youth

"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

Children of the Abyss by richard ross

By Jason Sexton

It was the end of an era. But one that must be told.

I watched it growing up in Tracy, a California prison town. Older guys would leave for prison. Bay Area rappers spoke of being brought up middle-class yet catching cases, doing “lock-down” in Preston. Fast juvenile crime and doing time earned stripes and cred for a meaningful street economics.

Racist social injustice yielded police brutality that swelled into events like the Rodney King riots. I was expelled from high school that year, my freshman year; a big gang fight.

The wider scenario everyone knew of but didn’t speak much about—someone [anyone!] would sort this out. Lock ‘em all up.

The scenario, especially in the slowly burning-over suburbs, was fueled by transient youth moving around with their families into more affordable living situations, hoping for a better life. Kids need identity, and often found it in gangs and crime. This was the tempest fueling mass juvenile incarceration during California’s 80s and 90s. CYA held over ten thousand in 1996, when I was there. Conservatively, that’s 135% capacity.

But it’s over now. Closing eleven of fifteen prisons in the past twelve years, it’s over. Kids are not held in cages, raped and abused, made to fight to survive in our prisons. Growing research continues arguing that juvenile incarceration doesn’t work. We’ve climbed out of the abyss.

 

I’m confronted with it as my children get older. They often wonder about my childhood, where I grew up, where my tattoos came from, what constituted my friendships, how I grew up.

A lot goes unspoken, but they wonder and appreciate a warm friendship I maintain with one of my former cell-mates. What is this profound friendship, easily quickened and rekindled with the depth of familial blood, or more?

Their eyes were opened December 2012. Living in England on a Cambridge postdoc, we travelled home to California for Christmas. We spent the holiday with my grandmother in Reno.

She asked if I wanted to visit the downtown art gallery and insisted I go. It was on juveniles in prison. She didn’t realize what she was asking. It’s not easy staring back into the abyss that was one’s former dwelling. But I obliged.

The gallery was more important for my own healing than I realized at the time, for which I’m profoundly grateful to Richard Ross. I took my kids, pointing out places I lived (Ventura, &c.). I wept once or twice. The gallery took me back where I hadn’t been in fourteen years. My children didn’t have words, and I had few to give them.

In my mind I go back more frequently now, teaching university courses on U.S. Institutions and Values, focusing on the prison. I teach an intensive Whittier College course on prison religion. Sometimes I write about prison.

I’ve recently been involved in discussions about the redevelopment of the oldest California juvenile prison, in Whittier, named after eugenicist Fred Nelles. I’ve taken students to it, always with a deep sour feeling in my chest, wishing I didn’t have to.

After a talk Miroslava Chavez-Garcia gave recently, a heated discussion about Nelles transpired. A former Nelles guard was asked pointedly by another audience member if he’d confirm that juveniles were abused there. Hesitating, he responded, “Not on my watch; and when I was there I didn’t tolerate it.” Then, in a flash of foolish honesty, “Nothing happened to them that they didn’t already have coming and didn’t deserve!”

My undergraduate students heard it, and were stunned. The state archivist was shocked. I wasn’t.

I recently took my twelve year old son to Whittier City Planning Commission discussions about the Nelles redevelopment. He was bored, but still wonders. He feels things about the prison, but has few words for it now. Yet his favorite author is Luis J. Rodriguez. I wonder how he will read the era of mass juvenile incarceration.

As they voted 3-2 to develop the Nelles site, one commissioner urged the acknowledgement of those who went through the system and made something of their lives. Nice idea. But we don’t know who these are. There remains a shame and stigma accompanying those who served time as juveniles, especially in their own minds, and in their families, and cities. They don’t want to be known.

We did time for things still difficult to make sense of and speak of. The number of exploding plea bargains must have been obscene (I’d love to know the number), generating endless lambs for the abattoir. This isn’t France, where once a carceral sentence is served nobody dares speak of it. Nosy Americans want to know. “What did you do?” “What were you in for?” Admitting one was incarcerated is not easy, and risky. The abyss is real. Americans love its utilitarian function for dealing with the “other.” But in this moment, should the tens of thousands of formerly incarcerated youth from the era of mass incarceration dare look? Should they come out? Perhaps they’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. But they’ve been damned before.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ve really climbed out of the dark era of U.S. juvenile mass incarceration. Perhaps it’s still trivial for some, perhaps for politicians, who likely won’t bring any lasting change. I worried about this recently as did someone serving life from a juvenile sentence.

