Family-in-Justice

"…if I ever get on track." by richard ross

I was here six times. The first time I was 13. I live with my mom, step dad, sister and two brothers. My mom visits me once or twice a week. I had a lot of VP (Violation of Probations). I broke an iPhone so they called it criminal damage. My Mom called the police. They have me in programs like New Directions for drug and alcohol rehabilitation. I did the program from July 1st to October 15th. 14 Weeks. I was on pills like Xanex and Molly. I experimented with anything and everything. I used the program to learn how to cope with my life. There are better things to do than drugs. It was a mandatory program where I was a resident. It was lock down treatment. I violated probation by having arguments with my mom. I violated the rules of house arrest.

At age 14 I picked up an MIP (Minor in Possession) for alcohol and weed. My mom sent me to Alabama when I was 12 to live with my dad. He was a drill Sgt. in the army. He would wake me up at 4:30 AM and beat me if I didn’t wake up. He would give me $20 at the beginning of the week and tell me to get my own food. He worked in the Post Office after he left the army. I told my mom how bad it was for me, but she thought I was just saying that. I got myself kicked out of his house so I went to live with a friend. My father came and kicked the door down. He pretty much beat me. I had a black eye and bruises. He put me on a bus back from Alabama to Ohio by myself. I have been here a month now. The judge knows I keep on getting into arguments with my mom.

— F.E., age 17

— F.E., age 17

He was a drill Sgt. in the army.

He would wake me up at 4:30 AM and beat me if I didn’t wake up.

He would give me $20 at the beginning of the week and tell me to get my own food.

I am going to go to Lakewood College and then to Kent State and do a degree in Psychology...if I ever get on track. CPS was never involved. My parents always wanted all the issues to stay in the house. After the fight in Alabama, I had so much resentment, I kind of raked out. My sister is a 4.0 student. My grandma is not my actual grandma. She went through a lot of physical and sexual abuse when she was little. My Mom went through the same. I think my mom sees a lot of myself in her. She treats me badly. She sent my little sister to my dad’s house as well. Ever since I left Alabama, I never spoke to my dad. He does things like calls on HIS birthday, not mine. He only thinks of himself.

— F.E., age 17

Solitary Confinement: A Mother's Perspective by richard ross

 [Guest post by Grace Bauer, Co-Director of Justice 4 Families]

 

IMG_4379_750

 

In what feels like another lifetime…

 

It was summer and we decided to take the kids and my mom fishing.  My son wanted to bring his new bike with the training wheels.  As soon as his dad took it out of the truck, he was off.  Happy to have a big place to ride, he had a smile from ear to ear. 

 

 

A little while passed and he asked his dad to take the training wheels off.   Once the wheels were off, his dad held on to the back to steady the bike and he began pedaling.  It didn’t take long for him to tell his dad that he could do it and dad should let go.  I held my breath and his dad held on for a minute longer, despite his protests.  Dad was running behind him and then he stopped.  He was right!  He could do it!  Off he went, pedaling like mad, red hair blowing in the wind, yelling the whole time, “I’m doing it!  I’m riding my big boy bike!”        

 

...

 

[aside title="Sign the ACLU Petition to end juvenile solitary confinement"] ACLU Action: A Mother's Plea: Stop Solitary Confinement of Children[/aside]Solitary confinement, or isolation, is widely used around the country in jails, prisons and detention centers for adults as well as young people.  Until very recently, few people, beyond attorneys, families and advocates, gave it much thought.  Isolation, like so many corrections practices, happens behind the walls of silence, long ingrained into facility culture and practice.  In our punishment-oriented society, we tend to think those behind bars deserve whatever they get.  This kind of thinking is fueled by a distorted sense of fear created by media and political rhetoric so much so that falling crime rates and research showing the failure of such practices barely register in society’s consciousness.

 

When a young person enters into secure detention, they typically become isolated from their families and communities.  Exorbitant phone costs, limited visitation procedures and times and placement in facilities long distances from home all add to that sense of isolation.  Often, facilities will have a standard 2-6 week “intake” period where the child is not allowed any visitors and very limited communication by phone.  Given that the majority of children involved in juvenile justice systems come from families who live below the poverty line, many families do not have transportation to reach far away facilities or the extra money to cover the cost of calls that experts describe as “gross profiteering.” These are common practices in detention that fail to take into account the research that demonstrate the critical importance, of maintaining family and community connections, to the successful reentry of young people and to prevent recidivism.

 

My son is 25 years old.  He has spent the majority of the last 15 years in detention centers, youth prisons, county jails and state prisons.  His sisters have grown up, his niece was born and will celebrate her sixth birthday, our home was lost in a hurricane, a new home was built, his sister started college (and will graduate) and his uncle died, all while he was confined.  He earned his high school diploma but has few job skills, little job experience, no home, no family of his own, few friends and few prospects on the horizon.  We have missed him and his presence in our lives and he has missed life, period.

