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Born Into It: Young women struggle to break free from street life and incarceration

By Craig Youngfeatures
Jan 8, 2008 - 4:05 PM

Seventeen young women gather inside the Center for Young Women’s Development, a non-profit organization in San Francisco. Today, they’re learning to respect each other’s personal spaces so conflicts do not arise. These young women, between the ages of 15 and 24, are in-crisis or on probation. One of the girls, Naurkeath Jones, 18, describes herself as a beast because she doesn’t care about anyone or anything.

Society has deemed these women unreachable, untreatable and unchangeable because of generational cycles of incarceration, gang and family violence, isolation, poverty, lack of education, teen pregnancy, homelessness and drug abuse. They come to the CYWD to seek guidance and support.

The CYWD is the only peer-led advocacy and outreach organization in the United States staffed and operated by young women. Some staff members have been incarcerated or existed in the underground street economy at some point in their lives, just as the young women enrolled in the center’s programs. Through Sisters Rising, a nine-month employment program available at the CYWD, 17 young women learn how to become community organizers and advocates for young women involved in the juvenile justice system. Thirteen graduated from the program in the 2006-2007 year.


Craig Young has completed internships with Knight Ridder and McClatchy newspapers. Currently, he freelances for non-profit organizations including the Associated Press (San Francisco office).

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