kids

"I pray I live long enough to have kids and grandkids..." by richard ross

Dear Richard 5-16-17

Hello, how are you doing? I pray that this letter finds your family doing well and in the best of health. I received your note and picture today. I enjoy looking at the pictures they look so real! Thank you for checking up on me. It’s always nice to hear from a friend every now and then. I have been OK. Just trying to stay positive through my time of incarceration. I can get out before nine years as long as I stay out of trouble. My earliest release date is 3-2-2025. My lawyer, Bran Gowdy is putting in a motion for me to go back in front of the judge to get resentenced or get a parole date. I will keep you informed on how that turns out for me. I know you are excited about your grandchild=) I pray I live long enough to have kids and grandkids. Well, it was good hearing from you. Take care until pen meets paper again.

Your friend, Terrence Graham

"In the south, it was nothing for a black man robbing a white establishment to get life." by richard ross

“My name is Lee Albert Ansley and I’m sixty-five years old. I’m from Jacksonville Florida. I’ve been around the block a few times. I’ve been an addict; I’ve been a fool. I’m here for a parole violation, but I’ve done a total of 38 years.

I was raised by my mom and my big momma-my Grandmomma. There were only two adults in the house. The only time I saw my father was when he came to beat me. My momma would call my daddy when I would do something wrong and I would see him then. Basically that is all I saw of him at a very young age. My mother was fifteen years old when she had me. She already had a son before me—my oldest brother who is a year older than I am. Then she had two more. Three boys and one girl. She was a child with children.

Growing up I lived in a predominantly segregated neighborhood. All my friends were black because I lived in a black neighborhood. The only interaction I had with people outside my neighborhood was school, and it was totally black. Everything was black. The first encounter I had with people of a different origin was a negative experience. Some white guys jumped on me for walking down the street. That was shocking. Other than I was in the segregated south in 1950.

I don’t know when my grandmomma had my momma. She only had two kids, my uncle and my mom. I would assume that she was in her twenties. She came from a large family. Her family was a large family. Her daddy, Mr. Mathis, had about 13 or 14 kids. They were out there in the country and I don’t know exactly how that impacted her relationships with guys—I don’t know too much about my big mommas upbringing.

My mommma had me, my oldest brother, and my younger brother, but she gave him up to go and list with his grandmomma, and so my grandmomma raised him. Then she had my sister, who was baby girl—now that I think of it, my sister had her first kid when she was in high school. There goes that aspect of them being children raising children again.

When I first got charged I was seventeen years old. I was influenced by my peers who said, “Let’s go rob somebody.” I said, “OK.” As simple as that. I got arrested a day after my eighteenth birthday, but all the crimes I committed were when I was 17 years old. All of the crimes were robbery, but on one of the incidents, the guy in the store got shot. He stayed in the hospital for three hours and then released him because it was just a flesh wound. On one of the other charges, although I did not molest her, there was a girl and I looked down her dress. So…there were aggravating factors that resulted in me getting a life sentence.

The night I got arrested, the police officers interrogated me. I didn’t know that juveniles in custody have the right to refrain from talking until they contact our peoples, attorney and all that stuff. Anyways, the guy that I had caught the robbery charge with, said that I was with him during other robberies. They fooled me into saying that yea we did it. I stayed in jailed nine months, then my momma convinced me to plead guilty to the robbery charges. She had gotten a long distance attorney, who years later became known as a “hanging judge” because he was hard on crime in Jacksonville, and he had told her to tell me to plead guilty. Anyway, I listened to my momma, she said, “go ahead and plead guilty. Let’s get out of this fighting…give me some kind of relief.” So I plead guilty for those two robbery charges—they gave me life. I have the documents to prove it.

In the south, it was nothing for a black man robbing a white establishment to get life. As far as I was concerned, I saw a lot of that going on. It was 1969, the judge was white, the prosecutor was white, my attorney was white.

I was eligible for parole, after ten years, and was released in ’79. In 1983 I got 75 years for a robbery, in ’85 I went back to court and got exonerated. In 85’ they reinstated my parole. I caught a new charge and went back in in 1990. I was released again in ’99, and came back in 2001. I’ve been back ever since. “

Everglades Correctional Institution

Date of Receipt: August 1969

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

Graham v. Florida by richard ross

By Richard Ross “I miss you like a prison mom.”

