"There isn't a sober person in the family." by richard ross

We have the same mother. Haven't seen dad since I was three, when he died drinking. I'm in here for drugs, pills, weed, and some harder stuff. I've been at this facility for 11 months. I went through the Drugs and Alcohol Program, but I got drunk the same day I finished. —T.P., age 17

I'm in the 9th grade, I flunked out of my first school. We grew up on the reservation. Everywhere on the res, you can find alcohol, pills, meth—the men drink and the women do pills. There isn't a sober person in the family.

—I.P., age 15



"They put me on adult probation at 13." by richard ross

I first came here at 13. My first charge was having a knife and drugs. The drugs? Weed. I was here for a week—was the worst place I ever want to be...locked up. I came back a couple of months later. More weed charges. They put me on adult probation at 13. This went on and on. They call this “sanction house,” where a judge outs you if you keep on misbehaving. But whatever they call it—a jail is a jail. Same thing. I came back for dropping dirty. Dad asked if they could put me on house arrest. He came from Laos. He came by plane when he was about 19. He welds and works side jobs at car lots. I never visited Laos. One day I would like to. I don’t know much about my stepmom. My real mom lives in another state. My brother lives with her. He gets in trouble on and off. I was going to school until about seventh grade, then I started bringing weed around and by eighth grade I was gang-banging. I’m a member of the Piru Bloods. There are about 15 of us. The other gangs are just fake. I’m also with the FL. We go against the F-13.

I met different people and they disliked me for the colors I was showing. I guess I got in trouble when I started looking for respect. It was eighth grade when I got a gun. A shotgun costs $50. A handgun: about $150. You have to be careful and make sure a gun isn’t dirty or has a body on it. I’m charged with murder. It happened in my house when I was on house arrest. I was with a friend who did it. The older guy started to come at me. He was Mexican and had a knife. He dropped the knife when he was coming at us and my friend picked it up and stabbed him. He is in County Adult charged with “overkill”. That's when you keep on shooting somebody after they are dead…or in this case he was coming at me with a knife so I threw a rock. Then we started beating him and I tried to get him to drop the knife. I was on drugs and blacked out. I started drinking alcohol and was taking Xanax.

I’ve been in here a year. I been in 20 different rooms here. They keep moving me. I went to a waiver hearing and they are talking about me pleading guilty and getting 3-7 years in juvie, then parole for five years, with 25-to-life back up. Possible time if violating parole. I go to court in 16 days to plead guilty. I would be there until I am 23. I heard it was better than this. Better food, better programs and people that don’t act like little kids. I read a lot here. James Patterson—I like him and mysteries and stuff.

—T.Q., age 17



"I don't have a dad. He’s locked up." by richard ross

I like to swim a lot, but they only give us 3 minutes to shower. I’m 15 now. I was 13 when I first came here. I live with my mom and grandmother. Not my stepdad. He split with my mom—she kicked him out because he was doing drugs and giving me drugs. Just bud and beer. I don't have a dad. He’s locked up. He wants to know about me but I don't care about him. I’m here because of drugs and because I’m a runner. I run from placement. The first time I was in placement it was for 7 days. I was 14. It was a group home with 4 girls. The judge put me there. Before that I was in juvie. I was 13. Then I was in placement for 4 days. I was 14 years old. And this was after change of faces. I was at a place after that for 20 hours. I’ve been here 18 times previously. I just don't want to be in placement. The judge doesn't want me at home. He gave me a lot of chances. I was on EM (electronic monitoring) at least 5 times, I would just cut it off. I would get arrested, then maybe get out and go to my grandmas house, and then somewhere else. And then I’d be back home within 72 hours, but they would still charge me for running.

My mom would call the cops on me. I would be all high on meth. I tried to stab my mom, but that wasn't me. It was the meth. My stepdad tried giving me meth when I was younger, but I liked the beer and the bud. There was no sexual abuse, but there was verbal abuse when my mom would party with her homegirls. They would get drunk and they would verbally abuse me when they partied. There would be drinking and cigarettes, no hard drugs. One time I got crazy with them because they went into my room and got my blankets and stuff and I started hitting them. They would talk shit to me but I wanted them to respect my shit. It’s my house and my property.

