father

"It was never easy being a kid and going straight to prison..." by richard ross

"My age is 41. I was charged in 1990. I was fifteen years old when I got charged with murder. I did not have anything around me, any support system, anything to look up to. It is very easy to get into things and not know the consequences to things. At fifteen I did not know the consequences of a murder.

I grew up in Florida city. My mother was a single mother. She was a drug addict (god bless her soul). She had been to prison already something like three times. My grandparents tried to raise me and do things for me that my parents could not do for me. They had already raised their kids, so they were of older age.

I lost so much. I lost my mom. I have never seen my father in my life. I don’t even know what he looks like. Everybody has a story to tell. I lost everything. I lost everybody that I have ever had in my life, except my grandparents. They are 87 years old and they still stick with me. That’s who I have in my life. That’s my support system.

I am way better now than when I came in. I had to grow up in here because of all the violence that takes place in here. It was never easy being a kid and going straight to prison, having never been inside of juvenile facility. I felt like I was sent here to die. I was so young. I didn’t know anything about this other side of life..."

Dade Correctional Institution. Dade, Florida

Date of Receipt: November 1991

SENTENCED TO LIFE

"It goes on and on and on until somebody stands up.." by richard ross

"Right now I’m forty-five…

My mom worked all the time and she was unconcerned with me. Then crack epidemic came and blew the doors off of our whole house. My real father wasn’t around and I did not meet him until I was much older. For some reason, I think I was just pissed off because I did not have my biological father there. I wanted him to be there, I wanted to be like everybody else who had their father’s there. I wanted attention and I couldn’t get it, so I started doing things that most kids wouldn’t do. It started with fighting in school and then I graduated to crime. First it was petty crime and then as time went on I progressed.

Being poor, and being around your classmates when you don’t have much, when they have parents, and they have clothes, and they are clean, and they’re this and they’re that, and you don’t have that, you have to resort to the only thing that’s there—and there aint a lot there. When you are young like that, you are limited to what you can and can’t do.

While I’m sitting here my children have suffered years of neglect and they are making some really really poor choices. My daughter has been incarcerated. She was fifteen when she got incarcerated. She’s off of it now, but she went to prison for a violent crime. Actually, she got kids and she got out. They are just babies right now. My grandchildren will probably suffer as well. It’s generational. It goes on and on and on until somebody stands up and stops it.

When you are poor, you can’t afford lawyers or expert witnesses. They tend to trump up charges against you and throw you away. I wrote to every innocence project in the united states, but most of the time what I get is that they are limited in what they can do. Their funds are short. They’ll put you on a waiting list—I’ve been on a waiting list for at least four years. But I aint giving up hope though, by a long shot. I’m not giving up at all. I’ve been fighting all these years and I’m not going to stop. I have to do half of the fifty years, and once I do half, then ill come up for parole. But in 25 years there’s no guarantee that I'll make parole"

Stiles Unit. Beaumont, TX

Date of Receipt: January 1991

SENTENCED TO 50 YEARS

"I've been coming here since I was ten or eleven." by richard ross

I'm being held in detention. I've been coming here since I was ten or eleven. I was expelled from school in the 6th grade. There are problems at home. My younger brother is on probation. My mom works for the cable company. I live with my mother, grandmother, and aunt—she's 15.

I don't talk to my father, he left when I was six. He tried to visit me once but I said I didn't wanna see him.

—J., age 13

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"I've never really had a father." by richard ross

I was born in Hawaii, moved to Indiana, but now I'm here under a two year program. I was being held in another state for a while—that was more like a prison. There are good people working at this place. My father is in prison. I've never really had a father. My whole family is in Indiana. I was living with my older brother, until he left. I spent some time in a hotel alone, I just wanted to play sports.

—J., age 17

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"I lost my freedom in detention!" by richard ross

This week, Juvenile In Justice concludes the features on two adults who spent much of their childhood lives in detention.
Jose Vidrio shares his experience of being in and out of the juvenile justice system and the conditions of confinement, and touches on his achievements as an adult now.
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by Jose Vidrio I was physically abused by my father. When I was young, my sister and I were always afraid of my father because we didn't know what mood he was going to come in. My Dad was this big macho guy that didn't like hugs and or kisses for his birthday or Father’s Day, especially coming from me. He thought that it was a gay gesture and if I attempted to do so, he would hit me of course. I can say that alcohol did play a big factor here; when my father was drinking his mood was unpredictable.

I started to get into trouble when I was 10 years of age. I did three months then because of tagging and refusing to give my name. I guess when my mother left my father I kinda took advantage and would leave the house a lot. When I was 12, I was arrested for armed robbery and did almost 2 years in Juvi. When I was 15, I was sentenced to 10 years and did 5 and 1/2. I came out when I was 21 years of age.