The mass youth incarceration era in California has ended, they proclaim. Or at least it’s on its way out with currently under a cool thousand in the state system. After being closed a decade, the forthcoming development of Whittier’s Nelles property signals the era’s final blow. (The ballooning county juvenile carceral situation is another story.)

Hopefully the ultimate end of the juvenile prison will come sooner rather than later. Those who endured its violent clutches continue trying to make sense of it, eager to make meaningful lives after such a destructive era. And we still struggle for words to speak to our children about it.

Jason Sexton is Lecturer in the Honors Program at California State University, Fullerton. He's writing two books on the prison, one introducing the subject of the prison to an evangelical Christian audience and the other giving an interdisciplinary theological account of the incarcerated church. He can be contacted at jsexton@fullerton.edu and his other work is found here: https://fullerton.academia.edu/JasonSexton

"Now I’m growing up." by richard ross

I’ve been here four or five years. I would go to regular school. I would live with my mom, three sisters and two brothers. Then I started running hallways when I was supposed to be in class. I would start trouble. I would get into fights. Kids like to bully me about little stuff, about the clothes you are wearing, or the way you smell. They would suspend me for two or three days, then after a couple of times the school kicked me out and the school found Children’s Village. My counselor said it would be good to be here. There are ten kids in the class. I was left back twice so I’m in 10th grade. I’m in day school here. I go home after school. (There are only a few students like this. It’s a long commute.) I was getting into trouble for dissing teachers. Now I’m growing up. I know what’s wrong and what’s right. At age ten I used to act up in school. Now I’m going to stay here, finish school and become a game designer. I like Call of Duty Advanced Warfare. My favorite subject is global or history.

—K., age 17

K.

K.

"I’m just waiting for someone to help me." by richard ross

Right now I’m on the move. I’m just waiting for someone to help me. My dad is trying to get a home so he can pick me up. Me and my mom don’t really talk. I’ve been here over a year. I was 13 when I first came into the system. I was originally in detention. Now I’m in here for sexual abuse. They’re helping the kids here. I don’t want to be here but I’ve changed my behavior in the last six months, how you feel about things and why. We have staff that help us try to make better decisions. They try to make it the best while we’re here although sometimes the kids will curse the staff out. There are five kids in my cottage, lots of staff. I meet with the social worker once or twice a week for 45 minutes or an hour. My dad is in a shelter right now. My mom is with her husband and my little sister.

S., age 14

S., age 14

Being abused and neglected is not my crime.

I’m here for a sexual assault. I was 12 when charges were first filed. Me and my mom haven’t talked since I was little. We may pass words but there’s no mutual kindness to each other. My mom did something really bad that threatened my life when I was two and caused my dad to go to jail. I was a baby and my mom would take the check that would come for me and would leave. She would leave me there with no food and no clothes and spend the money. My dad would retaliate because of what she did and he was charged with domestic violence. And then they would put me with my mom again. I was with my dad when he got out and we would move through shelters from when I was two until I was about 12. At 12 I went to my first foster home. I was in at least 25 different foster homes and never stayed in one more than a week or so. I felt I was intruding into other people’s lives. It didn’t seem proper to me. My mom was very into drugs and alcohol. I can fit in with other kids. I smoke a little. Drink. I’m sexually active. I want to go to an Ivy League school—Duke, Syracuse or Florida State. I’m not a community college type person. Shelters weren’t that hard. I got to meet a lot of new friends when I was a kid. The longest I stayed in the same shelter was a year and a half. My dad couldn’t have a house. He had money issues. He couldn’t find a job. ACS are the people that find you a home. They intervene only for abuse and neglect. Being poor is not a crime. Being abused and neglected is not my crime. The judge decided I should be sent here. The big choice I had was upstate or here. I lucked out. The only person I trust is my mentor, and I trust my dad. He’s taken care of me all that time. And some of the staff here.

—S., age 14

"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.

34751-1024x683.jpg

"Everything there was horrible." by richard ross

Soon I’m going to be 18. I’m black, Spanish, Jamaican and Guinanese. My mom’s a great cook. She’s makes yam and mac and cheese. I’ve been here about a year. I’m going to be discharged soon. I started getting into trouble when I was 16. I was coming home late, violating curfew, not listening to rules. Now I realize it’s time not to play no more. I got locked up, court remanded, sent to Rikers. Everything there was horrible. The food. The beds. The guards. It was all horrible. We had to do so many strip searches. They never call you by your name; they call you by your number. The stuff I saw at Rikers changed up my act. There are things you just can’t understand but if you’re on the street you understand them differently. Here I got into trouble because they said I threatened staff. I think staff is always mad at you. I’m not threatened by the staff here, not like at Rikers. I’m here with people who have problems and can’t be at home.

