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"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

"Societies has to give opportunities" by richard ross

“ I’m 40 years old.

I didn’t know what was going on. I was never there at the scene of the crime, but for some particular reason, they used an eyewitness and believed her testimony. I accumulated over 5000 days for good behavior, with the amount of time that I have already served, which is 22 years. Anything that’s available, or anybody wouldn’t give me a chance...

I believe that society has to be forgiving.

Societies has to give opportunities”

Dade Correctional Institution. Florida City, Florida

Date of Receipt: August 1996

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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"They put me on adult probation at 13." by richard ross

I first came here at 13. My first charge was having a knife and drugs. The drugs? Weed. I was here for a week—was the worst place I ever want to be...locked up. I came back a couple of months later. More weed charges. They put me on adult probation at 13. This went on and on. They call this “sanction house,” where a judge outs you if you keep on misbehaving. But whatever they call it—a jail is a jail. Same thing. I came back for dropping dirty. Dad asked if they could put me on house arrest. He came from Laos. He came by plane when he was about 19. He welds and works side jobs at car lots. I never visited Laos. One day I would like to. I don’t know much about my stepmom. My real mom lives in another state. My brother lives with her. He gets in trouble on and off. I was going to school until about seventh grade, then I started bringing weed around and by eighth grade I was gang-banging. I’m a member of the Piru Bloods. There are about 15 of us. The other gangs are just fake. I’m also with the FL. We go against the F-13.

I met different people and they disliked me for the colors I was showing. I guess I got in trouble when I started looking for respect. It was eighth grade when I got a gun. A shotgun costs $50. A handgun: about $150. You have to be careful and make sure a gun isn’t dirty or has a body on it. I’m charged with murder. It happened in my house when I was on house arrest. I was with a friend who did it. The older guy started to come at me. He was Mexican and had a knife. He dropped the knife when he was coming at us and my friend picked it up and stabbed him. He is in County Adult charged with “overkill”. That's when you keep on shooting somebody after they are dead…or in this case he was coming at me with a knife so I threw a rock. Then we started beating him and I tried to get him to drop the knife. I was on drugs and blacked out. I started drinking alcohol and was taking Xanax.

I’ve been in here a year. I been in 20 different rooms here. They keep moving me. I went to a waiver hearing and they are talking about me pleading guilty and getting 3-7 years in juvie, then parole for five years, with 25-to-life back up. Possible time if violating parole. I go to court in 16 days to plead guilty. I would be there until I am 23. I heard it was better than this. Better food, better programs and people that don’t act like little kids. I read a lot here. James Patterson—I like him and mysteries and stuff.

—T.Q., age 17

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"I was jumped in when I was nine." by richard ross

I’ve been here 32 days. This is my fourth time. I have drug paraphernalia, threatening to hurt somebody, criminal theft, criminal property damage, battery, assault and intentional battery—which is forcefully or angrily touching. I was 14 when I picked up my first battery. I got in a fight. I have a gang affiliation. I was jumped in when I was nine. I started doing some of this origami. This is a crane and another bird.

—E.K., age 15

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"My dad lives in Mexico. I’m not sure if my mom has papers." by richard ross

This is my first time. I was in LP for a few days. I was just AWOL for a few days from my foster home. I’m there with my biological brother and my foster mom’s daughter and another foster girl. I was with my aunt for two years. I was eleven when I was taken from my house. I didn’t know what was going on. My mom didn’t know what it meant for me to be detained either. The cops found a weed plant in my brother’s room and then they started investigating my mom and my step-dad. They smoked crack. DCFS took me, my two brothers, and my little sister into custody. My mom was pregnant and when the baby was born they took the baby away. My dad lives in Mexico. I’m not sure if my mom has papers.  My foster home is pretty good, no foster dad there. There was really no reason for me to go AWOL, I was picked up for truancy but I had gotten into trouble for graffiti. Putting white out on a bench in the park right next to school—during school. I was with a friend and we were waiting for nutrition class to end because we didn’t want to go to nutrition…so we went next door to the park for that period. They called it pen tagging. Then I lied to the police about what my name was. They handcuffed me. I went to court two months ago and they gave me probation. Then I violated by running away.

I’m in 9th grade. My mom was in AA rehab. There’s no abuse in my background. I’m fighting going to camp. The judge is making me go to placement although I have no idea why. They want me to go to a group home when I’m doing well in foster care. My boyfriend is 17. He’s a sophomore in HS. I stopped going to school in January. I tried going to continuation school. But I couldn’t get anyone there to help me enroll. I must have gone at the wrong time. I missed a court date and they issued a warrant. I’m not even sure why. I didn’t want to go to court. I was going through stuff with my mom. She talked to me about her drug abuse and how she couldn’t stop.

—Z.O., age 15

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"I don’t know my mother. My dad lives in Mexico." by richard ross

I’ve been here five days. This is my first time here. I’m 13. I was in LP for one night when I was 12. I’m being charged with B&E (breaking & entering) at my school. I’ve been here now because I was charged with assault with a deadly weapon at school, but I didn’t have a weapon. I don’t trust anybody but my family. I’m not a gang member and I live in a pretty good neighborhood. I’m in the eighth grade. I got in a fight with a security guard; they had my phone, my money, and my bus pass. It was a new security guard. They switch them everyday. They fired the other one that knew me for something that she did. I was going to a special high school. It was for kids who were kicked out of regular school.

