"It’s easy to get in the system, but hard to get out of it." by richard ross

I go to education alternatives. I’m in 10th grade, I have been here a month now. The people I see are my mother, grandmother and probation officer. Since treatment, I have been in a Christian home and residential treatment center and shelter care for about a year. I was in YSCP—Youth Family Community Partnership—with my grandmother who was taking care of me. I live with my half brother and two cousins who live with me during the school week. My aunt has custody but the two girls stay with my grandmother during the week and go home on weekends. There are four kids at my house during the week. My mom is 35. My mom lost custody when I was nine months old. I was being neglected. My mom used to smoke weed and cigarettes. My mom now lives in Eastlake. She’s doing good right now. Mom is going to AA meetings.

I used to smoke weed and drink and hung out with the wrong peer group. Sad as that. They say I have the social age of a 17-18 year old and the mental age of five or six year old. I am here for grand theft auto and misuse of a credit card….and I had a firearm. I got picked up with my friends, and with ¼ ounce of weed and a gun. They were all trying to blame it on me. They have it as a conspiracy case. The police charged us all with the same thing. I am not gang affiliated. My dad is deceased. He died in Las Vegas. He came to see me when I was born. He was stabbed, involved with cocaine, and other stuff.

I didn’t use my head before I acted. I just go with the flow. The first time I was here I was 13 or 14. I had a home detention violation. I was in House Four then. I was 13 when I had a theft. Some kids at that time would steal stuff at home depot and they would blame it on me because I was the youngest. My mom works as a maid. I did have a job as a busboy, but I guess I don’t have a job no more. I usually do better when I am working. I am a hands-on type of person. They have me on drugs here. Vivance 70s and 30s, Filoxogene (Prozac), and Hydroxalene for anxiety. The others are for ADHD. Oh, and Intuniv.

— D.T., age 16-2

— D.T., age 16-2

I am here because I got into an altercation. He punched me and another inmate two days ago. He’s on my Pod. Pod C. So, he was written up as the aggressor. We have behavior management. They have levels and privileges. We need to have additional staff and training. To get more staff we have an interviewpalooza. We don’t have any Masie Evaluations. They give me Tylenol for my lip. The kid that hit me is Hispanic.

My dad was African American, and my mom white. I want to be a Blue Angel or a commercial pilot. I think I can because although I was charged, I was never convicted with a felony. I am not sure if my juvenile record can be expunged. My brother was charged with spray painting a bike. He got yelled at, but that was it. It’s easy to get in the system, but hard to get out of it. I see the judge in a month. I spoke to the public defender. I did 14 months before on past cases. They might release me at home.

— D.T., age 16

"It is a battlefield out there sometimes for kids." by richard ross

I am out of prison for 48 days now. Was doing 20 split 5. That means I did five and as long as I didn’t get into trouble it will stay at 5. If you get into trouble it is another 15. I was in county. That’s where they hold 16 and up. If you are involved in major crimes they certify you as young at 16. I did juvenile so many times the juvenile court eventually got tired of me. I was 13 when I was first charged. I was well taken care of by my grandma. She is 72 or 73. My mom was incapable. She was an alcoholic and my dad...I barely knew him. DHR gave custody to my grandma. I think it was a kin adoption. My brothers and sisters were split up and went to different families. Seven of us went to grandma. We were all on financial aid. I made some poor decisions as a kid. I wanted to be a grown man. I blame myself. From 13-17 I was just in and out of here.

Just because someone says “No” doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying.

The next person can say “Yes.”

I have had the flu for a few days but I wanted to come here and meet you and tell you today I came through the front door. I was failing back then but going through all this, everyone gets a sign. Some people don’t pay attention. I got my GED and learned how to weld here. Now I work at Burger King. They know I have a felony but you can’t lie about it. I applied for a lot of jobs and they all turned me down, but somebody gave e a chance. It’s hard striving for success. Just because someone says “No” doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying. The next person can say “Yes.” The Reverend has helped me get into Shelton State. Now I am staying with my sister. It’s me, her and her daughter. Prison was way more hard than here. Detention has a hands-off policy about kids here. Prison you get physically beat up. You have to learn to be a man in a hurry. You never know what can happen to you. People will pick fights. Here you get slapped on the wrists. Prison is hardcore. Only the strong survive there. I was at Draper, B.F. County, I moved around so I could get certificates and try and get some education. I am working on getting my welding certificate now. But I have to go through so many people. I can’t leave the state of Alabama.If I get tools maybe I can do something.



I met the Reverend when I was in here as a kid and he stayed with me. Religion is important to me. It is part of my life. I think everybody should get a second chance. Even someone who was charged with two 1st degree robberies and a shooting. It is a battlefield out there sometimes for kids. Now I have been working at Burger King 21 days. It’s a different environment. My sister works at a nursing home. She gets $16/hour I think. I get minimum wage. Our apartment costs $320/month. Who do I trust? My sister, my pastor and Miss X. These are people who have been around me most of my life. Mostly I didn’t have to do what I did, but I was with the wrong crowd. The others I was with are repeat offenders so I don’t spend any time with them. Some are back on the inside.

- K.F., Age 23

**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 was messed up." by richard ross


I should have graduated in here but I’m gonna go to a continuation school. I don’t have much education.

I’m gonna be here four more months even though I’m 18. When I went to court they said I would have to do six months. I’ve been here 3 times. I’m from El Salvador. I came here when I was eight. My mom married a citizen, so now I’m a citizen as well. As soon as I get out, my mom wants to take me to Salvador to show me what it’s like. I was at a party and it got raided and the cops asked me for information. I didn’t give them any; I wouldn’t even give them my name. I was messed up. I should have given them my name. I live with my mom who works at a fabric factory and my stepdad who works at a pawnshop. My younger sister is sixteen and she has a two-year-old daughter. I have an older brother—they’ve both been in the system before. I’m not really a gang member but I’ve done some tagging. A1A and stuff like that. I should have graduated in here but I’m gonna go to a continuation school. I don’t have much education. I get out in two months, and then I don’t know.

-K.G., age 18


**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] 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.






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