(Continued from yesterday’s post, which you can read here)
Trying to navigate the system that had taken her son was a nightmare for Tarsha, who was learning as she was going and struggling to make sense of the process. The uphill battle consumed an enormous amount of her limited time as a single mother with another son at home. She communicated with the NAACP and the ACLU, who sympathized with her case but didn’t have the resources to help her fight the system. So she started to advocate on her own. She kept pushing the issue and finally Texas legislators passed SB 103, and he was released at 16, under SB 1550 Texas Disability Release Act. But with his release came a slough of issues. Marquieth had significant Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and attempted to commit suicide twice, twice a week counselors came to the house to work him. He was about to start school for the first time since the 5th grade. Tarsha had been hesitant to send him back to school in any hurry but he was restless at home and she felt that being around his peers would be healthy for him. On the second day of class he was sent to the principal’s office. Angry after being reprimanded, he was on his way out of the office and he knocked over a lamp. The police were called and Marquieth was charged with criminal mischief. Following the incident, he was supposed to spend 30 days in a boot camp. He ended up there for five months. Eventually, the probation officer went back to the court and told the judge that Marquieth didn’t need to be locked up again, he needed to be with his family. Shortly thereafter he was released.
[superquote] But with his release came a slough of issues. Marquieth had significant Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and attempted to commit suicide twice, twice a week counselors came to the house to work him. [/superquote]
During his time in the boot camp, Tarsha had begun to video him during her visits (watch video below). The facility permitted it but didn’t like it, and she attributes it to his finally being released.
For Tarsha, the biggest misconception people had was that she was unfit as a single parent, that she didn’t have familial support. As if her own guilt wasn’t enough, Tarsha had to contend with the guilt bestowed upon her by the courts and other community members. Even her attorney told her that she and her son “were crazy.”
[superquote] “Right now I find myself questioning what I did wrong, what could I have done differently.”[/superquote]
“Right now I find myself questioning what I did wrong, what could I have done differently I replay everything in my head, and it’s like really nothing, considering I am a single parent. I made sure that they were in extracurricular activities and did the things that they enjoyed doing and made sure they knew education was important and just was there. My whole life was centered around my kids.”
Tarsha’s younger son has had an easier time than his older brother. He gets good grades and is not involved in the system. But he still has had interactions with the system that are symptomatic of a much larger issue. In the fourth grade he was hog-tied by the police for “looking angry as he was getting on the school bus.” Tarsha clarifies that, “they literally hog-tied him—with his hands behind his back, his feet and his hands tied together.” After this he was horrified of school, he would tell Tarsha, “what they did to Marquieth, they’re going to do it to me, they’re trying to do it to me.”
Today, Tarsha is the go-to woman for Texas families with youth in the system. In the wake of her battle to save her own son, she has become a powerful figure in the Texas juvenile justice system and the media. Her organization, Texas Families for Incarcerated Youth, works with families and administrators in the system on all levels—from understanding the conditions of their probation to working to reverse charges. Tarsha is also a persistent advocate for change. She is currently documenting the stories of youth transferred from the youth commission into the adult system in order to show that it’s a downward cycle and difficult to get out of. And, she notes, the community often ostracizes those that do make it out, and their parents. Marquieth is proud of his mom’s work, even when it has made prison life more difficult for him, and it motivates Tarsha to keep on.
I wish this ended on a high note, but that’s not going to be the case. Marquieth, who is now 21 years old, is serving a 15-year sentence for aggravated robbery, the details of which are complex and confusing; according to Tarsha they just don’t add up. The disciplinary tactics employed by Marquieth’s school ultimately sent him on the road to prison. A report by the Texas Appleseed on the school-to-prison pipeline concludes that crucial to fixing this broken system is the Texas school districts’ “utilizing more effective, research-based strategies to improve student behavior and reduce school dropouts.” If Texas schools continue to resort to law enforcement and expulsion as their primary means of dealing with troubled students, the number of young men and women transferring into the adult prison system can only increase. When classroom unrest is obscured into an issue of criminal justice, a child’s disobedience becomes a crime that may end up costing them decades of their life
If you are a family with a child in the system and you are seeking advice or assistance, please get in contact with Justice For Families, They can be reached via email at zachary AT justice4families DOT org or via phone at (510) 268 6941. Justice For Families is a national alliance of local organizations that can provide emotional and logistical support for court hearings, advocacy support to enable families to obtain the best services for their loved ones, and engage families in policy campaigns to change systemic failures in the juvenile justice system. Another excellent resource is the Campaign for Youth Justice’s Family Resource Center, which offers guidance, valuable information, and opportunities for advocacy.
If you are a family that would like to share your story with us, please email us at: info AT juvenile-in-justice.com