 

He will return to society, at some point, along with roughly 800,000 others released each year; 95% of all sentenced inmates.  The “tough on crime” rhetoric may make folks feel better but the reality of mass incarceration impacts everyone in society through lost revenues, increased health cost, lower wages, unemployment, expensive corrections and judicial budgets-- the list goes on and on.  As facilities cut back on the very things that lead to successful reentry, we can expect that young people, returning to society, will return less prepared, more disadvantaged and more deeply scarred.

 

All of the above and then we add on the deep psychological damage of solitary confinement.  During this video, you can see how isolation looks during a 24- hour period.  You are able to watch the entire day pass in mere minutes.  From the outside looking in, especially in this condensed version, you might believe that isolation isn’t that bad.  In fact, for those of us living in a high tech, ever-connected world, 24 hours of being disconnected might seem like a welcome relief from the endless text messages, calls, voice mails, email and social media alerts!  Before you volunteer yourself, lets think about this from the inside looking out.

When my son was 13 and placed in a notorious juvenile prison, he spent nearly a year in protective custody, AKA solitary confinement.  In those early days we had no information on the damaging effects of solitary and actually felt relief that he felt safe from the rampant violence in the facility.  He was released from state secure care in 2002; four years would pass before we learned the truth about his time in isolation.  It should have been evident that something traumatic and life changing had happened and we certainly saw the signs of something but we didn’t know what.  In 2006, a young man confined with him at the youth prison called to tell us about the day my son was raped by another young person, in solitary, who had been placed in the cell by guards.  Those guards then took bets on which “kid would win”.  My son lost the fight that day. Throughout his years of incarceration, he has experienced solitary confinement in every facility, often for extended periods of time.

 

 

Crisis/isolation rooms at the recently built Kapolei Court Complex & Secure Detention, Kapolei, Hawaii. (Richard Ross / Juvenile In Justice)

[aside title="Sign the ACLU Petition to end juvenile solitary confinement"] ACLU Action: A Mother's Plea: Stop Solitary Confinement of Children[/aside]

I clearly remember the call from my son.  “Mom, this can’t be legal.  This is so wrong!  I can’t believe they are doing this to this man.” This from a young man that never complains about his own stark living conditions, poor treatment, the brutality that is inflicted on him or that he witnesses almost daily or the arbitrary enforcement of rules.  His concern during that call was for another man being held in solitary.  This man, who was a little older than my son, was quite obviously mentally ill.  My son was afraid for this man’s life.  He told me about the man’s behavior over the last few days, including banging his head on the bars and floor hard enough to knock himself out and needing stitches to close wounds, screaming for hours until he was too hoarse to scream anymore, crying uncontrollably for hours, threatening to kill himself and talking to people who weren’t there during hallucinations.  My son, the “criminal”, called me to see if I could find help for this man because he was very concerned that the man was going to hurt himself or take his own life and he felt like the facility staff were ignoring how serious this situation actually was.

 

From January 25th through May 8th of this year, my son was confined in isolation, though the prison called it “protective custody.”  He was confined for 110 days with the exception of being allowed to take a shower on Monday and Thursdays and use the phone at midnight or later.  Several of his showers and calls were denied for unknown reasons.  The average call lasted 6 minutes. That means that over a 110-day period my son showered approximately 30 times and was able to speak with us for about 3 hours.  In this particular case, my son was confined for his own safety after being stabbed three times during the robbery of his cell.  As his mother, I am grateful that he was kept safe and at the same time, terribly troubled by this prolonged period of isolation and its impact on his mental health.

 

 

[feature href=”https://www.juvenile-in-justice.com/take-action” buttontext=Go!”] Ready to take action against juvenile isolation? [/feature]

 

I have witnessed the long-term impact of my son’s time in isolation and prison.  Some nights when I try to sleep, visions of the assaults play in my mind, like a movie that you can’t turn off.  I have sat across from him, trying to maintain my own composure, while mentally cataloging and assessing the bruises and wounds on his body.  I have waited for calls or visits where I can know, at least for a short time, that he is safe and alive.  I listen to him talk about how useless he is and how he has no worth.  I held back tears (at least, in his presence) the day he said, “I’ll never be anything but a criminal.” In the car, on the way home, I cried like a child, as I thought of all the good in him and the future I had once dreamed of for him.  The level of violence and inhumanity that he endures sickens me.  Sometimes, when I can’t hold it off any longer or we experience a new trauma, I cry hard and long for all that he has lost, all we have lost and how far we still have to go.

 

Day in and day out, we look for ways to keep him up-to-date on the world and engaged in learning.  I marvel at his continued compassion and concern for strangers in such circumstances. His belief that, someday, he will finish serving his time and somehow overcome the numerous and complex barriers he faces inspires me. If he can still feel hopeful, I’ll be damned if I will be the one to take that from him.