Mary Graham has missed her son for the past thirteen years. Since he was sixteen, Terrence has been incarcerated. He was sentenced to die in prison. Terrence grew up with two crack-addicted parents. School was a series of sixteen different institutions as evictions created dislocation and disruption. Classes were special ed for Terrence and his three brothers. School represented food and nutrition. Without the breakfasts and lunches, one brother, Tavaris would get a bag of Doritos and parse it out as a meal to the four boys.

Mary remembers the fridge being adequate. “We grew up country. My Mama used to say if you had bread and potatoes in the house you could always make a meal. It was hard. My kids might have some bread and jelly, but they never went to bed hungry.” Terrence remembers other parts of that narrative. “There would be spoiled milk or government cheese in the refrigerator.”

“We were poor. I would cook one plate of food and put it in front of Diante. He would eat his fill and move the plate to Terrence. Terrence would eat and then move it to Michael, and then to Tavaris. After all the boys ate from the same plate…if there was anything left over I would eat. It was hard. We weren’t the Brady Bunch.”

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Mary has met God.

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It happened on day on December 14th. She had smoked crack incessantly in the six years prior. On the 14th, she prayed and stopped completely.

The six years of parties and a house full of addicts stopped. Prayer had replaced the emptiness and silence of the apartment. Mary apologized to her four boys, the youngest of which still kicked in her womb at the time, and she began her life again. “Mom has been sick for a long time,” she would tell them. But the lives of her boys were already in tatters. All had been incarcerated. Sixteen schools, sometimes no food, crack cocaine parties with an endless parade of strangers for more than six years.

This narrative is an American story. Not the Norman Rockwell, but the alternative, yet no less true. Mary grew up with her grandmother in rural Jacksonville. There were sixteen children served by pigs, chickens and goats. The family went well beyond the sixteen children and two adults—there were cousins and aunts—and the house kept on being built out to shelter them all. Mary and her sister slept in the bed with her grandmother. “Lots of people. Lots of kids. It was hard but we made it. Drugs were not in fashion back then.”

“Then we moved into central Jacksonville and my parents separated. My mother got a job at Milligan’s and tried to take care of the four of us. She was making $2.35/hour. It was hard. It got too hard for my mom so she let my dad take us. When I was 15 I started to party. I was new to the game but I enjoyed the life of the city. I met Harry when I was 20. He was a Vietnam vet 11 years older than me.”

Three children later, they were in a whirlwind of crack and abuse—“we were kicked out of the house and we weren’t let in. We stayed in the street while the party went on.”

Section 8 evictions, drugs, violence—where was Family Services? Mary explains, “there are two kinds of addicts…I was an ‘in-control’ addict. When they would come because of complaints, I would be able to put on a controlled face. They would come, because Michael was out of control a lot. He was what you call ADD. He would do things like try to set an apartment building on fire. They came to look at my apartment and I would always have it neat. I kept a neat house.”

_____

Bryan Gowdy doesn’t like the reference to Atticus Finch, although he is tall, lanky, soft-spoken, and works out of a modest two story building in Jacksonville. “I was working a lot of appellate corporate law and I thought this would be an interesting, individual case. I certainly didn’t expect to be arguing in front of the Supreme Court.”

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"There was a surprise ruling by the Florida Supreme Court last week. They overturned sentences of life with the possibility of parole that had been doled out, citing that they were counter to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Graham v. Florida. The majority argument was that because a defunct Florida parole system had not granted parole to a single person sentenced to life in prison, the state could not continue to sentence juveniles to life with the possibility of parole. In fact, as the state evaluates parole, the fact that the inmate was a juvenile at the time of a crime counts against them.

This is counter to Supreme Court decisions that have determined the adolescent brain to be still developing, giving children the unique possibility of reform and rehabilitation. The practice of the parole system in Florida is so counter to this information, that the Supreme Court here has ruled life with parole effectively is still a death sentence for a child in Florida.”

