"Mom does the best she can." by richard ross

I’m from the East Side. I have two sisters, 12 and six. I think they probably took over my room. I was 15 on my first visit here. I was picked up three days ago on a warrant for not appearing in court. I got out of camp and didn’t check in with my PO (probation officer) for eight months. I just wanted to be done with probation and all that shit. I was chilling with my homie and the cops stopped us for open containers and they ran my ID and found me with an open warrant. They would describe me as gang affiliated. I been here a bunch. Maybe 25 times. Mostly violations, and little misdemeanors. They always portray gang members as a negative thing, but there are different levels. Some people just like to hang with their homies rather than hard core banging. If you are identified as a gang member they finger print you, take your DNA. They make you sign a document that you are affiliated. They showed it to my mom and told her what it was about but she didn’t understand it. I have minor charges “hanging” over me. These are forgotten if you don’t stray as an adult, but if you do, they make those charges a part of your history and you have to answer for them as an adult. I didn’t really go to school on the outs. I think I am supposed to be in 12th grade. I go to court tomorrow.

"I been here a bunch. Maybe 25 times. Mostly violations, and little misdemeanors."

My mom visits me. She’s a box checker in the strawberry fields. She has her resident papers and has been here 18 years. My dad passed away when I was 5. He was DUI and went off a cliff. I was in AS (administrative segregation) for a week one time. I try to stay straight here. I was never in foster care. I had lots of issues when I was young. There was no dad in my house and there was a lot of domestic violence. There were always men beating on my mom and myself. Her ex-husband was violent. I think it was because I wasn’t his real biological son. My mom filed a restraining order against him. He was arrested and kicked out of the country.

Mom does the best she can. She works in the strawberry fields Monday through Saturday. When the girls are in school sometimes my aunt helps out. She lives with us. I will tell the judge, “you gave me a lot of chances but I blew most of them.” I was a skater when I was 13/14 but they don’t have space in this town for those kids.

—J., age 18



"I was angry and got in a fight..." by richard ross

I came in yesterday to LP. Spent the night here and am here this morning. I didn’t have any lunch. I’m in 7th grade, 8th grade soon. I live with my mom, aunt, cousin… my grandma went to Mexico. I’m going to be here three days and then I go to court. I might go home from there in days or hours. Over at LP it’s quiet and lonely. My mom knows I’m here. My dad is in Mexico. We all have papers. In LP I was just in a room reading by myself. When they bring you here, they handcuff your hands and your feet. Your feet are separated by this little chain and you have to walk at full speed and it hurts. I couldn’t call my Mom because it’s after 1PM and she goes to work. Maybe tomorrow. The police came yesterday at 10 AM. My mom is a bus driver. I was angry and got in a fight with my 13-year-old cousin about who had to clean up. The neighbors called the police. My mother was home. My cousin wasn’t arrested. My mom couldn't break up the fight between my cousin and me. I pushed my mom away. They say I bruised her… but look at my bruises. I am here because I hurt her arm. I said I was sorry and she was crying.

—D.T., age 12



"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



"She doesn’t have papers; she’s not a citizen." by richard ross

This is my second time here. I’ve been here 3 days so far. I was going from my friends house at 8 o'clock at night and the cops stopped me. Two units. They took me to the downtown station for three hours. They did mugshots and fingerprinted me, and then they brought me here to central. They said I was riding a bike without lights…and attempted robbery. The first time I was here it was for trying to push my sister out a second story window. They put me on probation. My mom called the police. My sister was babysitting me and she wouldn’t let me out. They say I’m affiliated with 18, but I’m not. I have family, I have a cousin in with them. I live with my mom, she works in a factory. My sister, a little sister, and a little brother. My mom works in a factory from 6AM to 8PM. She doesn’t have papers; she’s not a citizen. I’m in seventh grade now because I flunked first. I was born here. I’m gonna be a cop when I grow up.

—N.N., age 13



"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



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

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

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

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

—D, age 14

D., age 14

D., age 14

"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

"She had me when she was 16." by richard ross

O.E., age 17

O.E., age 17

I’m here for two weeks. This is the first time I have been here. I live with my mom, daddy, and grandma. I have seen them twice on a Saturday. Once on a Wednesday. I have five sisters, from three different dads. All the girls live with my mom and me. I am close with my sisters. I am the oldest. The youngest is five. We don’t have a problem visiting together. I see the judge in three days. Hopefully, she will send me home. I was on probation for GTA (Grand Theft Auto) and was doing well. Now I am here for robbery. I am in 11th grade, but I don’t go to school because I am home-schooled. My mom has me enrolled in a program called ECOT. It is computer schooling. I do better at home. At school I get distracted easily. People say stuff to me and I go off. I don’t like to argue, I just go straight to fight. I don’t have any gang affiliation.