The dot on my arm? That's where I got a TB test and the nurse gave me a shot. I smoke meth, I tweak, sometimes I’m twisty. I smoke it. I usually didn't go to school. I would go for 2 or 3 days when I was 10. But once I tried meth I stopped going to school. The first time I tried meth I was 13 at a party. We would smoke at parties, we would smoke at my house, but I could stop. I don't need anybody to help me. I could stop because I overdosed in a restroom about two weeks ago. I was throwing up and I knew I was close to death. But I stopped for two weeks, and I been here for a week. So that's 3 weeks. So you see I could stop any time I want. But I have a taste for it, when I think about it I have a taste for it. But then I think I was going to die, and I was so scared… I was this close. So I think I can stop.

I go to court in 5 days. The judge wants me to go to placement. He wants me to do what he wants me to do. He’s not my mom. He’s not my dad. Why would I listen to him? I listen to my mom sometimes because she wants me to be safe. But then other times I don't listen to her because I just want the drug.

—O., age 15



"She told me today that she’s pregnant." by richard ross

I live near the city college I live with my mom, two sisters, a newborn, and my stepdad. I have an older brother, but he’s out of the house. My stepdad’s a chef. And my mom works at a bakery. I was taken away by social workers. My mom told them that I hit her, but I really just ran away with my girlfriend. I wasn’t going to school. I was living in the street at friends’ houses with my girlfriend. I guess I was couch surfing. Yeah, I guess I was homeless. My mom came to see me today, with my girlfriend. She’s still with me. She told me today that she’s pregnant. I’m in 11th grade. I can barely take care of myself. I got a grand theft charge. The judge sent me to placement rehab. Mostly alcohol and weed and meth. My girlfriend would keep me on the right path. When I was on the outs, I wouldn't eat or sleep because of all the drugs. In here, I’m always sleeping to catch up on lost sleep and I’m always hungry. ‘Cause now that I’m not on drugs I’m hungry.

They have me for grand theft and possession of meth. I hope they give me probation. I think I’m going to go to a placement home. I was interviewed on Friday, and I’m just waiting for them to pick me up. I have to do nine months. If I go AWOL, I’ll be in bigger trouble. I’ve been here for two weeks for the same charge. The grand theft was I snatched a phone from an open car. They caught me sitting in the car and they tried to catch me for GTA. They tried to put those charges on me.

—K.O. age 17



"I’m not allowed to see my biological mom, but I know her telephone number by heart." by richard ross

The first time I was in the system, I was 14. I've been here twice. Now I’m here on violation of parole. I was fighting in school. They had me for assault with a deadly weapon. I hit a girl with a hammer. The hammer was in a utility closet. The girl tried to jump me. I’m a junior, ninth or tenth grade, but I rarely go to school. I violated my parole before. It’s stupid, because I cussed out a teacher. My mom has visited me here today. I’m a twin. My brother still lives with my mom. I have an older sister, M.H., she’s 16. She’s in here too. There are five kids that live at home. I don’t know my dad. My mom works at a convalescent home. I don’t do drugs, no weed, no alcohol. I had a boyfriend at the last place. He was there for assault also and doing 9-12 months. You do good and you can get early release. My sister M.H., she’s been all over the place. From level 14 placements. She got in a fight with two white girls and they sent her to to a different facility. I refuse to go to the other unit. What’s the point in getting settled in another unit when I’m getting released to another place tomorrow. Then I’ll leave May 8th for a home.

We were taken away from my biological mom. Her boyfriend was beating her. She was doing a lot of drugs. She was leaving us kids alone. She was using meth, coke, staying out late. My sister M.H. had to watch over for us. She’s strong. She isn’t a fighter, but if someone is messing with my family, she’ll fight. I’m the same way. There is just a lot of dirt and filth in my house and my mother would abandon us for hours, days at a time. We were taken away from her when me and my twin were four, had one sister that was two, M.H. was five, and one brother that was three. We’ve been living with my foster mom since I was four. I started cutting when I was 12. That’s when things started going away fast. I’m still doing it once in a while. I’ve seen my sister come over here once and I see her walking around. I’m not allowed to see my biological mom, but I know her telephone number by heart.