My grandma visited me today, it’s Easter Sunday. Tomorrow is a court day. I sleep in my room with one of my brothers, the little one. He’s 14. My oldest brother is on house arrest for possession of a controlled substance. He was in LP for a month.

My grandma adopted me when I was a baby. I don’t know my mother. My dad lives in Mexico. I have five brothers, but I live with two of them. I also live with my auntie. I saw my mom two or three weeks ago.  I remember when I first met my mom—it was at a park. She’s tall and skinny. Me and my brothers all had vanilla ice cream cones with her. She kept on crying the whole time she was eating it.

—B.B., age 13

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"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

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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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"I've never really had a father." by richard ross

I was born in Hawaii, moved to Indiana, but now I'm here under a two year program. I was being held in another state for a while—that was more like a prison. There are good people working at this place. My father is in prison. I've never really had a father. My whole family is in Indiana. I was living with my older brother, until he left. I spent some time in a hotel alone, I just wanted to play sports.

—J., age 17

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"I never got a chance to go to regular school." by richard ross

I’m getting my 72 hearing. That’s means I’m supposed to be heard within 3 days. I came in yesterday. I’ve been here three times before. First time I was 14. I live with my mom, stepdad, five brothers and three sisters. I stay with my dad sometimes. I’ve been suspended from school because I didn’t do my work on time. I was suspended twice and then they put me in here. I’m hoping I get 28 days in boot camp and then can go home. I was in a SPAN program, the county alternative school. It’s a place to get your GED. I never got a chance to go to regular school. I stayed in alternative schools most of my life.

I was originally charged with DV (domestic violence). I was with my sister who is 14 in her friend’s mother’s car. I was in the front seat and my sister wanted to get into the front seat, so she called the police because she knew I was on probation for my school suspension.

—L., age 15

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"Any time they hear my name they lock me up." by richard ross

I’ve been in the timeout room for two days. I’ve been in detention four times. The first time I was 13. I’ve been in isolation eight times. The longest time was two weeks. Any conflict or altercation they lock me up. Doesn’t matter who’s to blame they lock me up. They won’t let me tell my side of the story. When I was 13 I got caught with a gun and some marijuana at the movies. I bought the gun for $60. I just want a gun so I can handle a situation myself. I got the $60 by hustling, just selling marijuana.

—D., age 16

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"I lost my freedom in detention!" by richard ross

This week, Juvenile In Justice concludes the features on two adults who spent much of their childhood lives in detention.
Jose Vidrio shares his experience of being in and out of the juvenile justice system and the conditions of confinement, and touches on his achievements as an adult now.
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by Jose Vidrio I was physically abused by my father. When I was young, my sister and I were always afraid of my father because we didn't know what mood he was going to come in. My Dad was this big macho guy that didn't like hugs and or kisses for his birthday or Father’s Day, especially coming from me. He thought that it was a gay gesture and if I attempted to do so, he would hit me of course. I can say that alcohol did play a big factor here; when my father was drinking his mood was unpredictable.

I started to get into trouble when I was 10 years of age. I did three months then because of tagging and refusing to give my name. I guess when my mother left my father I kinda took advantage and would leave the house a lot. When I was 12, I was arrested for armed robbery and did almost 2 years in Juvi. When I was 15, I was sentenced to 10 years and did 5 and 1/2. I came out when I was 21 years of age.

When I was in CYA, I was in isolation from 6AM to 10PM. They put me in a "cold room" with just my boxers on—there was no mattress, no sheets. All day I walked around the 8’x10’ room and did random workouts because the room was so cold. By the time that they put me back in my cell I was so tired that I just wanted to go to sleep. Sometimes the staff members would go inside when I was asleep and they would beat me before putting me in the cold room. Sometimes the staff members would put me with other rival gang members to fight in the rec room.

Sometimes the staff members would go inside when I was asleep and they would beat me before putting me in the cold room. Sometimes the staff members would put me with other rival gang members to fight in the rec room.

I guess that I can say that there was no love at home. My mother was always yelling and screaming at us. We didn't understand and take into consideration that she was going through a hard time divorcing my dad and she hid us while doing it for a while.

I lost my freedom in detention! I have learned that it is easier to mess up your background than it is to restore it. I also gained some knowledge about my history, family, and also graduated high school in there as well as doing my first communion. As far as the food, if we ever had meat, it didn’t taste like meat. We called it mystery meat because it tasted funny. We joked and said that maybe it was gopher meat because they had a big problem in the yard.

I lost my freedom in detention! I have learned that it is easier to mess up your background than it is to restore it.

I was just approved for a Certificate of Rehabilitation on Oct 8th and I am very excited about that. I currently work for a radiology company processing insurance claims and reconciliation from complicated claims. In April 2016, I will be graduating with my Bachelors of Business in Health Care Management.

I talk to all of my family, including my father and we talk good. I am not going to say that we have the best relationship but he is in our lives. I talk to family that I have never spoke to before. I am married and have been with my wife for 13, going on 14 years. I have 5 children that keep me busy and love them to death. And yes, I give them all kisses and hugs, both my boys and my girls.

—Jose Vidrio

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.

"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

"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 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

"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.