I see the judge in three days. Hopefully, she will send me home.

My dad works at a car wash and my mother is a home health aide. My great grandmother is taking care of her brother. I have my own bedroom. They let the little ones sleep together. I hate the food here. It’s nasty and they don’t give you enough—for real. Like we had broccoli, salad, a little meat, chicken, rice, and macaroni. My great grandmother cooks for everybody. We may be at my grandma’s house. But, I am MOSTLY there on the other side of town. My auntie drives me over there. My auntie lives in a two family house. My grandma is 56, My mother is 33. She had me when she was 16.

— O.E., age 17

"You gotta stay humble." by richard ross

I’m here in isolation. It’s a lock unit. Isolation Behavior something… rehabilitation unit… I don’t know. I been here 2 months, a month and a half. You get an hour out a day, but say you got seven residents, you might get out the end of the day for a little bit, sometimes I play checkers during that time. I been in isolation for a month and a half. I used to be in my groups, but I started WILD’N’ OUT.

I used to take too many trays, like three breakfast trays, four lunch trays and three dinner trays. I didn’t care. I took them because I was hungry. I was OK with the consequences so I took them and ate them. You gotta behave to get out of here. I was supposed to leave today. I’m waiting for a superintendent to sign for my release. I’m here or in Open Pop, either way I’m still locked up. I was 11 or 12 when I was locked up.

U.X., age 16

U.X., age 16

I was supposed to leave today. I’m waiting for a superintendent to sign for my release.

I be here in my room thinking I’m just a juvenile. There are people in jail that are 15, 20, 17 years. I was writing to my Dads cellmate. He told me 80% of the kids here are going to be in prison, in DOC. You can lead a horse to the pond, but you gotta wanna change. You gotta stay humble. I know I’m small, but my pride gets in the way sometimes. I gotta watch what I say. It only takes one minute to take somebody’s life.

— U.X., age 16

"They're giving me another chance." by richard ross

I was with three kids and they did an armed robbery. This was my third offense. They’re giving me another chance. I’m moving across town. My mind is set on one thing and one thing only: to achieve my goals. I don’t know how they got a gun and how it got into the robbery. But you can get a little gun here for $50 or $75. Revolvers go for cheap $30, $40 with ammo. A 9-millimeter will be $100. A 40 caliber is $40 and up. You get a gun you call a connect. A connect is someone who knows people. My homeboy got a revolver for cheap so you can sell it for cheap. I’ve been growing up since 11 or 12 knowing the streets but not running the streets. That means I was running with older kids. I’ve been smoking marijuana since I was 13. I’d like to go to the TCT, Tuscaloosa Center Technical. That’s after and between normal school.

My mind is set on one thing and one thing only: to achieve my goals.



My mom’s a phlebotomist. She works at the VA and at MDs offices. My mom, my brother, and I live with my grandma who owns three houses. My brother just got out of Mount Meigs. It’s baby prison. It’s for 16 to 21. Under 16 you go to Vaca. Detention is county. Prison is state. My dad was drinking a lot. I think he’s working but I’m not sure. No there’s never been any domestic violence in my house. When I have to go to drug classes there’s a bus that picks me up or my mom drives me. I’m really a nice kid. They dropped the charges from robbery 1 to robbery 3 because I was telling the other kids not to do it. So you saw me in the courtroom. I won my trial. It wasn’t really a trial. It was the DA, my PO, and my lawyer having to agree on something. They give me a little bit of string or rope and see if I’m going to hang myself. But I really believe they want me to succeed. If I don’t I go to baby prison.

- M., Age 15

**Interviews with youth are recorded to the best of our ability. All personal histories and anecdotes are self-reported by the children. To protect confidentiality of the youth, identities have been obscured, initials have been changed, and identifying details have been removed. Interviews have not been edited for content.

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

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

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


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

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

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

-S.M., age 13


**Interviews with youth are recorded to the best of our ability. All personal histories and anecdotes are self-reported by the children. To protect confidentiality of the youth, identities have been obscured, initials have been changed, and identifying details have been removed. Interviews have not been edited for content.

"Really I'm doing time here for nothing." by richard ross


 The judge just doesn’t know what the fuck to do with me.

She gives me extra time for just stupid shit.


