"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



"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



"I am always asking, 'Where is my dad?'" by richard ross

I got in trouble here. Criminal damage, destruction of property. I kicked down a door in my mom’s house. She took all my electronics. I wanted to be on Facebook. I broke into my room to get my laptop. They originally took it away from me because I was suspended from school. I got in a fight with a girl at school. I've known her since kindergarten. She was talking a lot of smack. Calling me a bitch, a whore. She told me my boyfriend was cheating on me with her. My boyfriend is 17. We are having sex, but nobody is going to find out. My mom called the police. I was out on a probation violation and I failed a UA. I ran again to be with my homeboys. Doing some weed and pills. I would be labeled as gang affiliated with Southside. I get A’s and B’s in school. I live with my mom and stepdad. My stepdad works at a factory making trash cans with lids on them. I don’t know my real dad. Mom is a R.N. at a hospital. I don’t know my dad’s real name. He lied to my mom about everything, including his name and left. My stepdad visited me once. My grandparents, uncles, aunt, and mom visit. I was placed in JJA custody.

I am leaving Sunday to go to a group home. I’ve never been to a group home, but I hear stuff goes on there. Too many fights. I don’t want to get any more charges. I had a PV, flunked a UA, and they put out a warrant for running and not going home. I ran to another state and hung with some homies I know. I was always treated good…but I have anger in me. My friends have dads and I am always asking “Where is my dad?”

—S.Q., age 16



"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

On the streets or in the projects by richard ross

I’m from Pacoima, the projects. You know the buildings? I’m a member of Project Winos. I’ve been living on the streets or else I sleep in the projects with my homies. I don't go to school on the outs. My mom was deported when I was five, then I lived with my dad till I was 12, and then he was deported. I have a brother who’s 19 in jail, and a sister who’s 15 in placement. I was born here. I was living in foster homes after five. The first foster home I was with my sister until I was seven. Then we lived with my dad until my dad found a girlfriend. My dad would abuse us mentally before I was 12. He would talk shit to us, make us feel bad, and hit us. And then I was 12 and he got deported, so my sister and me went to a foster home for three months. Then I lived with my aunt in Victorville, then a foster home in Victorville, but then we ran away to Pacoima.

When I was on the street, we all didn’t have a place to stay, so we would all look out for each other.


My sister and me turned ourselves in. We stayed in a foster home in Palmdale. My sister got in trouble and locked up for ditching on probation. I’ve been in 15 different DCFS placements and probations. Now it’s all probation. I go to trial in four weeks, but my paperwork got lost. I’m five months pregnant. It feels good, and scary. Placement will help me with my baby. I’ve done some meth and weed. Here we have individual therapy twice a week and anger management once a week. When I was on the street, we all didn’t have a place to stay, so we would all look out for each other. We were hustlers. Make our money by selling weed. When I get out, maybe I’ll be a cosmetologist or a psychologist.

-N.K., 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.

"This wasn’t my first choice, this life." by richard ross

This is my first time here. I’ve been here six weeks. Actually this isn’t my first time here. I was here when my mom was pregnant with me. So maybe I was here 16 years ago. I went to foster care, and then I got back in touch with her some months before I got locked up. I lived with my uncle, my mom’s brother, who fostered me and then adopted me until I was 15. I was there most of the time, but then I got kicked out because I argued a lot. I would go live with other people . . . friends. Then I lived with my boyfriend and his mom. I got kicked out and needed somewhere to go. My boyfriend works at a warehouse.

Everything was ok until I was about 13. Every adult I was with said I don't care about you no more.


I was going to school in 12th grade recently. I would go back to school. I do an online school, it’s easy. I could either do it from home or at the teen center at 88th and Vermont. I was born with a lot of drugs in my system. Sometimes I process things slower. I smoke weed but that's about it. I tried meth and coke but it wasn’t for me. Everything was ok until I was about 13. Every adult I was with said I don't care about you no more. I buried both my parents. It’s time for me to take care of myself. When you’re on your own you’re on your own. When my uncle was in a good mood it was ok, but when he was mad he threw me out of the house in a tank top and shorts with no shoes. I had to call my brother who was in the house to throw me down my shoes. It was winter and I went to my friend’s house. He was doing drugs so I just started doing it with him.

You do what you gotta do to survive. It sucks.

This wasn’t my first choice, this life. I would do things like babysitting, but selling weed is a lot easier. I use the money for clothes and food. I would stay mostly with friends. It's a rough life, as some would say. If you had the same life, people would understand. But if they haven’t had this life, people, they can’t believe it. But for someone who’s been through the same, it’s no big deal. You do what you gotta do to survive. It sucks. It's a world of no Christmas presents and no birthday presents. One night I got chased by somebody with a gun. No shit you could lose your life doing this. But being depressed doesn't hurt anybody but you, so you might as well have a smile on your face.

-L.T., age 17


**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.