“Effectively I am a small business with my partner. I have a family to support so I can’t take all the cases I would like to take. But I am going to take a new case that relates to this. Too much is a stake for these kids.”

“When Terrence was first sentenced, the authorities had somehow painted the family as being nuclear, well cared for with nurtured, loved children. The judge was influenced by the discordant actions of a teen who would turn his back on this perfect home. When the case was returned from the Supreme Court for resentencing, the judge looked at a more detailed, revealing and demining picture of Terrence’s environment and the mitigating factors contributing to his delinquency. It was the polar opposite of what was presented in the original sentencing. Realistically when you argue for them you have to prepare as if each case is a death penalty case…effectively they are. When there are determinate sentences that are 50, 60, 70 years and the parole system is so hostile, they are death sentences.”

Meanwhile in Starke, Florida, Terrence is in the Main Unit West. He helps clean and cook for the Close Managed section that houses the behavioral problems and the sixty-six inmates of death row. Soft-spoken, Terrence explains ‘When I came into the system and looked at my EOS (End of Sentence) date it said ’99-99-9999.’ That meant I was never getting out. Now I look at it and I figure I served 13 years now and have a 25 year sentence. I have some time earned for behavior so I have about eight years left. I get out sometime around 2025. It’s a real date.’”

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"This is a complicated neighborhood." by richard ross

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

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

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

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

—L.B., age 13

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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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"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.

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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

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"They took me away from my Mom." by richard ross

This is my first time here. I came in a week ago. I’m in on a warrant. It’s a bench warrant. I was in a car that was involved in a burglary. I didn’t do anything though, I was just in the car. The other kids did a burglary over at a school. I was in placement at a group home before this. I had my own bedroom. I don’t remember how long I was there, a week, a month, a year. I’ve been to four other placements before. They took me away from my Mom. I don’t want to talk about it. I have two sisters and two little brothers. We went to my Grandma’s house for a while. I don’t know my Dad.

I’m in 8th grade. Maybe I’ll be out in 2 weeks. I don’t know, I go back to placement I think.   —K.S., age 13

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Tribal Justice by richard ross

By Richard Ross

I offer condolences this Thanksgiving—sending a note to the chief judge of the Yurok tribe.  The Yuroks are the largest tribe in California. 6500 people whose traditional lands are along the Klamath River. Many of the Yurok have no running water nor electricity. Roadside deer are not road kill, rather they are “harvest.” These are people who have survived by being invisible and hiding from the devastation of whites, but it may not serve them well moving forward.

I visited the week prior, meeting families in a half dozen homes. There was a common thread… rather a common frayed thread. While there was a certain guilelessness about the households—when I would enter a house, no one objected, welcomed, or even really noticed. People and animals walked in and out at will. If you were in the house, you were supposed to be there, among the multiple generations who shared space. Rooms were often chaotic with grocery bags, popcorn, and clothes stacked in corners. Pots on the stove, dishes in the sink, and garbage overflowing.

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In my conversation with Judge Abby Abinanti, with as much deference as I could summon and a true sense of curiosity, I asked about this common scene.

“First my people were massacred, then we were enslaved—it was an indentured servant program—but it was slavery, then our children were taken away to mission schools. The links of some families were broken at many instances and at many levels. This is not something you can go in and repair in a blunt manner. It takes time. These links were broken as each person was removed from a chain and it will only be repaired one person at a time. We are a strong people, united by culture, dance, singing. We can do it, but it will take time. We are not filthy. We are a River people. We bathed regularly. It was the Whites that were filthy, who came and did not have bathing as a common practice. They came and took the fish, the logging and gold. The only way we could survive was to fade into the land. This is a difficult time for us but we will survive. These links were broken as each person was removed from a chain and it will only be repaired one person at a time...We can do it, but it will take time."—Judge Abinanti

Driving across the Yurok nation from Eureka to Crescent City and beyond to the north, the 101 becomes a two lane tunnel encapsulated by the towering redwoods and punctuated with roadside elk. This is a different country. Counter point to the natural beauty are the marks of poverty, with ramshackle housing competing with newer structures built by the Tribe. Financially, the Yurok depend upon governmental support and grant writing. Tribal court officers explain that Native Americans have the highest degree of truancy of any demographic in California. “If you can’t get kids into their seats in class, you can’t teach them.” The one school on the western end of the reservation, Margaret Keating School, is limited to kids in K-6. Older students are bussed to Crescent City. In keeping with tribal custom, there is a dance circle and a sweat lodge on campus.”