When I was in CYA, I was in isolation from 6AM to 10PM. They put me in a "cold room" with just my boxers on—there was no mattress, no sheets. All day I walked around the 8’x10’ room and did random workouts because the room was so cold. By the time that they put me back in my cell I was so tired that I just wanted to go to sleep. Sometimes the staff members would go inside when I was asleep and they would beat me before putting me in the cold room. Sometimes the staff members would put me with other rival gang members to fight in the rec room.

Sometimes the staff members would go inside when I was asleep and they would beat me before putting me in the cold room. Sometimes the staff members would put me with other rival gang members to fight in the rec room.

I guess that I can say that there was no love at home. My mother was always yelling and screaming at us. We didn't understand and take into consideration that she was going through a hard time divorcing my dad and she hid us while doing it for a while.

I lost my freedom in detention! I have learned that it is easier to mess up your background than it is to restore it. I also gained some knowledge about my history, family, and also graduated high school in there as well as doing my first communion. As far as the food, if we ever had meat, it didn’t taste like meat. We called it mystery meat because it tasted funny. We joked and said that maybe it was gopher meat because they had a big problem in the yard.

I lost my freedom in detention! I have learned that it is easier to mess up your background than it is to restore it.

I was just approved for a Certificate of Rehabilitation on Oct 8th and I am very excited about that. I currently work for a radiology company processing insurance claims and reconciliation from complicated claims. In April 2016, I will be graduating with my Bachelors of Business in Health Care Management.

I talk to all of my family, including my father and we talk good. I am not going to say that we have the best relationship but he is in our lives. I talk to family that I have never spoke to before. I am married and have been with my wife for 13, going on 14 years. I have 5 children that keep me busy and love them to death. And yes, I give them all kisses and hugs, both my boys and my girls.

—Jose Vidrio

"I am very happy with my life now." by richard ross

Over the next few weeks, Juvenile In Justice will feature the stories of two adults who spent much of their childhood lives in detention.

This week, Amy Stephens-Vang shares her story of resilience and recovery.

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by Amy Stephens-Vang

I moved to California when I was six years old. My parents are both alcoholics and drug addicts. My Dad was in and out of youth authorities and boy’s camps. My Mom was a run away from a very young age because she had an abusive father. I have an older brother and a younger brother and sister who are twins.

After we moved to California, my parents became very bad in their addictions and they started fighting a lot. They neglected us and I started being Mommy to my siblings. I missed a lot of school and there was so much drugs and violence around us. In July 1993 we went into foster care. At first, all of my siblings and I were together, but eventually we all got split up and my younger brother and sister were adopted.

Amy Lynn Stephens-Vang 2

Amy Lynn Stephens-Vang 2

I moved to Redding, CA when I was 14 years old. Within six months I had attempted suicide and was arrested for 1st degree murder, 2nd degree robbery and false imprisonment and conspiracy to commit murder. I was running around with people much older than me and I got with a guy who ended up killing someone. I was in juvie for 15 months fighting my case. This was April 1998. I was tried as a juvenile but was found guilty of all four charges. I was sent to Ventura Youth Correctional Facility when I was 15, in July 1999.

When I got there, the parole board gave me seven years. I felt like I was so alone and that I was never going to get out. I had no outside support because my parents were still in their addiction and in and out of prison. My older brother wanted nothing to do with me because I was an embarrassment. I was involved in many physical altercations and I was put on suicide watch many times. I was medicated so heavily during my stay there that there are periods of months that I can't even remember anything. I got involved with many intimate relationships with other girls there and I clinged to those relationships because it's the only love I could get.

I had many horrible counselors and I had many wonderful counselors. The food in there was not the best but I've had worse. I was put in isolation many times and it was one of the worst things. During the day, they would take our mattresses away so we couldn't sleep and they wouldn't give us a spork to eat with. I saw a girl go schizophrenic in there and they would mock her and experiment psych meds on her instead of sending her to a mental hospital. She wasn't faking and is still schizophrenic now.

I used to pray every night to God that he would let me die in my sleep so I wouldn't feel any type of pain anymore. Emotional pain. The whole time I was locked up I got 3 visits from my family. I rarely got any mail so while the night officer slid mail through our doors at 4 or 5 in the morning I always knew he would be skipping my door... No one wrote me after my 5th or 6th year there... I would just lay there and cry and wish I had died in my sleep.