 

Once, he was an honor roll student that was well liked by his teachers and peers.  After a few short months in juvenile detention he became fearful and anxious.  I could not touch him to wake him up. He would strike out blindly in his waking moments out of fear of being assaulted. He cried out in his sleep and suffered from nightmares.  He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and deep depression.  The physical abuse has left him with physical scars but it is the emotional damage, caused by the extreme isolation and exposure to horrific violence at such a young age, that concerns me the most.

 

My son’s original crime was stealing a stereo out of a truck and breaking the window out of the truck.  He was sentenced to five years for that crime.  We were fortunate to find an attorney to represent him and get him out after a year.  Unfortunately, the damage done in that year was enough to alter his life in ways I could not have imagined. He was grieving for his beloved grandmother and acted out, as adolescents often do in those tumultuous years. The vicious assaults on his body, severe neglect and emotional and verbal abuse he suffered would be considered criminal if I or anyone else, other than the system, had inflicted them upon him.  Yet the state and its employees were allowed to do this kind of harm to him and to thousands of others and there has never been any accountability for those crimes.

 

Behind the razor wire fences of America’s prisons, there is seldom fair redress of grievances, little accountability to the safety and wellbeing of those housed within those facilities, scant programming, meager education services, woefully inadequate healthcare, widespread racial disparities and the pervasive and systemic abuse of power by those in authority. Study after study, report after report, all confirm the negative impact of isolation and the abject failure of mass incarceration.  The cost benefit analysis, illustrated in volumes of data and research, demonstrate the exorbitant cost we pay to have less public safety, generate more crime and do unnecessary and possibly irreparable damage to those behind bars.

 

Prisons were supposedly built to lock up those who might harm others and deter crime.  Somewhere along the way we lost sight of those goals.  Today, prison walls have become an impenetrable shroud that shields and perpetuates crimes against humanity.  Those walls allow the rest of us to ignore the root causes of crime and save us from having to look at the mass destruction of human lives that our appetite for retribution and punishment have caused.

 

 

 

 

Grace Bauer is the Co-Director of Justices For Families, a respected leader and a trusted confidant for families seeking justice across the country, and the mother of three children from Sulphur, Louisiana.

 

[Family-in-Justice] A Mother Speaks by richard ross

-8 Last week, we brought you inside Santa Maria Juvenile Hall to meet S.D, a 17-year-old awaiting sentencing for a violent crime committed with a group of older boys when he was 14. S.D was facing 60 years to life, now he has taken a deal of "juvie life" which means he will stay in the California Youth Authority until the age of 25. To get the deal S.D had to testify against multiple other members of his gang, which has put him at serious risk even inside the juvenile hall...

A couple days after talking to S.D at Santa Maria Juvenile Hall Richard met with his mom who lives in Santa Maria and tries to maintain a normal life in spite of the rocky years she had with her son leading up to the arrest-- from camping out  in the 'hood at all hours to try and find S.D and bring him home, to his expulsion from school and ultimate initiation into the gang at the age of 14...

Read her story below:

 

Richard Ross / juvenile-in-justice.com

 

"I gave my son his Grandfather's name... He will 18 in May. I hired an attorney for him... She gave me a deal, $15,000.00. I was going to do whatever I had to do to make sure he had a fair shot. This was his life. He was in trouble and being charged with something serious. I was going to do whatever I had to do to make sure he had an attorney. I was very fortunate and my uncle, my grandma passed away and left me some money. My uncle was the beneficiary and was able to send me more than half of what the attorney charged. Then I found out that my mother had another account in Arizona... but my lovely brother sort of wiped out the accounts and took all the money. So I was sort of stuck with half the balance. Fortunately, very fortunately, the courts took over and helped in paying the rest."

[superquote]He was only in the gang for three months and 20 days before the incident occurred. I noticed him drifting down the wrong road and tried to get help for him, doors were all closed on me. Every resource I tried... nobody could help me. They basically told me they could help me when a crime had been committed. I was even out there on the streets at all hours trying to pull him out of there and bring him home.[/superquote]

"He's propped up, charged as an adult. His charge was first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and gang enhancement. He was 14 at the time. Lompoc has gotten so bad. The gangs have gotten larger, I guess you could say kids that are jumped in are younger. It's so sad. He was only in the gang for three months and 20 days before the incident occurred. I noticed him drifting down the wrong road and tried to get help for him, doors were all closed on me. He was never on probation. Since he wasn't on probation I couldn't get help. I tried the Grizzly Academy, they wouldn't help either, you have to want to go there on your own and you have to be 16, he was 14. Every resource I tried... nobody could help me. They basically told me they could help me when a crime had been committed. And that's basically false information because now that this crime had been committed, even through he didn't do it but he was there, I didn't have anyone knocking on my door saying O.K we can help you know. I went to Lompoc PD, narcotics officers, gang enforcement officers... I looked online. Tried boys town in Oklahoma. He had been in counseling, therapy, I had reached out to Victory Outreach, the big brother program... I mean you name it. I tried everything I could. I was even out there on the streets, they call it the hood, at all hours. It didn't matter if it was 10 pm or 2 am, I was out there trying to do what I could to pull him out of there and bring him home. I was ready to pitch a tent out there. Sometimes I could catch him and sometimes he'd run away from me. It was a nightmare. But I wasn't giving up. I was told him I would never let the gang win him over no matter what I had to do. So..."