The industry on the reservation is the reservation itself. There is little outside employment beyond working for the Tribe. The Tribe repairs and builds new housing and maintains a small casino next to the Holiday Inn Express in Klamath. It’s right across the street from the Klamath Country Club, which is a dark bar, pool table and grill, which closes at 7:30 every night. Smoking is allowed, a true anomaly. Meth and alcohol use are pervasive.  They become part of a life that has kids and adults embroiled in the legal system. California is one of 9 states that is subject to a federal law which transfers enforcement of certain federal laws to state law enforcement agencies. In many cases, this means the involvement of the state in handling enforcement and adjudication, where tribal law can often resolve cases alone. In the context of juvenile justice, rather than implementing tribal/restorative justice—which the Yurok prefer for their youth—the kids are brought into detention in a county facility, where they are disproportionately represented among the youth there. According to the judge, “We believe in having everyone in the room, and trying to come to a solution. I know every one of the families of this Tribe, and each person is important, they are not numbers they are relatives. The idea of justice by strangers is foreign to us. It is hurtful. We want Yurok justice that helps the child, the family, the community.

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"We believe in having everyone in the room, and trying to come to a solution. I know every one of the families of this Tribe, and each person is important, they are not numbers they are relatives."—Judge Abinanti"

In correspondence with Judge Abinanti, she graciously responded to my query with the words “May we all go forward together in respect and peace… to live in community, responsible for each and all.” A wonderful thought for the day, season and a way of life.

"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

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"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 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

Alabama: A Different Approach by richard ross

By Richard Ross Cathy Woods is the assistant director of one of the more progressive juvenile detention centers in the United States: Tuscaloosa County Juvenile Detention Center in Alabama. Tuscaloosa isn’t just the home of the Crimson Tide or where George Wallace stood on the schoolhouse steps trying to thwart desegregation; it’s the location of a reasonably progressive, private juvenile hall.

The director’s corner office at the facility is decorated with Alabama pennants, “Roll Tide” accomplishments, autographs and bobbleheads of Bear Bryant. Through some unusual series of events, the day-to-day operation has defaulted to Woods, the assistant director, and her cadre of retired female schoolteachers.

Far from perfect, Tuscaloosa still shackles its children as they are transported from the hall to the enclosed family court next door and takes mattresses from the youth kept in solitary—of which there are too many. Their practices are outdated and this can’t be overlooked, but there’s something about the approach to rehabilitation here that it is unexpected.

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Let me explain: across the country the majority of juvenile detention administrators and staff come from mixed backgrounds, often from local law enforcement or military posts. While the traditional tenets of juvenile justice have been rehabilitation, deterrence, and punishment, the rigid and militaristic approach staff bring from their previous professions makes punishment the default. Here in the heart of Alabama, there is a focus on nurturing and rehabilitation.

In the family courtroom next door, Woods sits in on every hearing. She takes the time to drive a girl who was in custody for sex trafficking to a shelter she found for her in Birmingham, and assists her in getting a job at Subway. The detention center is regularly visited by a goat, pig, pony, sheep and a chicken—hardened kids from the inner city are exposed to lives that need them and don’t prejudge them. The kids are forced to step outside of their comfort zones and are encouraged with praise when they are successful with new experiences. It is tempting to attribute this contrast in treatment to the female leadership of the facility, but to credit gender alone would prevent us from getting to the heart of what is so different about this approach.

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There is financial support from the community to assist with materials and equipment that couldn’t otherwise be obtained. The effort is spearheaded by Woods, who wears the hat of a smart politician and a development officer along with her official title of assistant director. Emotional support comes from staff within the facility as well as community members surrounding it, both providing attention and patience. There is so much going on here, all with the goal of nurturing the kids rather than punishing.