I live in Hawthorne. This is my second time here. My mom is on disability. My stepdad sells airplane parts. I have a little sister who’s eight or nine. Two weeks here and two weeks there. Really I’m doing time here for nothing. They say I cut off my bracelet, but I never got it on. My court said I didn’t go to counseling, but it was never scheduled. They put extra stuff on my thing for stuff I didn’t do. Really all I would do would be stay out a lot, because I didn’t want to be home. I wanted to be with my friends. Some of them are gang affiliated, but some of them are not. Some skaters and just casuals. My mother would get mad at me because I would stay out past the 10 o’clock curfew. I didn't want to go to school. I was just an angry person back then. I don't want to go to placement, I want to go home. The judge just doesn’t know what the fuck to do with me. She gives me extra time for just stupid shit.

-S.I., Age 15


**Interviews with youth are recorded to the best of our ability. All personal histories and anecdotes are self-reported by the children. To protect confidentiality of the youth, identities have been obscured, initials have been changed, and identifying details have been removed. Interviews have not been edited for content.

[Family-in-Justice] Marquetta Harrison and her son Corey by richard ross

Last month we received an email from Marquetta Harrison, from Kansas City, Missouri, wanting to tell her story. In July of 2010, her son Corey Webb, then age 16, was charged with aggravated assault against a public servant—a crime for which he was sentenced to 50 years. In emails with Marquetta, it is clear that her story reveals a state and a system that holds punishment by incarceration in the highest order.    To give you an idea of the criminal system in Texas, here are some statistics accumulated by Robert Perkinson, a Soros Justice Fellowship recipient and author of Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire:  

-       Minimum number of Texas residents under criminal justice supervision: 740,905

-       Total prison population (both violent and non) of the U.K., the most incarcerated country in Europe: 82,241

-       Estimated percent chance in 1996 that a black man born in Texas will go to prison: 29%

-       Approximate percentage of Texas’s overall population that is non-white: 40

-       Approximate percentage of Texas’s prison population that is non-white: 70

-       Rate at which blacks are incarcerated compared to whites in Texas: 7 to 1

-       Rank of Texas in number of juveniles incarcerated in adult prisons: 1

-       Rank of Texas in executing juveniles and mentally retarded inmates before recent Supreme Court prohibitions: 1

-       Number of times the Supreme Court rebuked Texas’s highest court for defiantly ignoring its rulings in 2004: 3


Marquetta feels that Corey was poorly represented, detained for two years awaiting trial with little to no assistance from his court appointed attorney. Ultimately, she feels like her son gave up, and pleaded guilty. Corey’s mom writes, “I would love to wake from this nightmare, because it's unreal.”


Here are the basics of the story: According to Marquetta, when she got home from work she and Corey’s grandmother discovered that Corey had run away. Recently, his girlfriend had moved with her family to Tyler, Texas and Corey had run away to be with her. Guessing correctly that he would be headed to Tyler, 550 miles away, Marquetta called the Tyler police. Concerned and angry, she reported him as a runaway and to requested that the police detain Corey at the bus stop. When he arrived, they arrested him on runaway charges. After being alerted that her son was in custody, Marquetta was told that he would be held in detention there until local Kansas City Authorities could extradite him back home. Corey was taken to the Smith County Juvenile Attention Center in Tyler, Texas. Once inside, authorities stated that he pulled a gun from his backpack and allegedly shot at Juvenile probation officer Walker. Marquetta remembers receiving a phone call at 4AM the following day from a police officer telling her that her son “just shot up the detention center.” She recalls, “I sat straight up, and my heart went into my stomach. I just knew his next statement was that my child was dead.  He then stated that [Corey] turned the gun on himself, and threatened to kill himself, and kept asking [the officers] to shoot him… I then asked, ‘How did he get a gun?’ The officer stated, ‘Out of his property.’ I said, ‘Excuse me? How did this happen? Where did he get a gun?’  He stated that the arresting officer never searched his property and turned his back to get something out of the closet. That’s when Corey pulled the weapon out of the bag.” According to Marquetta, the security tapes she was later shown were full of gaps where the incident had occurred.