—L.S., age 15



"Then he raped me. My mom didn’t believe me. " by richard ross

I’m dual. No one visits. I was in placement. Then I was in a facility up north for two weeks. I’ve been here five days. There is A/C in the day room but not in the cells. I live far from here with my grandfather, mom, tío, and younger sister. Me and my mom got into a physical altercation over me smoking some weed. She roughed me up so I went AWOL and stayed with my friend just around the block. My mom reported me missing. Then I went to school after being truant for three days with a busted lip, black eye, and a broken nose. When they saw how beat up I was, they took me and my little sister away and put us in a foster home—this lady with two kids—a son and a granddaughter. My dad was incarcerated for 14 years. I was having attitude with my foster mom so DCFS put me living with my dad when he got out of prison. I was living with him and my half sister for four months. Then he raped me. My mom didn’t believe me. He wasn’t held behind bars—he was just walking around. Then when they found out, they re-incarcerated him for coke and being a pedophile—for having sex with a 13 year old. This was my biological dad. No one believed me and I ran away to the valley and had to find a police station by myself to report him. I was in junior high. I went to a foster home. My little sister was able to go back home to my mom, but I have an order that I have to be separated from my mom for six months. I had attitude so my foster mom gave my social worker seven days notice to evict me and move me.

They found me a place at a different facility. I was there two months and I AWOLed. I was supposed to do six months there, but part of their program is family counseling and I was too far away from my grandfather to meet with my mom as part of counseling. My social worker knew I was on the run and she called my mom. My mom knew I was trying to get home and when I got home she snitched me out. I was standing on a corner in my city at about 10 PM and a police officer asked what I was doing out after curfew. They took me to DCFS headquarters and had me stay there overnight because they didn’t have a place for me. Then they found me a group home on a Thursday and I was supposed to stay there for a month. I got in a fight with another girl and accidentally socked a security guard. They put me in a place that used to be a school for girls. They gave me another chance there. I was there for nine months and then AWOLed—for a guy. Yeah, it’s always a guy. I thought he was the one.


I was on drugs a lot: doing weed, PCP, Angel Dust, Meth, Uppers, Downers. There are no NA or AA meetings here. In order to help me they told me I had to admit my addiction to myself and I wasn’t willing to do that. At that point my mom didn’t want me. I was living in an abandoned house for three weeks. I would go in and out of this boarded up house through a ‘doggie door.’ Or I would sleep in a van.

My mom moved out of the house so I have been living with my grandfather. I’m here as a runaway. My first case is closed. My grandpa always gave me what I wanted and what I needed but not my mom and certainly not my dad. I’m in 10th grade but I have junior credits. I’m smart when I’m sober. I’m catching up on schoolwork a lot. I have two kids. The first I have from my dad when I was 14. The first thing he did when he got out of prison was to rape me and get me pregnant. I didn’t show until I was eight months. The baby was tiny, so I didn’t know I was pregnant. I had irregular period all the time anyway. I was still doing a lot of drugs, heroine and coke and crystal meth. The baby was born three pounds eight ounces.

When I came here a month ago I was only 50 pounds. I’m 4’8”. My second baby was with my boyfriend. He’s 18. I was off drugs and by then I was only an alcoholic. I don’t believe in setting goals, but I would like to stay sober. I’ll get off probation as soon as possible. I want to build a relationship with my mother. My boyfriend has two other kids, both are from another girlfriend. I asked my mom for help, but she said I ‘should learn the hard way.’ My mom was abused by my uncle when she was a kid and she was bullied back in her high school days. I think she is 53 now. I’m 16.

I get interviewed on Friday. I may go to a new placement.

—B.E., age 16


"She was incarcerated when I was born—so was my dad." by richard ross

I’ve been here twice. I live with my great grandmother. She’s 85. I don’t know where my mother is. I know my daddy is incarcerated. He has been there about eight months now for drug trafficking. My mom went to jail numerous times for selling drugs. She was incarcerated when I was born—so was my dad. My great grandma adopted me. She was given full custody when I was born. I’m in 10th grade. I have a couple of units of general stuff. I have one younger brother and a younger sister. I see them twice a year if I am lucky. I think my mother takes care of them. I don’t even know where she is or even her phone number. I saw them at a family gathering once. We don’t have a good relationship. I feel she abandoned me and I never had a chance to really be. She put so much pressure on my great grandmother to take care of me without giving no help, no support.

I am here for aggravated robbery. Wrong place, wrong time. I was with two males when they snatched a phone. I was guilty by association. I have been here a month now. This is my first time in. I think I get out the next day. I was in for a PV (probation violation) for cutting off my ankle bracelet. I had an aunt and cousin both dying of cancer. My aunt and my cousin both passed. I went to their funeral. I don’t look at this as punishment but as a learning experience. Monday I go talk to a judge and either I go home or they make me stay. But I know this is not the place for me. There is one kid here that I know from my neighborhood.

— N.I., age 16



"My mom and dad used to fight..." by richard ross

I’m 14. I’ve been here 7 months. I was 12 when I first came in here. I came in for fighting my brother. My mom, dad, Little brother, and sister visit. I’m in for 15-21 (months). My dad is African American, my mom is white. My oldest brother is home now. He was in DOC.

