months

"This is slavery." by richard ross

I went to Juvie when I was 12-13 for 11 months. Since then, I’ve been incarcerated for 43 years. I was incarcerated on my 16th Birthday. I was given Life and 20. I was convicted of a Rape and Abduction when I was 15 years old. Since 1971 I have been on the street for a total of 11 months. (on the outside)  

My last visitor was in 1989. I was from a good family. No abuse. I never wanted for anything.

FORTY THREE YEARS that I have never seen my family.

Parole-- The parole board interviews me by phone.

They said I had a history of violence and I was a risk to the community and they had new evidence. It has been 43 years and I have been convicted. What new evidence could exist and what could that mean? I’m not coming back to that community so how am I a risk to that community?

I have a parole release date but it means nothing.

They ask what programs I have taken. They say I need programs to be released. They offer no programs. How does this make sense?

This is Florida. Florida is a slave state. This is slavery

Just give me the death penalty.

I am never getting out of prison.

I am going to die here in prison.

Columbia Correctional Institution

Date of Receipt: May 1996

SENTENCED TO LIFE

I was taught the game. by richard ross

“I been her three months now. This is my second time. My moms an X-ray technician, she visits. My dad’s not in the picture. My girlfriend braided my hair. I’m from BPS. Black Peace Stone. Where’s that? It’s the Jungles. What’s that? The apartments. Where are the apartments? Western LA over near La Salle. I live there with my homies when I’m on the run. My mother lives in Sun Valley. When people ask me where I’m from and I’m pissed off, the words that I spit out are BPS. People know BPS. I came here when I was 14. I was going through things. My best friend was shot in front of me. I’ve been shot at. I’m a Blood. I pimp girls. I was taught the game. It's a way of life; it's a way of getting money. I really never went to school. I always ditched. Yea I’m 16, but instead of going to school I would pick up my hoes. They’re all 23, 25. Age isn’t a problem. It’s how you carry yourself. You gotta know the game. You gotta have that mind.

I came here when I was 14. I was going through things. My best friend was shot in front of me. I’ve been shot at.

Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall, 16350 Filbert St, Sylmar, CA 91342

Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall, 16350 Filbert St, Sylmar, CA 91342

I may be 16, but I dress like a guy and I act like a guy. I shoot steroids to make myself buff. I been gay since I been here. I don't do drugs. I only smoke weed and shoot steroids. Being gay? When it’s guy on guy you get judged a lot more. When it’s girl with girl nobody really cares. While I’m in here, I still make bank. I keep control over my whores. They get nothing from me. Yea they get a little present here and there, once in a while I give em a compliment. My mom got pissed ‘cause she didn't know where all the money was coming from. I work with BPS and we all don't come together unless everybody needs a big solution, when there are enemies in the hood. But kids are gang members when they’re five years old. You’ll hear em say, “I’m Hoover.” That's a crip. The Jungle is over by Crenshaw mall, but Crenshaw mall is enemy territory. I went to school in Tajunga, but there are a whole bunch of Naps there. Naps are the enemy. Yea I read the bible, but I’m no holy roller spirit. But I read it. After this I’ll go to camp for six months.”

-U.N., age 16

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

"Now the center is my home." by richard ross

I've been here for 3 months and I'll be here for another 3 months. They say I have some anger problems like yelling and destroying stuff. I grew up close to the Canadian border. I flunked out of the state hospital and all the other facilities in the area. I was 13 when my parents lost parental rights, so now the center is my home. I have ten brothers and one sister—she's the only sibling I see anymore.

—G., age 15

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"There isn't a sober person in the family." by richard ross

We have the same mother. Haven't seen dad since I was three, when he died drinking. I'm in here for drugs, pills, weed, and some harder stuff. I've been at this facility for 11 months. I went through the Drugs and Alcohol Program, but I got drunk the same day I finished. —T.P., age 17

I'm in the 9th grade, I flunked out of my first school. We grew up on the reservation. Everywhere on the res, you can find alcohol, pills, meth—the men drink and the women do pills. There isn't a sober person in the family.

—I.P., age 15

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"I'm not allowed out." by richard ross

I'm in a segregation cell. I've been here for one and a half months, out of a 6-month sentence. I came to visit my grandma here in town in the summer but I got in trouble. My parents live in different states. I've been in detention in other states three times now. I'm here for credit card theft, but I'm in segregation because they said I threatened intimidation against the staff. My mattress stays in the hall during the day, I can only bring it in at night. Staff might say I'm out for at least one hour a day, sometimes two hours. But I'm not allowed out. Only to use the bathroom.