V., age 17

V., age 17

I’m not threatened by the staff here, not like at Rikers.

I’m in the cottage which is for kids with sexual behavior issues. I had problems with the way I approach females. I approached them with a bad attitude rather than as evens. My mom would never hit me but she would take away my video games and I want to be a video game designer. Sometimes we get group therapy here, sometimes individual. I got a scar here. I got cut by glass. And here’s another scar. A couple of us from our cottage got into a battle with another cottage. There were a couple of them and a couple of us. They called for a big mediation but at the end of the day the supervisors blamed it on me and my cottage mate. We are NSP, which means we can’t go out of state but it’s no big deal. I’m in 12th grade but I have to pass my Regents to graduate. I want to be a game designer or be a chef, have my own TV show. I know I have to have an education first. My mom visits me. I have no idea where my dad is. I didn’t grow up with him. I have a stepfather but we sort of talk from time to time but we don’t hang out. All my siblings live at home. I trust my mom. She never gave up on me. She works at an arts and crafts place. She used to work at Target.

—V., age 17

"I opened the door and there he was dead." by richard ross

She had me going to the store to steal bread and milk.

I’ve been here three months. This is my third time here. I was 13 when I came the first time. I had a curfew violation. For three days I didn’t come home to my house. My parents didn’t know where I was. I just had to get out of the house. I’ve got a bunch of sisters. I had a brother but he was struck by lightning in front of the house when I was 13. I opened the door and there he was dead. It was crazy. I don’t know my father. When I would run away I would stay at my boyfriend’s house. Sometimes there would be name calling but words don’t hurt me. They would call me mook. That’s a term for gay. I was adopted when I was seven. I think I was five or six when they picked me and took me home. I thought it was crazy. My mom was a drinker and a smoker. Then she put her hands on me. She would put my head in the doorway and try to smash it. That’s why I have bald spots. She had me going to the store to steal bread and milk.

K.D., age 15

K.D., age 15

I’ve been in four foster homes. I have a 37-year-old sister. When I get discharged she will have custody of me. I’ll do better there than my mother who used to try to kick me. She can’t kick me anymore because she’s got diabetic legs and she’s all swelled up. The court will allow my sister and her wife to have custody of me. She’s gay so she’s going to be more tolerant and open. After six months I can have a home visit. I go to court. It’s a long process physically. It’s at least a two hour trip. I want to be a choreographer. I like those Flexn dancers. I imagine if they get cuffed they can bend their arms and get out. I can see a counselor when I need it. There are a lot of kids here that are gay. A lot of them know it; a lot of them are confused. One minute they’re playing basketball, the next minute they’re “extra.” That means they’re going girlie. I don’t do extra. I know what a girl don’t do. I trust my best friend and my sister. My call day is on Thursday. We can talk as long as we want, and they can call us at any time.

- K.D., age 15

"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.

M

M

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.

"Kids were talking trash about my dad. . ." by richard ross

I’m in sixth grade but I’ve been held back. I was born in Fresno. I moved back here when I was 9. There’s a lot of gangbanging in Fresno. My auntie and cousins lived here and my mom decided to move here with my brother, sister and grandmother. My dad is deceased. He died of cancer when I was 5. I’m here because of a lot of suspensions and fighting. Kids were talking trash about my dad and telling me I’m a fat dumb ass. I’ve been here before for trespassing and VP (violation of probation). The original charge was GTA (grand theft auto). I thought my mom wasn’t coming to visit and I got mad and broke the sink off. My mom works as a teacher. This is my first time here. I thought I was going to get out tomorrow but I caught another charge with breaking the sink. My house is just me, Mom, two brothers, 18 and 15, and my sister. - N.I., Age 13

N.I

N.I

 I thought my mom wasn’t coming to visit

and I got mad and broke the sink off.

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

"I don’t want anyone to play me like I’m weak. . ." by richard ross

This is my second time in. I live with my grandma who’s 50 and my mom who is 32. My dad was shot dead when I was 8. They had his funeral on my birthday. It was an altercation. I don’t know what it is about. I live with my grandmother. She has legal custody. My mother lives on the west side but she says it’s too dangerous. They have sort of gangs there like the Boss, the Bloods, Crips, GD but it’s not a serious gang. I came in in October. I was here for two months. Then I was out. And I came back in in January. I’m in for fighting and harassment. They had it as a first-degree assault and then they made it a third degree. I got in a fight with a girl and knocked her teeth out. I don’t know why. I’ve got anger management issues.