What they are still lacking and hoping to create is a shelter for kids that acts as an alternative to the detention center. Woods and the family court judge (also female) are adamant as to the need for this. There is only so much that can be done to enhance what a juvenile hall offers. The lack of a non-secure shelter is what all agree is a critical shortcoming. These women don’t want to create more punitive policy, they want to build a space where their kids can feel safe and protected.

Why is it that when searching for people to run juvenile detention facilities, we favor people with military backgrounds to those with teaching or counseling backgrounds? Is it such a radical idea that we hand over leadership of our juvenile detention facilities, perhaps even all detention and corrections facilities, to those who nurture and support rather than discipline and dismiss?

I wonder.

"I was on the run for a month..." by richard ross

I’ve been here 245 days. I caught a gang case—robbery. I was 12 when I first came here. They have me as a member of the Heartless Felons. Mom works at the clinic. My dad doesn’t have a job. My mom and dad live together. I have four brothers and two sisters. I’m the oldest. My dad went on trial when I was nine. I tried to find a way to get it going on my own. He went down for six years on drug charges. I have been here eight times. I hope they send me home on house arrest. Sometimes when you are on house arrest it is a set up because the box don’t work—then the police come and get you. I was on the run for a month—then I turned myself in. I just want to be free. They used to have programs for kids when I was younger but they stopped. I was smoking for a while, but I didn’t do it for ten months. They gave me RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) charges as a gang member. They had me for assault, vandalism, menacing, participating in a criminal gang, engaging in corrupt activity, and two conspiracy counts. I fought somebody. Then they dropped all the charges except the menacing, vandalism, and attempt to participate in a criminal gang. I have a private lawyer. My parents hired him. It’s all a lot of gang stuff….so the RICO. But I ain’t in no gang. I’m in 10th grade. IEA. In school. Not in special ed. They charged me as an adult. This is county. The kid I was charged with ain’t going to snitch so they dropped the assault. They gave me a plea deal. The most time they can give me is 18 months. I do adult at Mansfield. I got into trouble too many times.

— E.V., age 17

— E.V., age 17

Kids go through intake in about 20-25 minutes. There is a 24 hour nurse on staff. There are Part time doctors. They kids get a TB shot, have to do a urine sample for drugs and SDIs. They get it at least once a year, not more frequently if they are pulled in more often. They have an option of being tested for HIV. Usually we can tell about drug use with jittery eyes. The kids are fingerprinted only in special circumstances, and by court order.

— E.V., 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

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

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

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

D.D., age 18

D.D., age 18

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

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

— D.D., age 18

"I’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

"We were too scarred." by richard ross

I live with my mom in Brownsville. That Flexin’ dancing is called Getting Light. They do it on the A train and C train a lot. I have 3 brothers and 3 sisters. I live with my stepdad. My dad is locked up. He has always been locked up and not really in my life much. I like my stepdad. He is very respectful. He spoils me. I went into foster care the first time when I was seven. My baby brother died and they said early that my stepdad murdered him. They took him to prison. They took all the kids away. I ended up with two sisters, living right up the block. We stayed there four or five years. They would threaten me and best me up. One of them (other kids in the foster home) stabbed me in the back. We didn’t report them. We were too scarred. I tried but they told me if we did, they would lie. I AWOLed a lot. My mother doesn’t give me any freedom. She’s knocked me unconscious. My sisters and brothers were beat by my mom all the time. She was charged with neglect. I’m not sure if she is getting any mental health services. She’s a great liar. She even accused me of murdering my baby brother. I ask myself why she brought me into the world. She has nine kids all together now. Some days she loves me, other days she hates me. She can give a fake smile that can convince anyone that the lie she is telling is the truth. She abuses us all the time. She beat us with a belt buckle. Then she goes out clubbing. She was in foster care once. Now ACS pays for it all. But still, I would rather be home. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I just go out and run away from my home. How can you earn trust if you are not given any standard to shoot for? I’m not allowed to go out at all instead of being given a curfew and see if I come home on time.

My mother doesn’t give me any freedom. She’s knocked me unconscious.

