"Now I’m growing up." by richard ross

I’ve been here four or five years. I would go to regular school. I would live with my mom, three sisters and two brothers. Then I started running hallways when I was supposed to be in class. I would start trouble. I would get into fights. Kids like to bully me about little stuff, about the clothes you are wearing, or the way you smell. They would suspend me for two or three days, then after a couple of times the school kicked me out and the school found Children’s Village. My counselor said it would be good to be here. There are ten kids in the class. I was left back twice so I’m in 10th grade. I’m in day school here. I go home after school. (There are only a few students like this. It’s a long commute.) I was getting into trouble for dissing teachers. Now I’m growing up. I know what’s wrong and what’s right. At age ten I used to act up in school. Now I’m going to stay here, finish school and become a game designer. I like Call of Duty Advanced Warfare. My favorite subject is global or history.

—K., age 17



"I’m just waiting for someone to help me." by richard ross

Right now I’m on the move. I’m just waiting for someone to help me. My dad is trying to get a home so he can pick me up. Me and my mom don’t really talk. I’ve been here over a year. I was 13 when I first came into the system. I was originally in detention. Now I’m in here for sexual abuse. They’re helping the kids here. I don’t want to be here but I’ve changed my behavior in the last six months, how you feel about things and why. We have staff that help us try to make better decisions. They try to make it the best while we’re here although sometimes the kids will curse the staff out. There are five kids in my cottage, lots of staff. I meet with the social worker once or twice a week for 45 minutes or an hour. My dad is in a shelter right now. My mom is with her husband and my little sister.

S., age 14

S., age 14

Being abused and neglected is not my crime.

I’m here for a sexual assault. I was 12 when charges were first filed. Me and my mom haven’t talked since I was little. We may pass words but there’s no mutual kindness to each other. My mom did something really bad that threatened my life when I was two and caused my dad to go to jail. I was a baby and my mom would take the check that would come for me and would leave. She would leave me there with no food and no clothes and spend the money. My dad would retaliate because of what she did and he was charged with domestic violence. And then they would put me with my mom again. I was with my dad when he got out and we would move through shelters from when I was two until I was about 12. At 12 I went to my first foster home. I was in at least 25 different foster homes and never stayed in one more than a week or so. I felt I was intruding into other people’s lives. It didn’t seem proper to me. My mom was very into drugs and alcohol. I can fit in with other kids. I smoke a little. Drink. I’m sexually active. I want to go to an Ivy League school—Duke, Syracuse or Florida State. I’m not a community college type person. Shelters weren’t that hard. I got to meet a lot of new friends when I was a kid. The longest I stayed in the same shelter was a year and a half. My dad couldn’t have a house. He had money issues. He couldn’t find a job. ACS are the people that find you a home. They intervene only for abuse and neglect. Being poor is not a crime. Being abused and neglected is not my crime. The judge decided I should be sent here. The big choice I had was upstate or here. I lucked out. The only person I trust is my mentor, and I trust my dad. He’s taken care of me all that time. And some of the staff here.

—S., age 14

"I couldn’t stay in the house." by richard ross

I was in foster care since 10th grade. I’ve been here a year. It’s boring. I was at a group home for a while, but she wasn’t feeding me there. I went out and stole food. She wasn’t treating me right. I couldn’t stay in the house. I was locked up a while for robbery. Then they put me in foster care for after care. But then they were mad at me because I went to jail. I was living in a place where there was no room for me there. I live with my dad, my mom and my grandma. They visit me every month. They just want to see me do good so I’m here. I don’t think they can give me the right care. They both work at a hospital. I want to work with sanitation; they make a lot of money. (He leaves the room and then comes back in to make sure I know…) I want to get famous.

—Q., age 17

I don’t think they can give me the right care.