B.X

B.X

My dad was shot dead when I was 8.They had his funeral on my birthday.

The only men in my life are my uncle, some cousins and my mom’s boyfriend. My mom works at Wendy’s. I’m in 10th grade. I hope I leave tomorrow. They recommended me for Indian River class, which is downtown. I got in a Facebook argument. Normally I don’t get into fights. I take advanced classes at school. The stuff you get in school here is too easy. I need more of a challenge. I think I’d like to go into the Army to be a nurse or maybe be a homicide detective. My cousins have all been in the Army. They’ve been to Afghanistan and Iraq. I like to leave my house on weekends and hang out with both boys and girls. No real boyfriend. Tuscaloosa ain’t no bad place. You never know what other people are going through, and people don’t know what I’m going through. I don’t want anyone to play me like I’m weak so I don’t walk away from a fight.

- B.X., 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.

"We almost starved to death." by richard ross

This is the second time I’m here. I’ve been here three months now. The first time I was 15 and here for a month. I got tired of the stuff at home so I ran away. I survived by breaking into houses. So I’m here mostly for B&E and burglary. I live with my mom and stepdad. My sisters are both 6. And then I have a younger sister. My mom’s about 40. My dad died of heart attack when I was 4. My mom was doing crack and abandoned me and my sisters. I was staying in a foster home for two or three years. My little sisters and me were abandoned. We almost starved to death. And then I was staying with other relatives and a hospital for two months in Birmingham. Then my mom got me back. She said she was clean but there were problems. I think she was on drugs again.

I was so angry I would strip the bark off trees.

T

T

They said I had behavioral problems and would break toys, push around my sisters, and go off by myself. I was so angry I would strip the bark off trees. They put me in children’s hospital. I was angry at the situation and my mother. I sometimes don’t want to see her, most times. She would badmouth my grandmother. She’s a tough one. Several times she would leave us all without food. I would get extra food at school for the twins and I got in trouble for that. She would leave my 8-month-old sister unsupervised. Where was DHR? I don’t know. They arrested my mom. She did 9 months for a combination of drugs and child abuse. My stepdad was not in the picture until I was 10. There was really no support for my mom either. They put me in Big Oak Ranch. It’s a Christian school in Gadsten. There’s a group for boys and a group for girls about two hours from Tuscaloosa. I’ll probably be there for two years, until I’m 18. I’ve never done drugs. My mom’s boyfriend would beat me and my younger sisters with a belt. Where was Child Protective Services? That’s a question I ask myself but I don’t know the answer.

- T., 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.

"But the police didn't believe me." by richard ross

I just wanted a quiet place to sleep so I went into the closet.

L.N.Q

L.N.Q

This is the second time I’ve been here. I’m here for 10 days. First time I was here was for 8 days. I had a domestic violence with my auntie. Another time it was DV and shoplifting, but my sister grabbed a jacket from the store and threw it to me. My mom has alcohol problems. My auntie has legal custody. My dad’s deceased. He died of throat cancer. I was 12. I’m in eighth grade. I smoke now and then, even though my dad died of cancer. I’m here because I was in my room, I got angry and I put the dresser against the door and then I went into the closet and went to sleep. My auntie called the police and told them I was planning on killing my younger brother, but that’s not true. I just wanted a quiet place to sleep so I went into the closet. But the police didn’t believe me.

- L.N.Q., Age 14

**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.

"It is a battlefield out there sometimes for kids." by richard ross

I am out of prison for 48 days now. Was doing 20 split 5. That means I did five and as long as I didn’t get into trouble it will stay at 5. If you get into trouble it is another 15. I was in county. That’s where they hold 16 and up. If you are involved in major crimes they certify you as young at 16. I did juvenile so many times the juvenile court eventually got tired of me. I was 13 when I was first charged. I was well taken care of by my grandma. She is 72 or 73. My mom was incapable. She was an alcoholic and my dad...I barely knew him. DHR gave custody to my grandma. I think it was a kin adoption. My brothers and sisters were split up and went to different families. Seven of us went to grandma. We were all on financial aid. I made some poor decisions as a kid. I wanted to be a grown man. I blame myself. From 13-17 I was just in and out of here.