O., age 15

O., age 15

We don’t get any family counseling. But I think we will get some soon. She has an order of protection against me so I can’t go home. I was fighting with my older sister and I smacked her with a lamp. It was kind of serious. I was locked up and in jail over on Atlantic Mall jail. Then ACS picked me up. I was at the Children’s Center for two weeks. Now I have been here five months. I’m already stressing out. I got into one fight. Sometimes you have to show people who you are. Sometimes you have to forget about everything else that happened to you. I have gotten MAC awards in different classes I get 80 or 90s. I’m in 10th grade. I was held back in 5th grade. I had ADHD meds when I was younger. I’m on bi-polar meds now. Feel like I don’t need them all the time. I am not extreme bi-polar. I made a big mistake throwing the lamp . . . that’s why I am here. And all the other stuff too.

— O., Age 16.

"I DON’T TRUST ANYBODY." by richard ross

I’m from here, pretty much—from the system. I don’t know my parents. I only know the system. I have been here 8 months. I am going to graduate and then join the Marines. I would be the first of my family to graduate high school. One of my sisters lives in Florida. The other? Who knows. I first met my sister when we were in Foster Care together. She taught me how to tie my shoes and play chess. She was adopted out of foster care and I haven’t seen her in five or six years. I had a lot of anger. They put me on meds but I wouldn’t take them. They put me in the hospital. They said I was hyper, but every kid is hyper. In school, kids would know I was in foster care. I was in 45 foster cares but none worked out. I’ve always been in places like this. They have been in Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, and the Bronx. Never out of state. I have never been out of New York. I’ll be looking at doing that one day, not now. I have a vision of these places. If I can remember that, I must be closest to home. I DON’T TRUST ANYBODY; people use your feelings against you. If I am in an emergency I call my social worker. I don’t go home. THERE IS NO HOME TO GO TO. In these places you meet a lot of kids just like yourself. We have been through the same stuff.

K., age 17

K., age 17

Once I was in foster care Miss B. We would be abused. She locked us in the basement. She would hit us. I would say she hit us, but no one would believe us. My sister I think dropped out of high school and is struggling. The other sister has fallen down the same path as my parents. She said she would work through it when stuff was bad. I’M REALLY LIVING A SHIT LIFE. When you are older no one cares about your story. Your history doesn’t mean anything. It’s who you are in the present. It’s about being successful. Some of the foster homes were nice but I was going through a lot of shit—they couldn’t deal with it. I ran away from a lot of foster homes. I was angry at everybody. I’ve spent my life in group homes and hospitals. They would say “He needs a therapist” but I denied that. Now I just keep to myself. I try and keep mentally and physically fit. What will I do in the future . . . maybe after the military do something with measurements maybe flooring or carpeting or walls.

We would be abused. She locked us in the basement. She would hit us.

I keep to myself. Once I ordered two garlic pizzas and soda. I shared it with my house. I paid for it with money I earned. We get paid 6-7 dollars an hour. We work our ass off. It sucks. But then my housemates stole the rest of the pizza. It doesn’t pay to be a roll model. This place is ghetto. The vans they have are falling apart. We use the money we get to buy phones or clothes.

— K., age 17

Children of the Abyss by richard ross

By Jason Sexton

It was the end of an era. But one that must be told.

I watched it growing up in Tracy, a California prison town. Older guys would leave for prison. Bay Area rappers spoke of being brought up middle-class yet catching cases, doing “lock-down” in Preston. Fast juvenile crime and doing time earned stripes and cred for a meaningful street economics.

Racist social injustice yielded police brutality that swelled into events like the Rodney King riots. I was expelled from high school that year, my freshman year; a big gang fight.

The wider scenario everyone knew of but didn’t speak much about—someone [anyone!] would sort this out. Lock ‘em all up.

The scenario, especially in the slowly burning-over suburbs, was fueled by transient youth moving around with their families into more affordable living situations, hoping for a better life. Kids need identity, and often found it in gangs and crime. This was the tempest fueling mass juvenile incarceration during California’s 80s and 90s. CYA held over ten thousand in 1996, when I was there. Conservatively, that’s 135% capacity.

But it’s over now. Closing eleven of fifteen prisons in the past twelve years, it’s over. Kids are not held in cages, raped and abused, made to fight to survive in our prisons. Growing research continues arguing that juvenile incarceration doesn’t work. We’ve climbed out of the abyss.