 

-5

[superquote]S.D is my only child. He's my baby. He's it. He's a good boy, he has a good heart. He just didn't make some good choices.[/superquote]

 

-7

"S.D is my only child. He's my baby. He's it. He had been in trouble once before. It was a fight with another gang member, in the court he told the judge “Fuck you,” and was sent to Los Prietos Boys Camp. It was after a month in there that the gang enforcement agents pulled him out and charged him with the murder. He had changed a lot in Los Prietos, he said it was a good program for him. That camp was probably the best thing that could have happened to him."

[superquote]He was introduced to the gang life at El Puente. Lots of kids on probation, gang members, you name it they were there. I don't know if it was the excitement, the thrill of it all... I raised him to be different.[/superquote]

"What had happened was he was going to Vandenburg Middle School, he wasn't doing great. To make a long story short, a few detentions added up and then he and a friend made a hole the size of a quarter on the seat of school bus. Due to that he was expelled from the entire district. Forced him to to go El Puente School. I think that did it. He wasn't able to go to his school. He was introduced to the gang life at El Puente. Lots of kids on probation, gang members, you name it they were there. I don't know if it was the excitement, the thrill of it all... I raised him to be different. Maybe it was “this is new, I'm curious.” I mean I am a single mom, but I raised him well. S.D was never out in the street, never out past curfew, once it was nighttime 7 or 8pm S.D was home. I've worked since he was a baby. I also made sure that every time I got a job it was Monday through Friday during day hours so I could be here at night. I was working at Michael's, I still work there. After three years of day shifts my manager had a fit, and the district manager forced me to work nights. That was it. I had to start working nights, I couldn't be home 'til 11:30, I had to work weekends. That and El Puente is when things started falling apart. He was here by himself, I 'm sure that had an effect on him... but as a single mom I had to work. Didn't have a choice, I had to raise him. I don't have any family. My mom and dad, his grandparents are passed away."

 

-2

 

-4

 

-3

 

"He started being disrespectful at home. I would take his cell phone away and he would fight me for it. I would ground him and he would just fly out of the house. I thought “Whoa, S.D has always listened to me.” I could tell he was doing drugs when he was out on the street, with the gang members, it was altering him. He was drinking, smoking, popping pills, I think he tried meth a few times."

[superquote] I think he's come a long way. He's doing awesome in school. I meet with him every Monday and Sunday, our last visit he was very proud and excited. [/superquote]

"S.D has come a long way. He has an attitude and a temper. He got in one fight a couple years ago, it was his fault. Once he was rushed by another gang member who called him a snitch, and then he got in trouble for defending himself. Other than that... I think he's come a long way. He's doing awesome in school. I meet with him every Monday and Sunday, our last visit he was very proud and excited. 20 credits and he's done. I am very, very, very, very proud of him. He wasn't doing any school outside, all Fs."

 

"He's a good boy, he has a good heart. He just didn't make some good choices. He was looking at 60 years to life. But... S.D's a good kid and he's always told the truth. I told him, “it's your decision. But I'm your mom and I don't want you to take the rap for something you didn't do.” I told him, “I understand you are in a gang, I get it. You might have a little bit of an initiative for his horrible crime but you need to speak up.” He was the youngest one out of all of them, so they expect him to take the rap. One day in juvie he said to me, “where are my friends? Why aren't they coming forward with the truth?” and I said exactly and we had a good conversation. It was a hard decision but he decided to take the deal. Which is a crappy deal, but, they are willing to release him when he's 25 years old. So, a few weeks ago he had to testify against 3 gang members. He's at risk in there right now. According to his attorney, they did a crappy investigation, they had the kid who actually shot and killed the man and they let him go, now he is at large. If they catch him S.D will have to testify against him as well. But he won't be at juvenile hall. They'll be transporting him to YA, Youth Authority, which is basically a mini youth prison to my understanding. They don't know which one they'll transfer him to. I'm praying for Camarillo. I can file a hardship, because I'm a single parent and this is my only son, so I can request for him to stay near. If not, my understanding is that the next one is 6-8 hours away in Preston."

