"This is a complicated neighborhood." by richard ross

I live with my mom and four brothers. Two of the brothers are from the same parent. One by a different dad another from a different dad. And then one from the same dad and a different mom. And then there are some stepbrothers. My grandma on my dad’s side is dead. My grandma and grandpa are on vacation. I’ve been here twice. The first time I was twelve. I was at LP first for two days. Then the morning of the third day they moved me here. I’ve been here two months. For battery and robbery. Me and my homies jumped a guy. He was a grown man.

I’m affiliated. We have rules; you don't disrespect ladies and old folks. Like I would never disrespect my grandfather. My older brother has never been caught. He has a four-year college degree from Michigan State. He’s working, but he’s also banging. He doesn’t act like a stupid little homie, but he still chills with them. My dad is affiliated too, but with a different gang. I can get along with members of other gangs; if you don't disrespect me, I won't disrespect you. But if there is disrespect happening we’re going to get down.

The sheriff, he be cool with my dad and he knows me. But I got picked up by some other cops that don't normally patrol in our hood, so they brought me to a different station so I wouldn't get released so quick. They said I was selling marijuana. This is where they stabbed me in the back. This is a complicated neighborhood. I'm on the borderland, right where a bunch of gangs have been beefing up. Everyone is in some sort of gang.

But my mom is not gang banging. She went to college. She has to be supporting me and my brothers. She works at a fruitcake factory. Couple days of the week she works for the homeless; she’s a Christian. I live with my little brother who's eight, a three-year-old, and a 16-year-old and some other kids. She’s a good mother, she keeps clothes on my back and feeds me and everything. You feel me? I started fighting to protect my brother. I would have never gotten affiliated if anybody would have helped me. I got jumped and told the principal, told security; they didn't help me. All of a sudden there are 187 kids in front of my house ready to fade. My momma told me to go in the house I did. But from that point on, I knew I was gonna join up with the gang.

—L.B., age 13



"I ran away because my boyfriend pressured me." by richard ross

I'm in 12th grade. I've lived in here for 8 years, but I'm originally from the Bronx. My mom and dad still live together. I ran away because my boyfriend pressured me. I'm waiting for a slot to open up at another facility, I've been waiting for three months. I want to go to city college. I stay in the girls' wing, there's more than 100 girls here. Many of 'em are gang members.

—S.F., age 17



"I'm the only girl here." by richard ross

I've been here for 22 days. I've been in and out a bunch of times. At home I have a mom and dad and four younger brothers and sisters and an older brother and sister. I had an older sister who committed suicide a few years ago. I'm in the 9th grade. I would like to go to college. I received my first violation by stealing a car on drugs, then I overdosed on Benadryl and they found me passed out. I'll be here for 30 days and then I'll go to court with my parents. My mom is a CDC counselor, my dad is a construction worker. We're Tlingit-Haida. My parents moved us from LA to here, they have been sober for 11 years. We do more than the adults do, and they know that. I want to get into the ARCH treatment facility in the city. It's a program for drug abuse and chemical dependency. I'm the only girl here.

—N., age 14



"It’s more than I’ve been alive." by richard ross

I'm from Norfolk, Virginia. I'm in 11th grade. I'm not in special ed or anything like that. I've been locked up for 15 months. Since I was 16. I was 16 when I first went into a facility. My grandparents, my cousin, and my uncle visit me here.

My mom and dad are dead... somebody killed them. That’s kind of why I’m locked up. I killed them. I snapped. No drugs were involved, I don't do drugs. It was knives, and a bat, and a crowbar. You probably heard about it before. On the local news. Over a span of nine months. It was a combination of things. It was mostly between me and my dad, my mom was just collateral damage. There was physical and emotional abuse. Me and my dad would get into fights a lot. I never said anything so CPS was never involved. My mom would usually come in and break up the fight. It's been going on since I was in elementary school. I don't know what age but elementary school.

W.Q., age 17

W.Q., age 17

I try to look at the bright side of things, I can get out at 43 or at best I could get out in my 30s.

I try to look at the bright side of things, I can get out at 43 or at best I could get out in my 30s. I might try to get a job. I'll take some college classes while I'm in DOC. I'd like to get a job as a graphic designer. It's still a long time. It's more than I've been alive. Most of my life I’m gonna be locked up. And this is my first time ever catching a charge, it's crazy. I can't take it back so I gotta move on.

He was ex-military when I was born, they were 39 and 40 when I was born. I don't have any brothers or sisters. I had snapped multiple times before but never at a person, it would be towards objects. I would break bottles and jars of porcelain things like that, it was never directed toward somebody. I mean, my hand was bleeding but I never went to the hospital. They were talking about therapy but that never happened. I used to be on ADHD medicine. When I was in here I started taking ADHD medicine again but I tried to kill myself in here. I wrapped long johns around my neck, there was blood coming out of my mouth and everything, I tried to try hang myself. An officer came by and took me down. I know what caused it, most of my extreme emotions are extremely divided and with my ADHD I’m able to distract myself from a lot of thoughts.

— W.Q., age 17

"You know what a hitman is right?" by richard ross

I'm 18 years old. I'm in IBRU. I been here about a month. I’ve been in Beaumont since July 8. About nine months. I was 16 when I first went in to Juvie. I originally went to juvie for probation violation on a fighting charge. It was a school incident, I was fighting in school, the judge gave me probation. There are lots of cops in school here. I'm in 11th grade. I had just started ninth grade when I got into the fight. It was a minor fight but I still get an assault charge because you fightin’ on school grounds and stuff. When the fight happened they restrain you and separate you and put you in cuffs and stuff, and then they call your parents. You get cuffed if you fighting at school. If your parents can’t pick you up they take you to detention. But nine times out of 10 if you get in a fight at school you gettin’ suspended and a fighting charge.

...nine times out of 10 if you get in a fight at school you gettin’ suspended and a fighting charge.

D.D., age 18

D.D., age 18

I'm from Lynchburg, Virginia. It’s a pretty easy college town. I did other things to get here, there were other charges. People usually come here for other charges. I'm about to go back home. I live with my grandma grant grandpa. My mom passed in a car accident, head-on truck collision in 2005, 10 years ago. I was six or seven years old. I don't know where my dad is. I don't even know my dad's name.

I can't be out with the other kids. I'm in protective custody because I got hit and the investigator said there were too many hits out on me. People put hits out on other residence and stuff like that. You know what a hitman is right? It's like the Mafia but it's for kids out here. I don't know why they would put it out on me, I get along with mostly everybody. I’m not gang affiliated. I don’t really even know who the gangs are other than your Bloods and your Cripps and whatever other gangs you got.

— D.D., age 18

"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