"Everything there was horrible." by richard ross

Soon I’m going to be 18. I’m black, Spanish, Jamaican and Guinanese. My mom’s a great cook. She’s makes yam and mac and cheese. I’ve been here about a year. I’m going to be discharged soon. I started getting into trouble when I was 16. I was coming home late, violating curfew, not listening to rules. Now I realize it’s time not to play no more. I got locked up, court remanded, sent to Rikers. Everything there was horrible. The food. The beds. The guards. It was all horrible. We had to do so many strip searches. They never call you by your name; they call you by your number. The stuff I saw at Rikers changed up my act. There are things you just can’t understand but if you’re on the street you understand them differently. Here I got into trouble because they said I threatened staff. I think staff is always mad at you. I’m not threatened by the staff here, not like at Rikers. I’m here with people who have problems and can’t be at home.

V., age 17

V., age 17

I’m not threatened by the staff here, not like at Rikers.

I’m in the cottage which is for kids with sexual behavior issues. I had problems with the way I approach females. I approached them with a bad attitude rather than as evens. My mom would never hit me but she would take away my video games and I want to be a video game designer. Sometimes we get group therapy here, sometimes individual. I got a scar here. I got cut by glass. And here’s another scar. A couple of us from our cottage got into a battle with another cottage. There were a couple of them and a couple of us. They called for a big mediation but at the end of the day the supervisors blamed it on me and my cottage mate. We are NSP, which means we can’t go out of state but it’s no big deal. I’m in 12th grade but I have to pass my Regents to graduate. I want to be a game designer or be a chef, have my own TV show. I know I have to have an education first. My mom visits me. I have no idea where my dad is. I didn’t grow up with him. I have a stepfather but we sort of talk from time to time but we don’t hang out. All my siblings live at home. I trust my mom. She never gave up on me. She works at an arts and crafts place. She used to work at Target.

—V., age 17

"I opened the door and there he was dead." by richard ross

She had me going to the store to steal bread and milk.

I’ve been here three months. This is my third time here. I was 13 when I came the first time. I had a curfew violation. For three days I didn’t come home to my house. My parents didn’t know where I was. I just had to get out of the house. I’ve got a bunch of sisters. I had a brother but he was struck by lightning in front of the house when I was 13. I opened the door and there he was dead. It was crazy. I don’t know my father. When I would run away I would stay at my boyfriend’s house. Sometimes there would be name calling but words don’t hurt me. They would call me mook. That’s a term for gay. I was adopted when I was seven. I think I was five or six when they picked me and took me home. I thought it was crazy. My mom was a drinker and a smoker. Then she put her hands on me. She would put my head in the doorway and try to smash it. That’s why I have bald spots. She had me going to the store to steal bread and milk.

K.D., age 15

K.D., age 15

I’ve been in four foster homes. I have a 37-year-old sister. When I get discharged she will have custody of me. I’ll do better there than my mother who used to try to kick me. She can’t kick me anymore because she’s got diabetic legs and she’s all swelled up. The court will allow my sister and her wife to have custody of me. She’s gay so she’s going to be more tolerant and open. After six months I can have a home visit. I go to court. It’s a long process physically. It’s at least a two hour trip. I want to be a choreographer. I like those Flexn dancers. I imagine if they get cuffed they can bend their arms and get out. I can see a counselor when I need it. There are a lot of kids here that are gay. A lot of them know it; a lot of them are confused. One minute they’re playing basketball, the next minute they’re “extra.” That means they’re going girlie. I don’t do extra. I know what a girl don’t do. I trust my best friend and my sister. My call day is on Thursday. We can talk as long as we want, and they can call us at any time.

- K.D., age 15

". . . he crossed the anger line." by richard ross

Sometimes you get angry at people and the anger takes control.


I was born in Mexico. I live in Panorama now. Been here six days. The court decides where I go from here. Sometimes you get angry at people and the anger takes control. Me and this kid had a discussion, but then he crossed the anger line. The discussion was about racial things. He was African American. He called me a fat Chinese kid and said your parents are wetbacks. I live at home with my mom and dad. She cleans houses and he does construction. They’re both waiting for papers. I have two younger sisters. I’m the only boy child.

-K.K., age 13


**Interviews with youth are recorded to the best of our ability. All personal histories and anecdotes are self-reported by the children. To protect confidentiality of the youth, identities have been obscured, initials have been changed, and identifying details have been removed. Interviews have not been edited for content.

[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.


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