[superquote]It was a hard decision but he decided to take the deal. Which is a crappy deal, but, they are willing to release him when he's 25 years old. So, a few weeks ago he had to testify against 3 gang members. He's at risk in there right now.[/superquote]

"S.D's never had an issue with my being gay. I've been with my current girlfriend Shady two years now, she writes to S.D. My ex and I had been together for 11 years. We were having relationship issues and S.D saw all of it. They'd known each other since he was 4. He used to call her dad. At the end he lost respect for me, having to watch our relationship crumble. I think it had a huge impact on S.D joining the gang. I blame myself. As a mom, I know it was up to him to make that choice, but I know that things at home weren't helping him to not make that decision. His father just barely came into his life. They met for the first time one day before he was locked up. So he's met him. He's not a great dad, that's all I can say. He visits him off and on. He might pop up and go with me faithfully to visit S.D for a few months, then disappear. He says he's been clean and sober and I think I believe him. He was a heroin addict. He was a gang member in Santa Barbara, he says no longer but sometimes I wonder."

 

"April 5th will be three years awaiting trial. There were so many co defendants. They were waiting for their trials to be through, which should finish up this month. After that, S.D will go back to court a couple times. Because he took the deal, S.D might be able to go back to juvenile court and he might be able to be charged as a juvenile. One of the facilities he might go to has fire camp, I'm really pushing for that. Encouraging him to take advantage of any and all opportunities he might have in there."

[Family-in-Justice] Cheryle and her grandson Anthony Part 2 by richard ross

[Read Part 1 HERE] 

Anthony at the Wabash County Correctional Center, Indiana. Image courtesy Cheryle Abul-Husn.   Cheryle:   Sometimes I wish we had left the country. We had that weekend, we could have run away. But we had no idea. We knew he was innocent. We went on vacation. We were so naïve. I used to believe in the system. Now I am angry with myself for believing. Devastated that something like this can happen, does happen. Looking back, there were so many things I would have done differently. But you can’t go back. It was the first time we’d been involved in the juvenile justice system. We hired a lawyer we heard was very good. We paid a fortune. My daughter sold her house to pay for him. He let us down immensely.” [superquote]I used to believe in the system. Now I am angry with myself for believing. Devastated that something like this can happen, does happen.[/superquote] One of my biggest regrets, since we were all going to testify as witnesses, we couldn’t be in the court during Anthony’s proceedings. We waited in the hall every day, waiting to go in, waiting to hear news. Since we weren’t in the room, we couldn’t know exactly how bad our lawyer was.   The juror selection was completely unjust: how was it that when I looked across the room at the jury pool I recognized so many faces? Lake County is HUGE, why couldn’t they pull a more diverse selection of jurors? One of the jurors was from our little community. He was an Elk’s Club member. His wife and the prosecutor’s mother knew each other. This juror gave another juror a ride home to Whiting each day, discussing the case in the car. The trouble with this juror began when he was first selected. He was a neighbor of a niece; it was not a friendly relationship. We knew that it would be wrong for him to be on the jury. My daughter wrote a note during jury selection and asked our lawyer not to allow this juror on the jury. The Judge saw the note being passed to the lawyer and called him to the bench she asked him if there was a problem with the juror and he said, “we already picked him.” A witness came to us during the trial and said they had seen yet another juror hugging a member of the dead boy’s family. We were told by our lawyer, “don’t bring these things up it will anger the Judge.” An alternate juror was so outraged by what had taken place in the jury deliberation, she called our lawyer crying. She told us how jurors were convinced to change their votes to guilty. How the evidence that was used to convict Anthony was that he wore a school uniform and there was someone seen in the area wearing a uniform. The school was a couple blocks way; there must have been many kids in the area in uniform. The other so-called evidence was that he was not on the phone for 17 minutes that afternoon. The prosecutor said in his closing arguments that the murder took 17 minutes. How would he know how long it took to murder this poor boy? There were other times throughout the day that Anthony had not been on the phone. When he came to my house I made him get off the phone to talk to the family. This was not evidence; this had nothing to do with the murder. The DNA is not Anthony’s. The eye witness said it wasn’t Anthony.   Anthony and his sister as children. Image courtesy Cheryle Abul-Husn.   [superquote]Our whole family life has been turned completely upside down. It’s so rough right now.[/superquote] Our whole family life has been turned completely upside down. It’s so rough right now. My granddaughter, Anthony’s little sister, hasn’t been getting enough attention from us. She got lost in all of this. She told one of her friends at school about the whole thing and the parents of the friend forbid their friendship. So she just holds it in, doesn’t tell anyone for fear of reprisal. I have started homeschooling her. She was being bullied. I woke up one morning and realized that whatever energy I had left needed to go towards helping her. She sees a counselor now. At first she didn’t want to visit Anthony, she was scared and so young. But now she visits. We bring in all the kids: the cousins, my 3-year-old grandson, Anthony loves him. Some people question why we bring them in. But they have a right to know each other. He didn’t do anything wrong. Grace [Bauer, of Justice For Families] says you have to do things however you see fit, whatever works for your family. Anthony loves the kids. He talks about driving a car and having kids of his own someday.”   After The Sentencing   “We had a Writ of Cert that was reviewed and denied by the Supreme Court on November 30th. Getting the Writ cost us $8,500.00. My daughter already sold her house, so she sold her car. This should be a right for EVERYONE. It should not be this cost-prohibitive. At least we have these things to sell. It is a sad truth in this system that if you have money, you have a better chance. If you have money and connections you might fare better. There are so many people who can’t afford to take the system on, on any level.”   [superquote]My grandson is innocent. But even for kids who did do something wrong, 60 years is a lifetime.[/superquote] My organization, Indiana Families United for Juvenile Justice, had a panel discussion at Purdue University on February 28th, 2013. Grace Bauer of Families For Justice was there, and Karen Grau, Producer of MSNBC’s Young Kids Hard Time, attended. She has met Anthony and she has said how much she likes him. She said he is quiet, and very nice. Those words mean the world to my family. Mark Clemens from Chicago attended. He spoke about being in prison since the age of 16, 28 years for a crime he did not commit. His strength gives us strength. In April I will be attending the JDAI National Inter-site conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Attending will be 180 sites from 39 states and over 700 Juvenile Justice System folks. I am doing what I can to help other families. To be for them what I didn’t have when we started this. Grace has been and is always there for me. I wouldn’t have made it without her. She keeps me hanging on. She tells me, “You can’t let em’ beat you down.” We want to make a manual for other parents and families that are going through this. It’s a complex, often shadowy thing, the juvenile justice system. For many of those involved it’s basically inaccessible. If you don’t have a computer, don’t have internet, you can’t look things up or communicate with others in your position. Having a network is key. Every time something changes in Anthony’s case I email and text everyone to get more advice and information. There is so much I don’t understand.”   Anthony's girlfriend Erika, Anthony, Cheryle, and Anthony's cousin Hunter Abul-Husn at the Wabash County Correctional Center, Indiana. Image courtesy Cheryle Abul-Husn.   My grandson is innocent. But even for kids who did do something wrong, 60 years is a lifetime. These are children. They cannot drive, cannot vote, cannot make adult decisions but they can be tried as adults and can receive sometimes even longer sentences than adults for the same type of offences. When we used to visit, Anthony would sit there and say, just tell them I didn’t do it. He tells us he will do whatever it takes; he just wants to come home. Before this, Anthony was beginning 9th grade. In December he celebrated his 5th birthday in prison.   [superquote]He missed his freshman year, his freshman dance, his prom, getting his driver’s license. What more must he lose out on before he is allowed to come home?[/superquote] He tells me I feel like I’m 15. I don’t feel like I’m any older. How could he not feel this way? He’s frozen in time and hasn’t been in the world since he was 15. Anthony is in a good program at his prison. He earned his GED and is starting college classes. Because of this program he was able to order rotisserie chicken last week. He told us his tears just came rolling down his face when he bit into the chicken. It breaks my heart that he has lost so much. He missed his freshman year, his freshman dance, his prom, getting his driver’s license. What more must he lose out on before he is allowed to come home?  

