Juvenile Hall Detention

Stories from the caprice of geography: Alabama

This is the second time I’ve been here. I’m here for 10 days. First time I was here was for 8 days. I had a domestic violence with my auntie. Another time it was DV and shoplifting, but my sister grabbed a jacket from the store and threw it to me. My mom has alcohol problems. My auntie has legal custody. My dad’s deceased. He died of throat cancer. I was 12. I’m in eighth grade. I smoke now and then, even though my dad died of cancer. I’m here because I was in my room, I got angry and I put the dresser against the door and then I went into the closet and went to sleep. My auntie called the police and told them I was planning on killing my younger brother, but that’s not true. I just wanted a quiet place to sleep so I went into the closet. But the police didn’t believe me.
— M.P. Age 14
I was with three kids and they did an armed robbery. This was my third offense. They’re giving me another chance. I’m moving across town. My mind is set on one thing and one thing only: to achieve my goals. I don’t know how they got a gun and how it got into the robbery. But you can get a little gun here for $50 or $75. Revolvers go for cheap $30, $40 with ammo. A 9-millimeter will be $100. A 40 caliber is $40 and up. You get a gun you call a connect. A connect is someone who knows people. My homeboy got a revolver for cheap so you can sell it for cheap. I’ve been growing up since 11 or 12 knowing the streets but not running the streets. That means I was running with older kids. I’ve been smoking marijuana since I was 13. I’d like to go to the TCT, Tuscaloosa Center Technical. That’s after and between normal school. My mom’s a phlebotomist. She works at the VA and at MDs offices. My mom, my brother, and I live with my grandma who owns three houses. My brother just got out of Mount Meigs. It’s baby prison. It’s for 16 to 21. Under 16 you go to Vaca. Detention is county. Prison is state. My dad was drinking a lot. I think he’s working but I’m not sure. No there’s never been any domestic violence in my house. When I have to go to drug classes there’s a bus that picks me up or my mom drives me. I’m really a nice kid. They dropped the charges from robbery 1 to robbery 3 because I was telling the other kids not to do it. So you saw me in the courtroom. I won my trial. It wasn’t really a trial. It was the DA, my PO, and my lawyer having to agree on something. They give me a little bit of string or rope and see if I’m going to hang myself. But I really believe they want me to succeed. If I don’t I go to baby prison.
— M.M. Age 15
This is my second time in. I live with my grandma who’s 50 and my mom who is 32. My dad was shot dead when I was 8. They had his funeral on my birthday. It was an altercation. I don’t know what it is about. I live with my grandmother. She has legal custody. My mother lives on the west side but she says it’s too dangerous. They have sort of gangs there like the Boss, the Bloods, Crips, GD but it’s not a serious gang. I came in in October. I was here for two months. Then I was out. And I came back in in January. I’m in for fighting and harassment. They had it as a first-degree assault and then they made it a third degree. I got in a fight with a girl and knocked her teeth out. I don’t know why. I’ve got anger management issues. The only men in my life are my uncle, some cousins and my mom’s boyfriend. My mom works at Wendy’s. I’m in 10th grade. I hope I leave tomorrow. They recommended me for Indian River class, which is downtown. I got in a Facebook argument. Normally I don’t get into fights. I take advanced classes at school. The stuff you get in school here is too easy. I need more of a challenge. I think I’d like to go into the Army to be a nurse or maybe be a homicide detective. My cousins have all been in the Army. They’ve been to Afghanistan and Iraq. I like to leave my house on weekends and hang out with both boys and girls. No real boyfriend. Tuscaloosa ain’t no bad place. You never know what other people are going through, and people don’t know what I’m going through. I don’t want anyone to play me like I’m weak so I don’t walk away from a fight.

(She’s in court the next day with her mother. She’s released to the custody of the grandmother and told she has to stay away from the girl she is constantly fighting with.)
— B.X. Age 15
I’ve been in the timeout room for two days. I’ve been in detention four times. The first time I was 13. I’ve been in isolation eight times. The longest time was two weeks. Any time they hear my name they lock me up. Any conflict or altercation they lock me up. Doesn’t matter who’s to blame they lock me up. They won’t let me tell my side of the story. When I was 13 I got caught with a gun and some marijuana at the movies. I bought the gun for $60. I just want a gun so I can handle a situation myself. I got the $60 by hustling, just selling marijuana.

(Notes from Cathy Wood, Assistant Director: ‘Some of these kids go to Mount Meigs for juveniles. Others go to boot camps. Our philosophy is a youth in trouble is a family in trouble. If someone is called for a domestic violence it means the domicile is violent.’)
— D.D. Age 16


I was fearful when they took him here. He was a kid that was used to being isolated. He had abuse in his past. He wouldn’t talk. He wouldn’t make eye contact. This place is helpful to him. When he first came here, I thought these places were kid prisons. It is where they grow rather than get hurt. He has to learn how to make the right decisions. They can refuse to have a certain visitor. Sometimes he refuses to have his mom visit and that’s good for him, because his mother is a dangerous manipulative person. Yes, she’s my daughter. He has a list and his mother and step-father are on the list, but he doesn’t have to see them if he doesn’t want. I don’t know how many times DHR was called. They are useless. I had a five-year-old biological daughter when I adopted T’s mother who was also five. She was damaged when we adopted her and I think that abuse is imprinted. I think when she came into a normal home that was full of love, it was a culture shock for a five year old. She’s 40 now. She would leave T and her twin girls and go do drugs. They were close to death from not being fed. I am trying to get T to Big Oak Ranch. It is a Christian Camp that helps kids.
— T. G.'s Grandmother