 

I’m confronted with it as my children get older. They often wonder about my childhood, where I grew up, where my tattoos came from, what constituted my friendships, how I grew up.

A lot goes unspoken, but they wonder and appreciate a warm friendship I maintain with one of my former cell-mates. What is this profound friendship, easily quickened and rekindled with the depth of familial blood, or more?

Their eyes were opened December 2012. Living in England on a Cambridge postdoc, we travelled home to California for Christmas. We spent the holiday with my grandmother in Reno.

She asked if I wanted to visit the downtown art gallery and insisted I go. It was on juveniles in prison. She didn’t realize what she was asking. It’s not easy staring back into the abyss that was one’s former dwelling. But I obliged.

The gallery was more important for my own healing than I realized at the time, for which I’m profoundly grateful to Richard Ross. I took my kids, pointing out places I lived (Ventura, &c.). I wept once or twice. The gallery took me back where I hadn’t been in fourteen years. My children didn’t have words, and I had few to give them.

In my mind I go back more frequently now, teaching university courses on U.S. Institutions and Values, focusing on the prison. I teach an intensive Whittier College course on prison religion. Sometimes I write about prison.

I’ve recently been involved in discussions about the redevelopment of the oldest California juvenile prison, in Whittier, named after eugenicist Fred Nelles. I’ve taken students to it, always with a deep sour feeling in my chest, wishing I didn’t have to.

After a talk Miroslava Chavez-Garcia gave recently, a heated discussion about Nelles transpired. A former Nelles guard was asked pointedly by another audience member if he’d confirm that juveniles were abused there. Hesitating, he responded, “Not on my watch; and when I was there I didn’t tolerate it.” Then, in a flash of foolish honesty, “Nothing happened to them that they didn’t already have coming and didn’t deserve!”

My undergraduate students heard it, and were stunned. The state archivist was shocked. I wasn’t.

I recently took my twelve year old son to Whittier City Planning Commission discussions about the Nelles redevelopment. He was bored, but still wonders. He feels things about the prison, but has few words for it now. Yet his favorite author is Luis J. Rodriguez. I wonder how he will read the era of mass juvenile incarceration.

As they voted 3-2 to develop the Nelles site, one commissioner urged the acknowledgement of those who went through the system and made something of their lives. Nice idea. But we don’t know who these are. There remains a shame and stigma accompanying those who served time as juveniles, especially in their own minds, and in their families, and cities. They don’t want to be known.

We did time for things still difficult to make sense of and speak of. The number of exploding plea bargains must have been obscene (I’d love to know the number), generating endless lambs for the abattoir. This isn’t France, where once a carceral sentence is served nobody dares speak of it. Nosy Americans want to know. “What did you do?” “What were you in for?” Admitting one was incarcerated is not easy, and risky. The abyss is real. Americans love its utilitarian function for dealing with the “other.” But in this moment, should the tens of thousands of formerly incarcerated youth from the era of mass incarceration dare look? Should they come out? Perhaps they’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. But they’ve been damned before.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ve really climbed out of the dark era of U.S. juvenile mass incarceration. Perhaps it’s still trivial for some, perhaps for politicians, who likely won’t bring any lasting change. I worried about this recently as did someone serving life from a juvenile sentence.

The mass youth incarceration era in California has ended, they proclaim. Or at least it’s on its way out with currently under a cool thousand in the state system. After being closed a decade, the forthcoming development of Whittier’s Nelles property signals the era’s final blow. (The ballooning county juvenile carceral situation is another story.)

Hopefully the ultimate end of the juvenile prison will come sooner rather than later. Those who endured its violent clutches continue trying to make sense of it, eager to make meaningful lives after such a destructive era. And we still struggle for words to speak to our children about it.

Jason Sexton is Lecturer in the Honors Program at California State University, Fullerton. He's writing two books on the prison, one introducing the subject of the prison to an evangelical Christian audience and the other giving an interdisciplinary theological account of the incarcerated church. He can be contacted at jsexton@fullerton.edu and his other work is found here: https://fullerton.academia.edu/JasonSexton