We’ve been contacting a several of the Innocence Project organizations. One recently wrote Anthony to say that they’d received his case and were processing it. I can only hope… and keep trying. I won’t stop telling his story. His mom, his step-dad, his aunts and cousins and I will never give up. If nothing changes I’ll be dead before he comes home. Please don’t let that happen. I know there are other families who cry every night. If I can leave you with one thought, just imagine Anthony is your child. He is good and kind and loving. He just wants to come home to be with his family who love him so much. He is innocent.”   Written in collaboration with the author.   ------------------

 

 

If you are a family with a child in the system and you are seeking advice or assistance, please contact 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 on the blog, please email us at: blogdirector@juvenile-in-justice.com 

   

[Family-in-Justice] Tarsha Jackson Part 1 by richard ross

 

 

Part 1:

 

Tarsha Jackson had her first encounter with the juvenile justice system when her son Marquieth was just 10 years old. In his special education classroom in Harris County, Texas Marquieth received a ticket for classroom disruption. It was his first day of school and marked the beginning of what would be a decade-long struggle with the juvenile justice system. By age 16, Marquieth had spent a total of five years in juvenile prisons.

 

School was a struggle for Marquieth. In his special education classroom, his teachers were not sensitive to Marquieth’s needs and they dealt with behavioral disruptions poorly. Tarsha recalls that few issues were handled internally, with teachers frequently bringing the police in. When he was 10, Marquieth was charged with assault for accidentally kicking a teacher while being restrained. He was placed on 6 months’ probation. After several school conduct violations and two probation violations Marquieth was referred to detention with no expected release date. During his confinement, Tarsha was not allowed to see or speak to her son for 30 days. It was horrifying. Tarsha paid a local advocate $50 dollars to check on Marquieth’s case; he was released from detention 1 week after the advocates’ inquiry.