I am here for robbery and abduction. I was physically and emotionally abused. My aunts hit me, foster people and stuff like that. I was in foster homes probably 2 years ago. I been in 4-5 foster homes. They just move us around and around. My little brother and little sister moved with me.  so my mom had an order against my dad and he violated it so he got locked up…and my mom got on drugs. I went into foster care when I was like 7 or 8. My foster mom would push me around and hit me and stuff like that.

I don’t have any kids. I’m on lock so I wear orange. If you keep on getting institutional charges they put you on IBRU… it means 30 days lock or something like that. I get an extra charge for destruction of state property (writing on floor). I used a pen and ink—so I took the top of the pen off and blew the ink out of it. I don’t think I’m an artist.

—D, age 14

D., age 14

D., age 14

"A fire happened in my house. They blamed it on me. " by richard ross

A fire happened in my house. They blamed it on me. My mother’s 40 now. I’m an only child. I had a brother but he died when he was young. I never met him. I was taken into custody at Rikers on seven different charges. There was some kind of socket in my house that blew up. My mother was into alcohol and drugs. I live with my grandma. I ran away from here because I hadn’t seen my family in a long time so I went to see my grandma, my auntie and my cousins in Brooklyn for three or four days, and I came back here and they put me on restriction, so no games and no rec. But now I’m off restriction. I was in foster homes. Then it took me six or seven months to be accepted into this program. I was basically raised here. The people here I respect. They give me respect the same way I give them respect. I might be an artist someday. I like Michelangelo, David something, Leonardo.

—S., Age 13

S., age 13-1

S., age 13-1

"My stomach was telling me one thing, but my mind was telling me another." by richard ross

My father is Muslim. He lives in Northeast. I was living with my mom, grandmother, and 14-year-old little brother. My parents separated when I was younger. My mom kicked me out and put me on the streets when I was 15. She said, "You don't live here anymore." My grandfather died when he was 60, my mother’s father. My mom was 33. That's when she started losing it, she started smoking dippers--cigarettes dipped in embalming fluid. She kept on getting more aggressive. It wasn't my mother; it was the dippers. My mom mazed me before I came in the house. She came swinging at me. My little brother didn't know what it was about. That's when things started getting real sour.

I remember worrying about what I was going to eat at the moment. I needed to rob somebody to get some money to eat. Then I saw a police officer, and he saw both the hostility and pain in my face. He brought me here; they gave me a bowl of cereal and somewhere to sleep. They set up a meeting with my mom and father. They helped me patch my relationship with my mom and father. They put me in youth sponsorship programs, leadership programs for African American males, called Frontline Dads, and programs like the Barbershop. There are places you can get things right. There are different places you can get help. Each one you can discuss things in different ways. At ball courts, if you show pain you get looked at differently. At the Barbershop you can let the pain out. It's like a symposium that’s community based. They helped me realize the deeper demons I had. Since 6th grade I was known as the dirty kid. I couldn't afford clothes. And lots of kids didn't want to be friends with me. I wanted to be nicely dressed so I started selling drugs to clothe me and put food in my mouth. I watched my mom sell drugs. Then my cousins, N. and E., were big time drug dealers and they just came home. They said this is not the life for you. And then my grandma said, “This path you on, I’m going to have to bury you.” It opened my perspective.

My grandma said, “This path you on, I’m going to have to bury you.”

I had a lot of support here but I had no family support. These people here took me in as a family. You can see it in their eyes. They go in their pockets to make sure you’re okay. I wasn't used to seeing somebody cared. I ain’t smile in a long time. I had legitimate food on the table and a place to sleep. I looked at other kids and realized I was chasing fashion but didn't have the right direction from a family. My father used to sell drugs and people used to shoot at the house I was in while I was in there but I never had it that hard. Sure there were times I came in the house and I was only looking at the back of the refrigerator. I watched my mom deal with abusive relationships. At age 10, my mom had a boyfriend and an altercation and she locked me in the bathroom with my little brother. They would physically go at it. She would have her back to the door to protect us. She was screaming, “When we had the opportunity we shoulda run for help.” I always had a sense of trying to protect my mother but I was 10.

