that lead to juvenile incarceration and dependency on the system was remarkable. The sadness the reader feels as discovering the thoughts and dreams, however stunted, these kids have chosen to share is heartbreaking. One can tell that just by listening to these kids, the author and her daughter have made a difference in their lives, which just goes to show how needy these kids are and how little it would really take to help them be successful. Unfortunately in our society, enough importance is not placed here, where it should be. Politicians pay a lot of lip service to ‘children are our future’ but then funnel the dollars to back up that statement every other place possible. This book would go a long way to raise awareness if every elected leader would just read it.
Two years later, Kristine Hansen, in another five-star review, wrote:
Deep book. More so than I had expected.
I had thought in picking this up that I would see some stories, maybe some pictures from kids in juvenile detention. I hadn’t expected the psychology – so deep at times, and then so well explained – that would give this book so much depth. And would teach me so much.
I find myself fascinated by the accounts. And motivated to want to do something to make a difference in the lives of young people who are all hurting so much.
I guess I find this a little bit daunting. Some of these youth are already hardened criminals at such a young age. But how can you read such a thing and walk away, unchanged?
This is the beginning of our journey into foster care. I hadn’t expected this book to have anything at all to do with the research I’ve been doing in preparation to opening our home to youth in crises. Here, something that caught my eye and that I’d picked up randomly, lent something important to my studies, and opened my eyes to things that maybe I’d shied away from. I’m thankful to the author for creating this book. And thankful as well that I’d felt that nudge and obeyed in picking it up.
Seven other readers awarded it five stars. Finally, in 2016, “Lisa” summarized:
A really sad but true look at the lives of those inside Juvenile Hall – especially those frequent fliers.