Wisconsin Mother Changes the Way She Celebrates the Holidays After the Loss of Her Son in an Adult Jail

Wisconsin Parent/Advocate Vicky Gunderson lost her son Kirk after he was sent to an adult jail as a juvenile. Gunderson and her family have changed their holiday traditions without Kirk and continue to educate the public on the danger of trying youth as adults and housing them in adult jails and prisons.

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Vicky Gunderson receives 2008 National Mother of Distinction Award

Our family has a new tradition as we celebrate Kirk: his birthday, the anniversary of his earthly life, and for the holidays. Now, as a family we take helium balloons to the cemetery and release them to the sky. We patiently watch as the balloons rise to the sky (heavens) racing past one another as we stare up to heaven.

Washington, DC (Vocus) December 10, 2009

Vicky Gunderson, parent of a youth prosecuted as an adult in Onalaska, Wisconsin, tells her story and asks for your support. This story can be viewed in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In 2005...Kirk celebrated his 17th birthday...and had his entire life ahead of him. He would be a senior in the fall, was a pitcher for American Legion Baseball, worked as a retail sales person in a sporting goods store, and was preparing for his senior pictures.... Our younger son, Jay, was enjoying life as a 13-year-old: playing summer baseball and looking forward to being a freshman in high school in the fall. He and his brother would be in the same school for one year - together....

Beginning in middle school Kirk...suffered several concussions while playing sports.... As a sophomore a decision needed to be made that Kirk could no longer play contact sports. Kirk was not an outstanding athlete; however, he had an immense passion for whatever he chose to do.... Thus, as the hockey season approached in his junior year, he struggled emotionally and mentally about not being able to skate.... His friends changed, his choices changed, his faith changed, and his love for life changed.... On the evening of June 18th 2005...due to the influences of drugs and alcohol, Kirk stabbed his Dad and his brother....

You need to know Dad and brother are doing fine; they are both survivors. What we did not know was in the state of Wisconsin, a 17-year-old, no matter...the crime, is considered an adult in the criminal justice system.... Wisconsin is one of ten states which have a law labeling teenagers...as adults.... A life lesson immediately began for the Gunderson family, their relatives and families, and their friends. Kirk was incarcerated with adults: 20 years old, 35 years old, and 65 years old. I was unfamiliar with the location of the jail and did not know anything about the justice system.... Kirk was incarcerated in the county jail until he took his life by suicide December 27, 2005.

Our lives have drastically changed with the loss of a son and a brother. There are so many trivial traditions a family shares. One in particular I think of at this time of year, is our Christmas Santa presents opening. Santa wraps and writes in very small print the name of the recipient for the present on the wrapping paper. You must locate the name on the present’s wrapping paper prior to being able to open the present. If you locate the name on the present and it is not yours, you set the present aside without sharing the location of the name. This is a tradition my Mom started with my three siblings and myself. With our two sons they looked forward to this tradition on Christmas morning. Without Kirk, we continue the hidden name with our son Jay, however the “fun” for the boys is no longer with Kirk missing in our lives on Christmas morning.

"Our family has a new tradition as we celebrate Kirk: his birthday, the anniversary of his earthly life, and for the holidays. Now, as a family we take helium balloons to the cemetery and release them to the sky. We patiently watch as the balloons rise to the sky (heavens) racing past one another as we stare up to heaven."

As new traditions replace the old, there also continues to be stepping stones for the advocacy to end the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system. [Part of this advocacy] is...supporting the [reauthorization of the] Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA)... Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) is a core foundation in these efforts. Currently, you and I can make a difference by supporting CFYJ’s JOIN THE MOVEMENT campaign. For more details on how you can Take Action please go to http://www.campaignforyouthjustice.org and click on Change the System.”

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