girls

"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

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"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

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"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

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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

Too many girls are locked up to keep them 'safe’ by richard ross

This story is also featured on the San Francisco Chronicle

 

By Richard Ross

There is a growing problem of girls and law enforcement. The problem is not the violent catastrophic deaths that have captured the news. It is the slower escalation in how we treat the girls — no less life threatening and just as destructive. This is the world of institutional destruction of girls.

We have begun to recognize that juvenile detention institutions are no place for kids. There has been real progress made in reducing the number of children held in the system. Yet the population of girls is growing. Twenty years ago, the percentage of girls in the juvenile system was about 20 percent. Today, we are closer to 30 percent. We know the way to change this equation, but we need the resolve to do so.

These girls have to be looked at through the lens of trauma and exploitation. Nothing is accomplished by putting them in hard detention units and further traumatizing a very vulnerable, already damaged, population of kids. Many of these girls come from homes of neglect and abuse. More than three-quarters of them are in need of mental health services.

I watched a well-informed attorney discussing with a dedicated Alameda County Family Law Court judge discuss the practice of putting girls involved in sex trafficking and survival sex into detention. The attorney said there was a bright line — no child involved in sexual trafficking should be in detention. The response from the judge was that she had no other place to put the girl where she would be safe. The judge didn’t want her out on the streets and at risk in her environment.

Yet, if we lock up these kids for days, weeks or months, do we have a better solution for them when they exit? The damage done to kids in these institutions is statistically documented and overwhelming. Due to higher rates of exposure to trauma among girls, post-traumatic stress symptoms can worsen as a result of juvenile justice system involvement.

I am optimistic enough to believe that if we asked ourselves as a society, “Do we want to keep girls in an unhealthy environment where they experience abuse, violence and deprivation?” our answer would be a resounding, “no.”

What should we do if we know that the support for a child for one year in California public school is approximately $8,700 while the equivalent cost of a juvenile hall bed is about $150,000?

What if the solution were pointed to as better resources in the community and the costs were shown to be equal or less? Wouldn’t we be overjoyed? And would we really want to take kids from neighborhoods with the least resources and the least political power and harm them further? I can’t imagine this is who we are.

Isn’t it time we end this cycle and begin reallocating budgets from incarceration to resources in the communities where these kids stand at least a chance of success? We are doing this wrong, and there is a way to fix it. We can and must do better.

"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.

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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.

A.S, age 17, Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, Kailua, HI by richard ross

HYCF, Kailua, Hawaii

HYCF, Kailua, Hawaii

I am a transgender female. They have me living in an isolation area for the past 7 months I think to protect me against suicide, but also keep me sort of away from the other girls. I have 2 months to go before I turn 18 and can go home.

I don't really spend much of my time at home, mostly I'm on the street with older friends who are part of "that life." They're mostly people who are positive about who I am but also got involved in stuff like burglary, drugs and prostitution. My parents don't really get me, the girls here are welcoming, staff is ambivalent. I don't mind being separate from the other girls, but I miss the interaction. At night it is so noisy that I enjoy the quiet.

- A.S, age 17