—J., age 16

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"My mom is deceased. Drug overdose." by richard ross

My mom is deceased. Drug overdose. I stayed with my auntie until I was 11.  She was abusive, verbally and physically. I went to maybe 15-20 foster homes. They were all ladies, no man in the home. My baby is one. His daddy’s family took him to see his daddy. He wouldn’t give my baby back. The baby was in the hospital with a lung problem. I asked my social worker if I could go to see my baby. She said I had to wait until my next court date in two months to see the judge. So I went AWOL to see my baby. They picked me up and now I am 241.1—dual custody between dependency and delinquency for going AWOL. I just wanted to see my baby.

I like Ms. Perez, one of the corrections officers. All the staff here just order you. Ms. Perez talks to me.

—T.L., age 16

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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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"I ran away because my boyfriend pressured me." by richard ross

I'm in 12th grade. I've lived in here for 8 years, but I'm originally from the Bronx. My mom and dad still live together. I ran away because my boyfriend pressured me. I'm waiting for a slot to open up at another facility, I've been waiting for three months. I want to go to city college. I stay in the girls' wing, there's more than 100 girls here. Many of 'em are gang members.

—S.F., age 17

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"My dad died when I was 13—mom died when I was 6." by richard ross

I'm from a town 85 miles from here. 600 people live there. I'm half Athabaskin native and half Mexican. My dad died when I was 13 -- mom died when I was 6. I was raised by my native Alaskan grandparents. My grandfather would come to visit to ask me for money and then grandfather would get drunk. When I ran out of money, grandfather stopped visiting. I'm here for criminal mischief: I left a jacket at a friend's house, went back for it, kicked the door down. When I was 14, I was here for 4 months. Now I'm here for 30 days and hope to go to PHH, a hospital house. I'm waiting for a bed to free up, it's full right now.

—T., age 16

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

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

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

............................ 

by Amy Stephens-Vang

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

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

Amy Lynn Stephens-Vang 2

Amy Lynn Stephens-Vang 2

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

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

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

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

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

Amy Lynn Stephens-Vang

Amy Lynn Stephens-Vang

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

—Amy Stephens-Vang

"She was incarcerated when I was born—so was my dad." by richard ross

I’ve been here twice. I live with my great grandmother. She’s 85. I don’t know where my mother is. I know my daddy is incarcerated. He has been there about eight months now for drug trafficking. My mom went to jail numerous times for selling drugs. She was incarcerated when I was born—so was my dad. My great grandma adopted me. She was given full custody when I was born. I’m in 10th grade. I have a couple of units of general stuff. I have one younger brother and a younger sister. I see them twice a year if I am lucky. I think my mother takes care of them. I don’t even know where she is or even her phone number. I saw them at a family gathering once. We don’t have a good relationship. I feel she abandoned me and I never had a chance to really be. She put so much pressure on my great grandmother to take care of me without giving no help, no support.

I am here for aggravated robbery. Wrong place, wrong time. I was with two males when they snatched a phone. I was guilty by association. I have been here a month now. This is my first time in. I think I get out the next day. I was in for a PV (probation violation) for cutting off my ankle bracelet. I had an aunt and cousin both dying of cancer. My aunt and my cousin both passed. I went to their funeral. I don’t look at this as punishment but as a learning experience. Monday I go talk to a judge and either I go home or they make me stay. But I know this is not the place for me. There is one kid here that I know from my neighborhood.

— N.I., age 16

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"I’ve been here four months. I’ve been in this room four months." by richard ross

I’m 17 years old. I’ve been here four months. I’ve been in this room four months. I’m wearing a smock to prevent me from hurting myself. I hurt myself. Why? I want to commit suicide. I don’t talk to a therapist. They aint doing no good. I spoke to her today for about 5 minutes. I’ve been in since I was 16. I was brought in for charges.

My Mom visits me. I don’t know how old she is. I don’t have a Dad. My Mom and my brothers live at home. There was emotional abuse at home. I was never in foster care. I say I am going to hurt myself so they put me in a smock and I have to wear a smock for 72 hours. Couple of times I been wearing it. It’s comfortable. I got a 18-36 month sentence. If I show good behavior I can get out in 18 months.

B.H., age 17-3

B.H., age 17-3

We go to school in the building. We go the whole day. I can’t have nothing. No books. I can’t have nothing. I pass the time by just sitting here. No friends. I talk to the girl across the way. They allow me to talk to her. I get out of here for a hour a day. I sit and look and stare at space when they let me out. Those red dots? They come from my head. I just banged my head against the wall. The blood is on the wall because I hit my head against the wall, a couple of times because I was mad at the staff. They wouldn’t get me out of this smock.

