Today Juvenile In Justice is lucky enough to feature Hernan Carvente, who is sharing his remarkable story of resilience with us. Part 2 is now live, and can be found here!

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The stories of youth who have come into contact with the juvenile and criminal justice systems speak to the lack of proper assistance offered by the various systems coming into contact with youth in the United States. It is important to recognize that entering the justice system is a process, which starts not at the point of arrest but at the moment when a system fails to properly address the particular needs of a young person in the community. If systems (i.e. the education, employment, mental health, and justice systems) were to work together to assist youth at a very early age, then perhaps fewer young people would come into contact with the criminal justice system and more would be successful law abiding citizens. I speak from personal experience.

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By the time I had turned 8, I began to drink my father’s beers at family parties to prevent my father from getting drunk and beating on my mother. Although young, I understood that when my dad was not under the influence he was a good person. Yet I also knew that my mother never called the police on my dad because she could not speak English and she feared both of them would get deported to Mexico if she did so. As a result, I grew up around violence and developed the same fear of law enforcement that my parents had. I had heard of and seen plenty of stories of immigrant families that had been torn apart by police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. How could I trust or speak to anyone about the problems in my family with the fear that I may lose them in the process?

Some may say that I could have taken a different path in life than resorting to violence, drugs, and gangs, but try telling that to someone who grew up fearing and distrusting the very systems that were supposed to help him…

My parents never managed to complete high school and my father did not even make it past the 6th grade. However, not once while in school did someone ask me why I lacked interest in my education. If someone had ever asked, I would have responded, “Why take an interest in school when my parents cannot even speak English and never even made it past high school?” Did the school ever try to help my parents navigate through those challenges? No, they did not. Instead they labeled them “bad parents” and labeled me “a troubled youth.”

Some may say that I could have taken a different path in life than resorting to violence, drugs, and gangs, but try telling that to someone who grew up fearing and distrusting the very systems that were supposed to help him and his family. By the time I was 13 years old, I had already joined a gang and performed several illegal activities such as selling drugs, forging ID’s, and robbing people. Given that I had a poor relationship with my family, the gang life became an attractive alternative to me because it offered two things I lacked: a family and people I could trust. Several times the police picked me up but, given that I was a small 13-year-old boy, they never really took me seriously. However, several times I did get thrown into a fence or two for bad-mouthing a police officer. One thing I always wonder is, why didn’t the police ever take the time to talk to me or get to know me, rather than treating me like a delinquent because of the way I dressed and talked?

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You may ask where my parents were while I was out of school, dealing drugs, and with a gang. The answer is simple: they were hard at work trying to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. Unfortunately, as immigrants from Mexico with little education, job options were more or less limited to minimum wage jobs in restaurants, sweat shops, and other hard labor jobs. Now some may say that my problems started because of lack of parental attention, but regardless of how poor my relationship with my parents was, I can now see that they tried their best. The difficulties they faced came not only from the alcohol and lack of money but also because they lacked hope. How could they ever have hope when it seemed like the education system, the law, and the all other systems were against them?

With little education, a lack of hope, and complete distrust of all state systems, I made many immature, impulsive, and irrational decisions. Two days shy of my 16th birthday, I made the most irrational decision of my life by shooting a rival gang member three times with the intent of taking away his life. A month after having committed the act, I was arrested at school and charged with second-degree attempted murder. During my time in the precinct I was beaten, chocked up, and denied the right to speak with my parents until I either confessed the names of my accomplices or took full responsibility for the crime. In the end, I chose to go for the latter and ended up writing a statement against myself. When my mother arrived at the precinct she unknowingly signed my statement along with a Miranda Rights Waiver. The officers told her that she had to sign both of these documents in order to be able to see me. Can anyone say that the system carried out its functions well in this case? My mother did not even understand the words that she was reading.

…. Into the Deep and Back: Never Losing Hope in Our Youth Pt 2.

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_MG_9784 Hernan ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hernan is a senior at the CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice where he is pursuing his Bachelors in Criminal Justice. He is a Research Assistant at the Vera Institute of Justice and is a member of the New York State Juvenile Justice Advisory Group. Hernan spent four years in New York’s juvenile justice system.

3 thoughts on “[GUEST POST] Into the Deep and Back: Never Losing Hope in Our Youth, Pt. 1

  1. very inspiring to hear what you have overcome and that you have the courage to try and help others—thanks for sharing your story!

  2. Herman….I look forward to Part 2 of your life story, your writing is so introspective, I can tell you possess an inquisitive mind! I can’t even imagine how you were able to overcome what you endured at such a young age to take you to where you are today, What a role model you can be to other youths, so tell your story, share your journey, loud and often….I applaud you!

  3. Last week I attended the Georgetown Training Institutes at National Harbor in Washington DC. Father Boyle of Homeboy Industries was one of the keynotes. Your words and story reminded me so much of what he talked about. It also reminds me of the many, many unaccompanied minors I have seen struggling with all of the issues you described… How is it that in 30 plus years so little has changed. Thank you for sharing and making the necessary noise about such critical issues.

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