P.B., age 17

P.B., age 17

I been in the shelter 21 days. I go to Northeast High School. I was selling drugs and was becoming used to being on the streets. I repeated freshman year three times. My father gave up on me; I heard it from my mom as well. Think about what you hear when your parents say I don't love you. I went form being on the streets to being able to walk down streets knowing I overcame struggles. I was redeeming credits for 10th and 11th grade. Now I’m getting educated. There was a time when I was only street smart. I’m trying to work with younger kids and an organization called waking youth, its organizing basketball games so kids can have something to do without their family. Some kids have it so twisted; they think the street life is glorified. When I was younger I didn't fear death, I thought it comes for everybody. The only reason I didn't fear dying was I didn't have any reason to live. Since I been here, I see a bigger world. Everything I really have, started here. They hooked me up with Mr. Pender from teen ambassadors. They took me to the art museum of JFK. I was at Youth Study Center for a while and also Vision Quest, which is a type of Juvenile Justice placement.

I was in for assaulting an officer, both in school and out. The police were looking down upon me; they took my hostility and used it to their advantage. They tried to fuck me up. But I saw everything I worked for going down the drain. My grandfather, uncle and aunt were getting in an altercation. My aunt called the police; the police did the grizzly look at them. It’s a funny and intimidating look. They gave me this hard look but I turned my head submissively they told me they were going to take me out back and let a couple of shells off. I had a purple plastic fork and they had bulletproof vests. They pushed me and started swinging on me. And they say I assaulted them, with a plastic purple fork. They say they are there to serve and protect but I say 7 grown men with their hands up fighting a boy with a plastic purple fork. When I realized the situation I dropped to the ground, they started kicking me and they banged my head against the cement. I was bear meat. I was bruised up for 3-4 weeks. They took me to the Youth (the youth study center) for 2 or 3 days. They didn't put me in isolation. There I’m at brother Oc’s. He made my time smooth there. He wanted to never see me again. He helped keep me quiet and pray like a Muslim. That way you get extra food. He guided me in the right direction but also keeps it real because I can read the history of the streets on him.

I’m on probation. Next week I get to call court and meet with the public defender. I don't know if I get to go home. Judge Cooperman, last time she looked at me carefully at who I am. I hope they send me to placement. But they may send me to Vision Quest or St. Gabe’s or to do 9-12 up the Pic, which is adult jail cause I turn 18 in two months. Or they might send me out of county. Assaulting an officer is not a misdemeanor. But knowing the path I was on, I could be six feet under; you live and you learn.

Cops can get away with shit. An African American male, we’re all getting made to be the most aggressive of all races. We fall into our own stereotype. The way we keep it real, we think, is not really keeping it real for yourself but catching a body or selling drugs. That's the wrong way to go. Everybody from YES will be in the courtroom, I hope. My mom relapsed with dippers a week ago. It’s part of being a man that I can handle the situation better now. To try to help my little brother who is too young to understand. To help my grandmother who said, "Yeah, I got scared for you." And I’m trying to help Mr. Little, my friend here, and trying to put him in AA. I can’t even come back here, they cut funding for RYP (Runaway Youth Program) kids would come here in the middle of the night but no more. I accepted that at 9 or 10 I was going to be incarcerated. They call me gang affiliated, but I’m with Murder Society, which is making and understanding the revolution, deciding to aim for early retirement.

Cops can get away with shit. An African American male, we’re all getting made to be the most aggressive of all races. We fall into our own stereotype.

You don't need nobody to get yourself together, I’m all me from the muscle (heart). Murderer was almost who I was, now I’m someone different. When I came back to court I saw the look of disappointment on their face--it was real. If Cooperman looks at me and says send him up, I can’t blame her. When I took that first punch, it changed everything. My streets came on. Now I’m taking anger management. There is a 21-day limit on RYP. It’s not run through DHS. When I first came here there were 15 boys and 15 girls. Now there are 6 boys and 8 girls. When I assaulted the police officer and taken into custody I was glad. I was about to turn back to the streets and was looking for somebody to rob. My stomach was telling me one thing, but my mind was telling me another.

—P.B., Age 17

"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

"We almost starved to death." by richard ross

This is the second time I’m here. I’ve been here three months now. The first time I was 15 and here for a month. I got tired of the stuff at home so I ran away. I survived by breaking into houses. So I’m here mostly for B&E and burglary. I live with my mom and stepdad. My sisters are both 6. And then I have a younger sister. My mom’s about 40. My dad died of heart attack when I was 4. My mom was doing crack and abandoned me and my sisters. I was staying in a foster home for two or three years. My little sisters and me were abandoned. We almost starved to death. And then I was staying with other relatives and a hospital for two months in Birmingham. Then my mom got me back. She said she was clean but there were problems. I think she was on drugs again.