Marquetta remembers the first time she was able to see Corey after he had been arrested:


Visitations were non-contact, and when I saw my child that I have only known 16 years, still with the look of innocence with an undisclosed amount of pain beyond his eyes, his arms filled with around fifteen staples where he had lacerations. I broke down in tears. I have worked in places like this, and reality came crashing down on me all at once.  I never thought I would see my son in the bright orange jumpsuit. I spoke with my son, and he was so ignorant to the system. He stated, “When will they let me go home? Can't you get me out of here? I didn't do what they said, and I know you will help me!" We stared back at him with a poker face, and his father and I told him, “Yes, of course, we are going to help you,” but at the time deep down inside we couldn’t even reassure ourselves… He was like a small kid waiting for us to rescue him. The pain I was feeling in my heart of helplessness.  It was a pain like I had never felt before. I have never been unable to hold my son, comfort my child, and discipline him on my own terms. I had just come to reality that all my power had just been giving to Smith County. I started to feel the guilt that I just handed my power over to them, and they had betrayed me.


  When Walker, the probation officer who was allegedly shot at, was interviewed later he stated that he would like to have seen Corey get life in prison. There is a sad truth to be learned from his statement—some of those involved closely in the system, which see the same kids come in and out every month, feel that locking someone up for half a century is an effective and optimal reaction to his or her crime. Marquetta writes, “You could see this was not about punishment but about making an example out of him.”


Months after the incident Marquetta is still constantly questioning, where did he get the gun? Why didn’t they search his bag? What would make Corey do this? What was he thinking?  To say that it is difficult for Marquetta to revisit the night of the incident is a vast understatement, a combination of emotions well up in Marquetta when she thinks about it. The guilt of getting the police involved in the first place, the fury at a system so impossible to navigate, and the incomprehension of his ultimate sentence. Throughout Marquetta’s recount of the incident and the months of legal dealings afterward there is an ongoing pattern of inconsistency ranging from trial dates being changed quickly without her notice to constantly changing visitation rules. Being 500 miles away did not make it any easier.


She writes, “I did my part as a parent, reported my son gone without my permission… My son did his part; he acted out as the irrational runaway adolescent hormonal teenager… The job was to apprehend the kid and diffuse the situation. It wasn’t diffused, and then it took a turn for the worse.”  Corey was a child and made a bad decision, for which 50 years of his life are now owed.


Before July 2010, life in the Harrison home was different. Corey lived at home with his mom, grandmother, and two sisters. Marquetta describes Corey as “artistic, reserved and smart.” He enjoyed drawing, fooling around with his younger sister and playing video games. Corey was an honor roll student up to his Freshman year of high school, at which point he started to become distant and occasionally get in trouble. Shortly thereafter, his uncle and father were in a car accident, killing his uncle and severely injuring his father. Corey and his uncle were very close. After the accident, Corey became very distant and quiet. Marquetta remembers catching him crying to himself at times. She felt that the car accident “laid heavy on his heart” and that he had never fully recovered from the emotional trauma of it. He began to get in trouble at school and wouldn’t listen to Marquetta. She found out he had a girlfriend dealing with similar behavioral issues who wanted to have a baby by Corey. Marquetta didn’t want her son to be a father at age 16.

    Corey is serving out his sentence at the Allan B. Polunsky unit, a prison in Polk County Texas that also houses the Texas death row population. When we asked Marquetta what it is like to visit your child in prison she told us that it was very hard to step on Texas soil, let alone the prison itself. “To leave your child in a place that is known for rape, murder, and to house child molesters, and is over 500 miles away. It is devastating,” she states. When she visits, it isn’t like she is talking to the 16-year-old she knew before he was locked up. She says that Corey sounds her age, old beyond his years, and tries to soothe his mother and helps her find peace of mind. At home, her family “is walking around breathing, but we’re not living.” Corey’s father spends every day confined to his room, researching how to save his son. Marquetta feels like she has lost a part of her soul, an arm, a part of her brain and feels completely numb most of the day. She writes, “It’s so hard to go on daily and look at my two other children living life, and one being snatched away like a thief in the night. It’s very hard to deal with it, especially when you know you are working with a system that is very biased. Yeah, he made a big mistake, but not a 50-years-of-his-life mistake.” When Marquetta left for work that morning, Corey was helping his little sister unlock a new code for Super Mario Brothers, now when she talks to him he is “waiting for his next tray to eat, and watching that he doesn’t end up another raped victim in jail.”

  -------------------------------------   If you are a family with a child in the system and you are seeking advice or assistance, please get in contact with Justice For Families, They can be reached via email at zachary AT justice4families DOT org or via phone at (510) 268 6941. Justice For Families is a national alliance of local organizations that can provide emotional and logistical support for court hearings, advocacy support to enable families to obtain the best services for their loved ones, and engage families in policy campaigns to change systemic failures in the juvenile justice system.