Continued from Monday’s post, a conversation with Anthony, a former ward of the California Department of Juvenile Justice. (Read it HERE)
Juvenile-in-Justice: It seems like a huge component of the troubles with the DJJ comes from issues with some staff… can you elaborate on that?
Anthony: The staff is, for the most part, shit. And to make matters worse, the wards antagonized the staff, they would posture and tell staff they were going to flood their cell, stuff like that. Sometimes the issues were small but lead to an overall feeling of being small and worthless. Like, the staff would be too lazy to bring you toilet paper. You would have to ask multiple times, and they would just, brush you off. It’s a simple request, not an item of privilege. Counseling was a complete joke. The corrections officers would trade their uniforms for business casual attire and attempt to counsel us.”
JinJ: Was there ever outright violence from Corrections Officers towards wards?
A: If the C.O’s didn’t like a ward there was retribution. They would turn a blind eye. Chad is in Stockton, California and it gets hot. One August, we were in the yard and it was have been like 100 degrees at least, just miserable. We were playing hand ball. One guy, sort of a skinhead kid, had left his shirt inside. Somewhere else an assault occurred and when that happened, no matter where you were you had to lay down on your stomach. So this kid without a shirt told staff ‘I left my shirt inside, I’m not going to lay down on his hot pavement, just cuff me.’ They kept telling him to lay down, lay down and he kept refusing. Finally, they came out in their vans, they drove all around the grounds in these white vans, and they cuffed him and took him in. When we could get up again I could see through a window that the officers were beating him. I kept walking, because I knew if they saw me I would get it too. But when we went back inside we all saw him, all bloody, and asking to file a grievance, asking for an ombudsman (confidential independent intermediary between individuals and the prison). But as we passed the officers they were all saying ‘We don’t hear anything, do you hear anything, because we don’t.’ A grievance was pointless because you file that with the officers and they would just more or less disregard one they didn’t like or agree with. And an ombudsman, you have to file the papers with the officers, and it can take a while. The officers run the show. Even if someone is fired, the unions are so strong they get them rehired. It’s totally corrupt. A cop will get caught bringing contraband in, or even having sexual relations with the wards, he’ll be fired, and then the unions will get him re-hired. There are some good people, a handful maybe, but they can only operate within the perimeters of their authority. They can’t affect systemic change, they’ll just be fired.
Anthony’s story is not yet a gleaming success; it’s a life in progress. In his last semester at Berkeley, Anthony was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He started cutting on his arms. One night, after a particularly brutal episode he called 911 and was later put under involuntary psychiatric hold. He has had a hard time keeping down a job, and is about to be kicked off his parent’s insurance. He tells me he feels like most of his relationships are dissolving.
DJJ didn’t rehabilitate Anthony. Time won’t either, but it’s helping. Today Anthony sees a therapist, which is helpful. But he’s still saddled with old behaviors, still “drastic and impulsive,” he tells me. The system didn’t work for him, and he’s not sure it really “works” for anyone.
A few advocate groups are working hard to see the DJJ close its youth facilities, and they feel that it is only a matter of time. Until then though, bad practices are still affecting hundreds of youth. Last week we spoke with Jennifer Kim, a senior policy analyst with the Ella Baker Center, about the current state of affairs in the DJJ facilities and you will be disappointed to learn that much of what Anthony experienced and suffered from, is still happening inside the DJJ. We’ll have that interview up next Wednesday.