"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


"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



"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

"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

"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

"I couldn’t stay in the house." by richard ross

I was in foster care since 10th grade. I’ve been here a year. It’s boring. I was at a group home for a while, but she wasn’t feeding me there. I went out and stole food. She wasn’t treating me right. I couldn’t stay in the house. I was locked up a while for robbery. Then they put me in foster care for after care. But then they were mad at me because I went to jail. I was living in a place where there was no room for me there. I live with my dad, my mom and my grandma. They visit me every month. They just want to see me do good so I’m here. I don’t think they can give me the right care. They both work at a hospital. I want to work with sanitation; they make a lot of money. (He leaves the room and then comes back in to make sure I know…) I want to get famous.

—Q., age 17

I don’t think they can give me the right care.


"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.