I graduated high school in there and took some college units. When I got out nine and a half years later, I didn't know how to do anything as an adult. I had no work experience. I didn't even know how to get my identification card. The only program that really helped me in there was fire camp. It showed me how to set goals and work harder mentally and physically. I completed every program they had to offer. I still have nightmares to this day that I am back in there and I wake up sobbing.

Amy Lynn Stephens-Vang

Amy Lynn Stephens-Vang

Today I am married to a wonderful man and we have two beautiful children together. The worst thing I have done since I was released eight years ago is I got a speeding ticket. I am a law abiding citizen and have a house and a couple vehicles. My brothers and sister are back in my life. We all found each other again. I see my Mom almost everyday and my father passed away a couple years after I got out. I am very happy with my life now.

—Amy Stephens-Vang

"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

"…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

"My dead friends are written here." by richard ross

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I did the artwork. I’m here eight months. I am waiting for trial. The case was bonded over to the adult system. Most were charged or in the process of being bonded over. My mom and stepfather would visit. My dad is deceased. He was shot when I was six or seven. I was 14 when I was in ODYS Juvenile Prison. They tried to say I was in the Heartless Felons. It started in Youth Detention System. My mom always had custody of me. No one ever sent me to treatment. There was never any of that, just punishment. My mom tried to get me counseling once. They prescribed meds like Aderol for ADHD and Ridilin at night. When I was 14 I got an aggravated robbery with a one year gun specification. That’s an extra one to three on the sentence. They never charged me with gang stuff.

Guns? Most good guns go for around $250. My father died from a gun so I am scarred by that. I didn’t really need counseling. I have a good relationship with my mother, but not with strangers. My mom is a good woman. She is unemployed and doing hair in the house. She is a respiratory therapist looking for work. She is also going to school. I live with her and three sisters.

Here there are other kids that are older, but many of them are in ODYS and some younger ones like 11 or 12. The staff here are bullies. They abuse their authority. I think I am on attempted murder. I can get 12-15 if I lose. They offered a plea of six to eight. I have a paid lawyer. They will expunge my record when I am older and I hope I can go in the military.

Gangs? I'm not affiliated, but HN4L is Hill Niggas for Life. They killed a couple of kids from my neighborhood. My dead friends are written here. They all died last year—all of gunshots.

— O.S., age 18

"I’ll be here ‘till I’m ready to leave." by richard ross

I’m 17. I been here about six months. I was 12 when I first went to juvie. I’m back for a violation this is my second commitment. The first charge was a possession of a fire firearm and a controlled substance--weed, pills.

Here in Oak Ridge, if you need more help for your work they have one-on-one help for your work. The people come to you if you need help. You get to your timeouts. They work more directly with you. Teachers, counselors, staff all work with us. There are 11 kids in the unit. I’ve got friends here.

My mama, my grandma, and my sister and brothers come to visit me. They haven’t been up here since I been up here. I’ll be here ‘till I’m ready to leave. I leave in June. It’s right around the corner. Three months away but right around the corner.

B.I., age 17

B.I., age 17

My dads incarcerated for drug. I seen my father, he was around sometimes. I talked to him here now. My mom’s straight, she’s a private doctor. She’s like a pediatric doctor.

I can get my hands on about anything if I want a gun. You just have to know what you’re buying. You go on the streets and get a gun, it just depends on what kind you want. A 38, a 40, a 45 iron. You go up and you say “where the iron at?”

— B.I., age 17

"My life is all over the place . . ." by richard ross

This is my second time here. The first time I was here I was 16. But that's the normal life in a bad neighborhood. I been to foster homes, group homes, shelters, placements, everything that probation and DCFS has had, I’ve been through it. I was six years old when my mom and dad divorced. I have two half brothers and a sister. I was living with my dad, he used to be a commercial scuba diver. But I don't surf or anything. I don't need anything to do with water.

 It’s when I go home that things go to hell.

CA_Central_12_15_13-22

I been to placements like a six bed facility in the Valley, I was there 7 months. I succeeded out there and completed their highest levels. It’s when I go home that things go to hell. I stayed with my mom for four months, then she messed up and I took off for a good 2 or 3 weeks. I would do crack . . . I guess I’m addicted. My dad used to do crack and alcohol. My life is all over the place. I deal a lot with mental health services for anger management, lots of group therapy. I went to a foster home when I was 14. I was into meth, but I’m gonna stop. I’m gonna stay sober. I have a son that was born three weeks ago with my ex-girlfriend. She screwed up. Meth is self-medicating for me. But I’m trying to do restitution. Maybe they’ll put me in a drug program. You can be with probation until you’re 25, but I plan on being there for my son . . . unlike my mother and father who weren’t there for me.

-D.G., 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.