 

At age 11, Marquieth received his third violation for allegedly breaking a window at a neighborhood pool. Knowing that what he had “done” did not warrant his being locked up, Tarsha launched a fierce campaign to keep her son out of prison. She recruited her son’s doctors to write letters about his condition, she created a plan of treatment, and brought her family in to advocate. Before her son’s court date, unbeknownst to Tarsha, the court attorney and the probation officer went before a visiting judge with no knowledge of the case. Afterwards, they called Tarsha to inform her that Marquieth had been sentenced to nine months in the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

 

The experience of the Jackson family is a tragic example of the school-to-prison pipeline in Texas. To provide some background, in 1995 school discipline laws in Texas were overhauled with the intent of reducing potential violence on campuses. Zero tolerance policies were adopted statewide, which allowed administrators to use suspension, referral to alternative education programs, and law enforcement at their own discretion—which has in many cases resulted in a criminalization of normal student misbehavior. According to the NAACP from their site, “Rather than employ traditional disciplinary measures, such as counseling or detention, when students misbehave, schools are becoming increasingly dependent on suspensions, expulsions, and law enforcement to punish students.” Disproportionally affected by these zero-tolerance policies are students of color and those with developmental disabilities.

 

Things were bad as soon as Marquieth was committed to the Texas Youths Commission. According to Tarsha, her son, who had been medicated since he was three, was immediately taken off his medications and put in an isolation cell. Also according to Tarsha, a scuffle with the guards, who were armed with shields, resulted in a ½ inch chin laceration and impacted wisdom teeth for Marquieth (see hospital records below). Tarsha says that while he was in TYC, her son received virtually no mental health treatment. For the next 3 1/2 years he bounced around between institutions in the Texas Youth Commission.

 

 

Tune in for part 2 tomorrow morning. (and consider subscribing to the blog HERE to receive posts in your email inbox)

 

 

For Tarsha and other parents out there fighting against a system employing punitive practices and unjust punishment, share this article with friends and family and encourage them to share to their circles. Spreading awareness is the first step in taking action. Then, visit our Take Action page to find out what else you can do.

 

 

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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

 

[Family-in-Justice] Marquetta Harrison and her son Corey by richard ross

Last month we received an email from Marquetta Harrison, from Kansas City, Missouri, wanting to tell her story. In July of 2010, her son Corey Webb, then age 16, was charged with aggravated assault against a public servant—a crime for which he was sentenced to 50 years. In emails with Marquetta, it is clear that her story reveals a state and a system that holds punishment by incarceration in the highest order.    To give you an idea of the criminal system in Texas, here are some statistics accumulated by Robert Perkinson, a Soros Justice Fellowship recipient and author of Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire:  

-       Minimum number of Texas residents under criminal justice supervision: 740,905

-       Total prison population (both violent and non) of the U.K., the most incarcerated country in Europe: 82,241

-       Estimated percent chance in 1996 that a black man born in Texas will go to prison: 29%

-       Approximate percentage of Texas’s overall population that is non-white: 40

-       Approximate percentage of Texas’s prison population that is non-white: 70

-       Rate at which blacks are incarcerated compared to whites in Texas: 7 to 1

-       Rank of Texas in number of juveniles incarcerated in adult prisons: 1

-       Rank of Texas in executing juveniles and mentally retarded inmates before recent Supreme Court prohibitions: 1

-       Number of times the Supreme Court rebuked Texas’s highest court for defiantly ignoring its rulings in 2004: 3

 

Marquetta feels that Corey was poorly represented, detained for two years awaiting trial with little to no assistance from his court appointed attorney. Ultimately, she feels like her son gave up, and pleaded guilty. Corey’s mom writes, “I would love to wake from this nightmare, because it's unreal.”

 

Here are the basics of the story: According to Marquetta, when she got home from work she and Corey’s grandmother discovered that Corey had run away. Recently, his girlfriend had moved with her family to Tyler, Texas and Corey had run away to be with her. Guessing correctly that he would be headed to Tyler, 550 miles away, Marquetta called the Tyler police. Concerned and angry, she reported him as a runaway and to requested that the police detain Corey at the bus stop. When he arrived, they arrested him on runaway charges. After being alerted that her son was in custody, Marquetta was told that he would be held in detention there until local Kansas City Authorities could extradite him back home. Corey was taken to the Smith County Juvenile Attention Center in Tyler, Texas. Once inside, authorities stated that he pulled a gun from his backpack and allegedly shot at Juvenile probation officer Walker. Marquetta remembers receiving a phone call at 4AM the following day from a police officer telling her that her son “just shot up the detention center.” She recalls, “I sat straight up, and my heart went into my stomach. I just knew his next statement was that my child was dead.  He then stated that [Corey] turned the gun on himself, and threatened to kill himself, and kept asking [the officers] to shoot him… I then asked, ‘How did he get a gun?’ The officer stated, ‘Out of his property.’ I said, ‘Excuse me? How did this happen? Where did he get a gun?’  He stated that the arresting officer never searched his property and turned his back to get something out of the closet. That’s when Corey pulled the weapon out of the bag.” According to Marquetta, the security tapes she was later shown were full of gaps where the incident had occurred.