— B.H., age 17

B.H., age 17

B.H., age 17

"A fire happened in my house. They blamed it on me. " by richard ross

A fire happened in my house. They blamed it on me. My mother’s 40 now. I’m an only child. I had a brother but he died when he was young. I never met him. I was taken into custody at Rikers on seven different charges. There was some kind of socket in my house that blew up. My mother was into alcohol and drugs. I live with my grandma. I ran away from here because I hadn’t seen my family in a long time so I went to see my grandma, my auntie and my cousins in Brooklyn for three or four days, and I came back here and they put me on restriction, so no games and no rec. But now I’m off restriction. I was in foster homes. Then it took me six or seven months to be accepted into this program. I was basically raised here. The people here I respect. They give me respect the same way I give them respect. I might be an artist someday. I like Michelangelo, David something, Leonardo.

—S., Age 13

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"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

"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

"It’s more than I’ve been alive." by richard ross

I'm from Norfolk, Virginia. I'm in 11th grade. I'm not in special ed or anything like that. I've been locked up for 15 months. Since I was 16. I was 16 when I first went into a facility. My grandparents, my cousin, and my uncle visit me here.

My mom and dad are dead... somebody killed them. That’s kind of why I’m locked up. I killed them. I snapped. No drugs were involved, I don't do drugs. It was knives, and a bat, and a crowbar. You probably heard about it before. On the local news. Over a span of nine months. It was a combination of things. It was mostly between me and my dad, my mom was just collateral damage. There was physical and emotional abuse. Me and my dad would get into fights a lot. I never said anything so CPS was never involved. My mom would usually come in and break up the fight. It's been going on since I was in elementary school. I don't know what age but elementary school.

W.Q., age 17

W.Q., age 17

I try to look at the bright side of things, I can get out at 43 or at best I could get out in my 30s.

I try to look at the bright side of things, I can get out at 43 or at best I could get out in my 30s. I might try to get a job. I'll take some college classes while I'm in DOC. I'd like to get a job as a graphic designer. It's still a long time. It's more than I've been alive. Most of my life I’m gonna be locked up. And this is my first time ever catching a charge, it's crazy. I can't take it back so I gotta move on.

He was ex-military when I was born, they were 39 and 40 when I was born. I don't have any brothers or sisters. I had snapped multiple times before but never at a person, it would be towards objects. I would break bottles and jars of porcelain things like that, it was never directed toward somebody. I mean, my hand was bleeding but I never went to the hospital. They were talking about therapy but that never happened. I used to be on ADHD medicine. When I was in here I started taking ADHD medicine again but I tried to kill myself in here. I wrapped long johns around my neck, there was blood coming out of my mouth and everything, I tried to try hang myself. An officer came by and took me down. I know what caused it, most of my extreme emotions are extremely divided and with my ADHD I’m able to distract myself from a lot of thoughts.

— W.Q., age 17

"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

"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

"Who do I trust?" by richard ross

I’m from Puerto Rico, and also Bushwick. I was eight years old when I went into foster care. I’ve been in 12 different foster cares. Mom had a case of abuse. My dad was sexually abusive. I told my mom but she didn’t believe it. I told my grandmother and my counselor. They took me out of my home. I was scarred. They took my dad away. I went into the hospital, the Children’s Unit. I was there two weeks. Now I have been in foster care for eight years. I never liked it. I didn’t see no social worker. I went to South Oaks Hospital for a year and a half. I had behavior issues. I was fighting a lot. I went to the Children’s Psychiatric Center. I was there for nine months. My mom and dad were always fighting, always arguing. I’m not going to use that as an excuse. I would like to be with my mom and dad again. Who do I trust? I don’t even know. I can’t have a phone. I am not on that level.

F., age 15

F., age 15

My mom and dad were always fighting, always arguing.

I’ve been here two months. There are kids that have been here for years. I have a foster mom that I go to. She was a caseworker and she was adopted herself. She is going through the process of adopting me. I’m not sure what the difference between foster care and being adopted. I’m hoping it works out. I trust her. Her name is P. Adopted and Foster is that somebody takes you into their home. On my 15th birthday they wanted me to go to my foster mom, but I didn’t want to go there. I wanted to go with my case planner at the agency. My foster mom was screaming at me and said that if I lived in her house, under her roof, I wasn’t going to talk back to her. I was with them in a car and they were arguing with me in a car and they stopped the car and put me out in the middle of the street and left me there. So I don’t like them. I don’t feel comfortable or safe in my foster home. I like ECAD. I deal with Reggie. I’m the only one who can deal with him. I go and work with him for an hour and a half Monday through Thursday.

— F., Age 15.