I was so angry I would strip the bark off trees.



They said I had behavioral problems and would break toys, push around my sisters, and go off by myself. I was so angry I would strip the bark off trees. They put me in children’s hospital. I was angry at the situation and my mother. I sometimes don’t want to see her, most times. She would badmouth my grandmother. She’s a tough one. Several times she would leave us all without food. I would get extra food at school for the twins and I got in trouble for that. She would leave my 8-month-old sister unsupervised. Where was DHR? I don’t know. They arrested my mom. She did 9 months for a combination of drugs and child abuse. My stepdad was not in the picture until I was 10. There was really no support for my mom either. They put me in Big Oak Ranch. It’s a Christian school in Gadsten. There’s a group for boys and a group for girls about two hours from Tuscaloosa. I’ll probably be there for two years, until I’m 18. I’ve never done drugs. My mom’s boyfriend would beat me and my younger sisters with a belt. Where was Child Protective Services? That’s a question I ask myself but I don’t know the answer.

- T., Age 16

**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.

"I shouldn't have told them. . ." by richard ross

They say I’m a Crip, but I’m not. My girlfriend was 13, but we broke up. I’ve been here two weeks now. This is my first time here. I was hanging out at a park during the day, messing up. We used to do stuff and cause some problems near an after school program. They said I was in a gang because I hang out with friends. I shouldn’t have told them they were my friends. They read me my rights and all. “You have the right to remain silent…anything you say can and will be used against you.” I shouldn’t have said that I stopped using drugs, because that could mean that I had been using drugs. I shouldn’t have told them these guys were friends, because they were gang members. I was stupid.

I was being bad because there was something burning inside me.


I was fighting every day. I had a lot of anger in me.

I’m in eighth grade. I live in Long Beach with my mom and little sister. I have three brothers and four sisters. I have a twin brother. He lives in Sacramento with my auntie. There are three sets of twins in the family and two singles. Eight kids. I was being bad because there was something burning inside me. I was taken away from my mom. She was beating my older brother with an extension cord. They said my 15-year-old brother was touching my sister sexually and my mom beat him. When we were taken away, I had to go to a foster home. They split us up and the twin went to the auntie, then I was thrown out of my aunts and I was put in with my other auntie - with my big brother. We were at two different foster homes, then with two different aunties, one I forgot her name. I was fighting with my brothers and cousins. I was bad at school. The court wanted me to go to another foster home.

I was staying with my big brother and wasn’t listening to my teachers. I was fighting every day. I had a lot of anger in me. I was fighting and cussing in school a lot. I went to a group home in Compton with four or five other boys. I was ten. My mom had custody, but then she had problems and said I started stealing her stuff, but she kept on losing it. She was drinking a lot of 40s. Now she’s been sober for years. So she got custody back of me and my little sister. I see my twin brother once in a while. I was born and live in Long Beach, but I lived in Sacramento for a lot of years. But my auntie’s house burned down. My cousin was cooking and she let the stove on and boom - everything flared up. I would like to live with my auntie, but my mom never gives me an answer if I am going to live with them or not. I don’t want to live with another foster home. Why do I want to live with a stranger if I can live with my mom? I don’t get it.

-S.M., 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.

". . .my mom was selling drugs." by richard ross

 My dad called me from Mexico. He just left us. Said he didn’t feel like being here.


I came in yesterday. This is my first time. I live with my grandma and my seven-year-old sister. I was taken from a court in a van. The judge a Japanese or Chinese guy sentenced me here. I came here in a van with a girl. We didn’t talk much. I don’t know where my mom is. My dad is in Mexico. I go back to court on Wednesday next week. They might get me out of here on release or give me another week. I’ve been on probation for a year and a few months. They say I violated probation, but I don’t know how. I just wanted to explain something to the judge. He should have been able to see it, because they have cameras all over the place and all he had to do was look at the cameras to see I didn’t do anything. They just said I violated something. My dad called me from Mexico. He just left us. Said he didn’t feel like being here. I was two or maybe three. They took us from my mom when I was five. They let my grandma be my guardian. My older brother lives with my stepdad. They took me because my mom was selling drugs. My grandpa isn’t here…he was deported to Mexico. I think they’re going to let me go home.