 

Marquetta remembers the first time she was able to see Corey after he had been arrested:

 

Visitations were non-contact, and when I saw my child that I have only known 16 years, still with the look of innocence with an undisclosed amount of pain beyond his eyes, his arms filled with around fifteen staples where he had lacerations. I broke down in tears. I have worked in places like this, and reality came crashing down on me all at once.  I never thought I would see my son in the bright orange jumpsuit. I spoke with my son, and he was so ignorant to the system. He stated, “When will they let me go home? Can't you get me out of here? I didn't do what they said, and I know you will help me!" We stared back at him with a poker face, and his father and I told him, “Yes, of course, we are going to help you,” but at the time deep down inside we couldn’t even reassure ourselves… He was like a small kid waiting for us to rescue him. The pain I was feeling in my heart of helplessness.  It was a pain like I had never felt before. I have never been unable to hold my son, comfort my child, and discipline him on my own terms. I had just come to reality that all my power had just been giving to Smith County. I started to feel the guilt that I just handed my power over to them, and they had betrayed me.

 

  When Walker, the probation officer who was allegedly shot at, was interviewed later he stated that he would like to have seen Corey get life in prison. There is a sad truth to be learned from his statement—some of those involved closely in the system, which see the same kids come in and out every month, feel that locking someone up for half a century is an effective and optimal reaction to his or her crime. Marquetta writes, “You could see this was not about punishment but about making an example out of him.”

 

Months after the incident Marquetta is still constantly questioning, where did he get the gun? Why didn’t they search his bag? What would make Corey do this? What was he thinking?  To say that it is difficult for Marquetta to revisit the night of the incident is a vast understatement, a combination of emotions well up in Marquetta when she thinks about it. The guilt of getting the police involved in the first place, the fury at a system so impossible to navigate, and the incomprehension of his ultimate sentence. Throughout Marquetta’s recount of the incident and the months of legal dealings afterward there is an ongoing pattern of inconsistency ranging from trial dates being changed quickly without her notice to constantly changing visitation rules. Being 500 miles away did not make it any easier.

 

She writes, “I did my part as a parent, reported my son gone without my permission… My son did his part; he acted out as the irrational runaway adolescent hormonal teenager… The job was to apprehend the kid and diffuse the situation. It wasn’t diffused, and then it took a turn for the worse.”  Corey was a child and made a bad decision, for which 50 years of his life are now owed.

 

Before July 2010, life in the Harrison home was different. Corey lived at home with his mom, grandmother, and two sisters. Marquetta describes Corey as “artistic, reserved and smart.” He enjoyed drawing, fooling around with his younger sister and playing video games. Corey was an honor roll student up to his Freshman year of high school, at which point he started to become distant and occasionally get in trouble. Shortly thereafter, his uncle and father were in a car accident, killing his uncle and severely injuring his father. Corey and his uncle were very close. After the accident, Corey became very distant and quiet. Marquetta remembers catching him crying to himself at times. She felt that the car accident “laid heavy on his heart” and that he had never fully recovered from the emotional trauma of it. He began to get in trouble at school and wouldn’t listen to Marquetta. She found out he had a girlfriend dealing with similar behavioral issues who wanted to have a baby by Corey. Marquetta didn’t want her son to be a father at age 16.

    Corey is serving out his sentence at the Allan B. Polunsky unit, a prison in Polk County Texas that also houses the Texas death row population. When we asked Marquetta what it is like to visit your child in prison she told us that it was very hard to step on Texas soil, let alone the prison itself. “To leave your child in a place that is known for rape, murder, and to house child molesters, and is over 500 miles away. It is devastating,” she states. When she visits, it isn’t like she is talking to the 16-year-old she knew before he was locked up. She says that Corey sounds her age, old beyond his years, and tries to soothe his mother and helps her find peace of mind. At home, her family “is walking around breathing, but we’re not living.” Corey’s father spends every day confined to his room, researching how to save his son. Marquetta feels like she has lost a part of her soul, an arm, a part of her brain and feels completely numb most of the day. She writes, “It’s so hard to go on daily and look at my two other children living life, and one being snatched away like a thief in the night. It’s very hard to deal with it, especially when you know you are working with a system that is very biased. Yeah, he made a big mistake, but not a 50-years-of-his-life mistake.” When Marquetta left for work that morning, Corey was helping his little sister unlock a new code for Super Mario Brothers, now when she talks to him he is “waiting for his next tray to eat, and watching that he doesn’t end up another raped victim in jail.”

  -------------------------------------   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.