Just because someone says “No” doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying.

The next person can say “Yes.”

I have had the flu for a few days but I wanted to come here and meet you and tell you today I came through the front door. I was failing back then but going through all this, everyone gets a sign. Some people don’t pay attention. I got my GED and learned how to weld here. Now I work at Burger King. They know I have a felony but you can’t lie about it. I applied for a lot of jobs and they all turned me down, but somebody gave e a chance. It’s hard striving for success. Just because someone says “No” doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying. The next person can say “Yes.” The Reverend has helped me get into Shelton State. Now I am staying with my sister. It’s me, her and her daughter. Prison was way more hard than here. Detention has a hands-off policy about kids here. Prison you get physically beat up. You have to learn to be a man in a hurry. You never know what can happen to you. People will pick fights. Here you get slapped on the wrists. Prison is hardcore. Only the strong survive there. I was at Draper, B.F. County, I moved around so I could get certificates and try and get some education. I am working on getting my welding certificate now. But I have to go through so many people. I can’t leave the state of Alabama.If I get tools maybe I can do something.

K.F

K.F

I met the Reverend when I was in here as a kid and he stayed with me. Religion is important to me. It is part of my life. I think everybody should get a second chance. Even someone who was charged with two 1st degree robberies and a shooting. It is a battlefield out there sometimes for kids. Now I have been working at Burger King 21 days. It’s a different environment. My sister works at a nursing home. She gets $16/hour I think. I get minimum wage. Our apartment costs $320/month. Who do I trust? My sister, my pastor and Miss X. These are people who have been around me most of my life. Mostly I didn’t have to do what I did, but I was with the wrong crowd. The others I was with are repeat offenders so I don’t spend any time with them. Some are back on the inside.

- K.F., Age 23

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

"I hope I can go home. . ." by richard ross

Central_CA_4.20.14-17 I was in GH. They thought I was 14. I was in a month. I was released and then violated. The teacher told me that if I ever came back to school they would get the students to beat me up. Teacher said I was cursing and intimidating in school. I have to be in court in three days. I hope I go home to make my life. I’ve been here two times. I was here from March to April 3rd. Then back on the 25th. The teacher said I was talking smack to her. I had to wake up at 5:30AM to get the bus to school. I’m in ninth grade. I just kick it with my homies. I don’t bang. I got the three dots tatted when I was about 11.

I’m going to take care of my baby.

I took classes on how to change my baby’s diapers.

I have a tat on my back with my daughter’s name. My girlfriend is 13. I took classes on how to change my baby’s diapers. I called my baby mama yesterday and I know the baby was born, but I don’t know when. We get phone calls Thursday. We don’t have to pay for them, but we only get like four minutes. Her mom is taking care of the baby. I’m going to take care of my baby. I have a friend that sells sodas and juices. I know how to make pupusas. No, I don’t know how to make the masa, but I can make like the tortilla flat and then put the stuff in the middle. I am half Mexican and half Salvador. At home there is my mom, my sister (she is 21) and her baby - my nephew - and my mom’s boyfriend. My dad? RIP. He died when I was young. I was six or seven when he died. He packed his stuff and never came back. My mom said they killed him, but they never said who. He used to kick it with his homies once in a while, but he never was affiliated. I hope I can go home on when I talk to the judge.

- B.S., age 13

 

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

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

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

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

Central_CA_4.20.14-15

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

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

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

-S.M., age 13

 

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

". . .nothing but some stupid shit." by richard ross

I have been here two months. This is my first time here. They just picked me up in the streets right after school. I went to the station. I couldn’t go home. They wouldn’t let me go to my mom. I was on probation. I’m here for nothing but some stupid shit. I live with my mother, two brothers and my sister. My 18-year-old sister is going to Pierce College. My 22-year-old brother finished college. My other sister is messing up. She ditches school. She is supposed to go to school at 7AM, but my mom goes into work at 7:30AM and my sister wants to come back to the house. She is messing up. She is hanging out with the wrong people.

Central_CA_4.20.14-14

I couldn’t go home. They wouldn’t let me go to my mom.

They say I am gang affiliated, but that’s not true. My dad is in Mexico. He was deported for drinking in front of the apartment house where we live. Public intoxication. There was a warrant out for him and he was in jail for a week before he was deported. He didn‘t have any papers. My mom has papers though. I’ve been on house arrest. My court date was in 2012 and then my second was July of 2013. I had house arrest, but they cut it short. They told me if I did one thing wrong I would be in Juvie. I had four months to be straight and then there would not have been any problems. My mom works at a fast food restaurant. After school, I go to my grandma’s to eat. My 18-year-old brother watches me.