- K.D., age 13

"Because I’m the new girl" by richard ross

I’ve been here and there for a month at a time. I was a month in girl care. Mom and dad don’t live together. If I get out, I really don’t have anywhere to live. The last time I lived with my mom was in a shelter, four years ago. It was a shelter for kids as well over on Gower in Hollywood. I had just turned 12. I remember it there was never a birthday cake for me. I’ve been in group homes where there’s a lot of dual supervision. One group home had boys and girls together, DCFS and probation. And they were completely out of control. They were crazy. They be peeing on other people’s beds, or taking a crap . . . they’d be having sex . . . I stayed there for three days, and then I got kicked out. One of the staff was very provoking, so I choked her and went. Then they put me in another placement. It was a six-bed place, three different houses.

They were trying to get me to stay with my sister . . . but she don't want me.

I’ve always been fighting a lot . . . I just don’t like to be disrespected. I should get a high school diploma soon. They were trying to get me to stay with my sister—she’s 22—but she don't want me. My days here are me just sitting here, until like, at least next year. My mom is a meth addict and she sells crack out of our house. My dad, he’s a pimp. He’s also on drugs. My mom started doing drugs when we were taken from her…or maybe before then. My dad, he was doing drugs since forever. I went AWOL from placement just so I could go to a mall and chill with my friends. Usually I just do some weed. When I was 13 I drank for two weeks straight. I poisoned myself and I could have died, but I didn’t. I would get real bad beatings from my mom. She kicked me in the face when we were living in the shelter. She started choking me, they pulled her off and took me away.



I’m mostly here because I don’t have a place to go to.

I barely talk to my dad. I’ve never been to a foster home. Nobody wants any older body in a foster home. I think foster homes are a lot quieter. Group homes I get into lots of fights just because I’m the new girl. I was gangbanging but they never caught me or charged me. When you bang you protect your territory, nobody can touch your property, or make any money on the property you own. If they try, the gang put on a T.O.S.—termination on sight. Means you kill them, hurt them, or beat them up bad. I’m part of BPS, the Jungles. Black Peace Stones. The Jungles are the projects; they’re in Crenshaw. They run from Coliseum all the way up. Girls get humped into the gang. Means they have to have sex with all the gang members. If you’re gay or a virgin, then you have to fight. You fight to get your rankings. You fight boys or you get jumped on or you do one-on-ones. Honestly I don't know where my case stands. I might get camp, or lockdown, or placement. But nobody from placement has come to get me. Most of the places I’ve been are dual custody. I’m mostly here because I don’t have a place to go to.

-T.U., Age 16


**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.

"This wasn’t my first choice, this life." by richard ross

This is my first time here. I’ve been here six weeks. Actually this isn’t my first time here. I was here when my mom was pregnant with me. So maybe I was here 16 years ago. I went to foster care, and then I got back in touch with her some months before I got locked up. I lived with my uncle, my mom’s brother, who fostered me and then adopted me until I was 15. I was there most of the time, but then I got kicked out because I argued a lot. I would go live with other people . . . friends. Then I lived with my boyfriend and his mom. I got kicked out and needed somewhere to go. My boyfriend works at a warehouse.

Everything was ok until I was about 13. Every adult I was with said I don't care about you no more.


I was going to school in 12th grade recently. I would go back to school. I do an online school, it’s easy. I could either do it from home or at the teen center at 88th and Vermont. I was born with a lot of drugs in my system. Sometimes I process things slower. I smoke weed but that's about it. I tried meth and coke but it wasn’t for me. Everything was ok until I was about 13. Every adult I was with said I don't care about you no more. I buried both my parents. It’s time for me to take care of myself. When you’re on your own you’re on your own. When my uncle was in a good mood it was ok, but when he was mad he threw me out of the house in a tank top and shorts with no shoes. I had to call my brother who was in the house to throw me down my shoes. It was winter and I went to my friend’s house. He was doing drugs so I just started doing it with him.

You do what you gotta do to survive. It sucks.

This wasn’t my first choice, this life. I would do things like babysitting, but selling weed is a lot easier. I use the money for clothes and food. I would stay mostly with friends. It's a rough life, as some would say. If you had the same life, people would understand. But if they haven’t had this life, people, they can’t believe it. But for someone who’s been through the same, it’s no big deal. You do what you gotta do to survive. It sucks. It's a world of no Christmas presents and no birthday presents. One night I got chased by somebody with a gun. No shit you could lose your life doing this. But being depressed doesn't hurt anybody but you, so you might as well have a smile on your face.

-L.T., age 17


**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.

"It’s all around me, that’s all I see." by richard ross

I’ve been here three weeks. This is my third time here. First time I was here I was 14. I was 11 when I started using meth. My mom’s an alcoholic; my uncle and my dad are addicts. It’s all around me; that’s all I see. I live in the valley in North Hollywood. I was abused when I was eight by my mom’s boyfriend. We filed a report, but he split and they never found him. It was a couple of years later that DCFS got involved. The social worker found that my mom wasn’t able to parent me. I wasn’t in school. Later on they found out that she was drinking a lot and she was never at home. I was living on the street at that point. No one was ever telling me anything, that I was doing good or bad. There were no consequences for anything I was doing. There was no involvement by any adults. At twelve I was taken away. This woman social worker took me from school to a group home. I don't know what’s going to happen . . . maybe placement.I’ll never go back to my mother; it would be a miracle if she stays sober. CA_Central_12_15_13-14

They closed my DCFS case recently after two years. The first time I was in placement, it was for six months. They liked me there and said I could go home after a while. But then I ended up in and out of placement and jail. I was in a camp until mid-summer. Then I was released to my mom who I hadn’t seen in three years. It was good—my mom was actually trying to be a mom. But my drug use was affecting me. They tried getting me treatment, but it wasn’t successful. I’ve been to a lot of different types of treatment. The longest I was clean was five months in camp. On the outs I was able to stay clean for maybe a week, but then I would go back.

I had to give her the opportunity to be a mom. I wish she had tried to get sober earlier

I’ve never had to buy drugs, it was always there. I never prostituted, but my mom was prostituting. I chose not to. Or maybe I did in a way. By using drugs and things I had to do favors for the drugs. A lot of my uncles were gang members . . . I grew up with this. I get so caught up in it. I was mad at my mom for a cool minute, but then I had to forgive her. I had to give her the opportunity to be a mom. I wish she had tried to get sober earlier. It was hard on me; I’m the second youngest. I’m happy my mom changed for my nine-year-old sister. I do want to stop coming to jail, but I don't want to lie to myself and say I’m never coming back . . . cause I will.

-S.O., Age 16


**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.

"They tried to get me involved . . ." by richard ross

I’m from Palmdale. This is my first time here. I’ve been here three months. I’m from Helena, Montana. I live there with my mom, stepdad, two sisters and a brother. I was visiting my grandpa and grandma in Palmdale. I go there once a year during the summer as it gives me a break from my mom and her a break from us. I was with my brother. He does drugs like heroine. I visit a month every year. My brother is part of a gang, but they don’t have a name. They are just kids that hang out together. At home I was suspended for truancy. I was in sixth grade. CA_Central_12_15_13-6

My brother is part of a gang, but they don’t have a name. They are just kids that hang out together.

A lot of time here I play with my cousins they are four and five. My brother does heroine like twice a month. They tried to get me involved but I didn’t want to. I ran home and told my mom. She called the police and my brother was sent to jail twice for drugs and possession. Mom is a vet at an animal shelter. Not horses or big animals. My dad works at a gas station. He’s with my step-mom and other cousins. I don’t see him much. My mom, grandma, grandpa, and stepdad have visited me here. This is where Palmdale is on the map.

-C.N., Age 12


**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.

A.W, age 16, Youth Training Center, Elko, NV by richard ross



I’m from southern California originally. I was living in Las Vegas, partying a lot,  doing lots of drugs and trying to be a DJ. My Mom is emotionally distant and my step dad is very aggressive. One’s Catholic and the other is a Jehovah’s Witnesses. They really don’t like that I am gay.

I am here for curfew violation and running away from rehab. I use X, Acid, MDMA, Alcohol. I shouldn’t be in rehab as I stop doing drugs whenever I want. I am not addicted to anything--I just take different drugs when I want. Rehab wasn’t right for me-so I ran away. A lot of guys here think they can have sex with me anytime they want because they are in prison so it doesn’t make them gay. It doesn’t count as long as they are giving rather than getting. These are a bunch of closet fags and a lot of homophobics. If I report them to the staff they hate me. Being gay in a place like this is hell. Being trans? I can’t even imagine that nightmare. I am here for 4-6 months…but I am not sure I will make it.

  - A.W, age 16

There is a relationship among the last several postings: isolation and sexual identity. LGBTQ juveniles are more frequently ostracized by their families and friends, this loss of support leads to a higher degree of homelessness and criminal behavior to survive. Once the criminal behavior results in institutionalization, there can be further isolation or abuse from staff or peers. All juveniles have multiple issues they are dealing with--these adolescents have the added burden of unconventional sexual identity that makes their status much more fragile.

Statistics from Youth Pride 

the EQUITY project