-D.C., age 13

 

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

"I was gang since day one." by richard ross

I’m from Watts. I’ve been here two weeks. I am in seventh grade. First time I was here earlier this year. I was here five weeks ago for a week. I was brought in at 3AM by LAPD. I went to court yesterday. There was no space for 13 year-olds there so now I am here in Unit J. My grandma visits me. My mom passed away when I was three. My dad lives in Long Beach. There’s a restraining order that my grandma put on him. He was in jail when my mom died. She was in a car accident on the 105. Her car flipped over and she was thrown out and the car ran over her. She never liked wearing seatbelts. My brother was there with her. He has had 17 surgeries in his head. He’s 18 now. My dad builds big boats like the Titanic. Central_CA_4.20.14-8

I am wearing my county shoes. They are jail shoes.

They would describe me as gang affiliated with BHW. Bounty Hunter Watts. They are mostly blacks, but take Hispanics. I was gang since day one. I was born in the projects. My grandma gets SSI. She adopted us. Me and my three brothers and my sister. I went to Compton Court. My grandmother and brother were there and my lawyer Mr. G. He said, “I am trying to bring you out of jail. I don’t want you in there.” My grandma can barely walk. She has leg problems. She was making tamales for 20 years putting cornhusks on her knees. It sucked up the liquid from her bones. I’ll probably go to placement. Judge got to decide where, placement or a group home. My other grandma passed away three years ago. It was on my sister’s birthday. She was going to have her quinceañera, but she didn’t want to have it because that was the day she died. She died of alcohol poisoning. I am wearing my county shoes. They are jail shoes.

- H.C., age 13

 

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

"Six different people raped me." by richard ross

First time I was here I was 14. This time I’ve been here for two months. I went AWOL from placement. When I was upset with my mom, I used drugs. I regret that. I live with my mom, my 14-year-old sister, my nine-year-old brother, and my stepdad. He’s protecting my family while I’m in here. I don't feel like I’m 15. I don’t feel like I’m a little kid anymore. I started doing meth when I was 13. I got it from my friends. First I was smoking, then sniffing, then doing hot rows, then I started shooting up. That was very messed up. I was running away from my problems.

I was raped when I was trying to protect my sister.

I let him rape me so she wouldn’t get hurt.

CA_Central_12_22_13-31

From three to five I was raped by my mom’s stepdad. He escaped to Guatemala. That affected me bad. I got beaten by my mom’s ex-boyfriend. I was raped when I was trying to protect my sister. I let him rape me so she wouldn’t get hurt. That’s the reason for all my bad behavior. My PO and social worker don’t get it. I can’t be in a group home or foster home, I have to be taking care of my family. Why punish me? My social worker knows why I keep doing this. I’ve had therapies since I was 14. But it stopped. I have these memories all the time. It all falls apart. My mother works with my grandma, they collect scrap metal. My grandma and aunt wanted to help me and take me into their homes. My social workers say I’m psychotic, but I’m not. I could be dead by now. They should know the reasons. What I’m doing is not my behavior, it’s the things I’ve been through. Six different people raped me. I’m trying to learn by going to church. You can’t forget, but you can learn to forgive.

-N.B., 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.

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

CA_Central_12_22_13-29

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

She gives me extra time for just stupid shit.

 

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

-S.I., Age 15

 

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

"I was messed up." by richard ross

CA_Central_12_22_13-28

I should have graduated in here but I’m gonna go to a continuation school. I don’t have much education.

I’m gonna be here four more months even though I’m 18. When I went to court they said I would have to do six months. I’ve been here 3 times. I’m from El Salvador. I came here when I was eight. My mom married a citizen, so now I’m a citizen as well. As soon as I get out, my mom wants to take me to Salvador to show me what it’s like. I was at a party and it got raided and the cops asked me for information. I didn’t give them any; I wouldn’t even give them my name. I was messed up. I should have given them my name. I live with my mom who works at a fabric factory and my stepdad who works at a pawnshop. My younger sister is sixteen and she has a two-year-old daughter. I have an older brother—they’ve both been in the system before. I’m not really a gang member but I’ve done some tagging. A1A and stuff like that. I should have graduated in here but I’m gonna go to a continuation school. I don’t have much education. I get out in two months, and then I don’t know.

-K.G., age 18

 

**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.