Features

Call Me Mandi by richard ross

Mandi in San Quentin An edited version of this text is featured on The Marshall Project

 

By Richard Ross

Just north of the city of San Francisco, across the bay at the tip of the Marin County, stands San Quentin, California Men’s Prison. The crenelated castle-like towers remind you it was built when Abraham Lincoln was still President. It is also the home to the only gas chamber and death row in the state with 550 condemned men.

It is also the work place of Mandi Camille Hauwert, the only transgender correctional officer on the staff.

Every work day, she walks into a hyper masculine world. In addition to the 4,000 male prisoners, many of the corrections officers are former military, forming their own band of brothers. As James Brown sang, “It’s a man’s man’s man’s man’s world.”

Hauwert had entered the correctional system after four years active in the Navy, deployed in the Pacific as a damage control and assessment officer. However, in early 2012, after seven years of working at San Quentin, Mandi ceased to hide her true feelings. She began to wear earrings and makeup and let her hair grow.

Mandi, 35, shows me her correctional academy graduation picture with her parents. It is not easy to recognize the broadly mustached officer as the blonde woman in front of me.

Six feet tall and solidly built, Mandi has been taking hormones for almost three years. She says they often make her emotional and teary. She’s especially emotionally as she recounts the number of times she is hurt by “gender misidentification” during her work day—when the guards and prisoners still refer to her as masculine instead of feminine. In fact, she has been sent home several times for crying, although it is nothing she can easily control.

An occasional misidentification of gender might be chalked up to preponderance of men in this world, but the body language of the world around her is often far from subtle. Two or three men, guards as well as inmates will stop a conversation, angle closer to each other and exchange words in a hushed tone as their eyes follow Mandi. Sometimes it is louder and more specific. The most insulting comments are from the inmates just coming into the system. Mandi says she’s heard comments like: “He’s just a fucking faggot with a fetish for women’s underwear.”

The people who do treat her with respect are usually those who get to know her better. “When the population knows me and knows who I am, they usually accept me more as a person,” Mandi says.

Still every day can be an endurance trial. “Being inside the prison everyday, it's tearing me apart,” Mandi says. “ It's erasing the sense of myself, my feelings of self worth.” She adds, “I believe it is partly the military mind-set which disallows flexibility when considering gender.”

In the prison with four cellblocks stacked five tiers high, the environment is pure masculine. Among the guards, who are primarily African-American, one of casual forms of address is “brother,” accompanied by clasped hands brought to the chest, an embrace and three solid pats on the back. But Mandi is not a brother. White, broad shouldered, she is nobody’s brother. While some people treat her with respect, others can be hurtful.

In the guards’ tan and black uniforms, gender is difficult to differentiate. Although her badge is the same, Mandi’s uniform is slightly different than those of her colleagues. She wears pants, but they are cut slightly differently than the men’s, and instead of a long black masculine tie, she wears a short, crossed ribbon. Her blouse also has pleats and buttons right over left rather than vice versa. Her long sandy blond hair is often tied up. She wears make up and has her nails done. Her voice with the inmates and peers is gentle and demure.

The ability of the institution to embrace her has been slower than she would like. She did receive formal notification about proper dress code and all the formal State of California notification as to her rights, but she was warned that “cross-dressing is not allowed.” Although the formalities hinted at what she might expect as a transgender, it is hard to translate that into a warm environment. If an individual worked, for instance, at the Berkeley campus of the University of California, which is just south of the prison, the transformation might be significantly easier--but this is California Men’s Prison.

There are three transgender inmates at the prison, Mandy notes. They are chromosomally male, and so they are housed at the men’s facility. Likewise those who are chromosomally women, even if they identify as male, are housed at the women’s prison.

Mandi’s work responsibilities are primarily patrolling the visiting room for inmates and visitors. Juan Haines, an inmate and managing editor of the San Quentin News, describes Mandi as one of the kinder officers in the system. He said, “Many of the guards feel that since you are in prison you are undeserving of kindness and love. They don’t realize that my job on visiting day is to be a father to my daughter. Mandi gets this and helps make visits positive.”

Mandi’s Facebook page reveals an open longing about what family means to her. She has been fortunate enough to be embraced by her mother and father, and Mandi herself openly laments her inability to have children. Transgender people are not allowed to adopt in California.

Her postings are a wealth of self-reflection—a complex narrative of the journey she has embraced since she came out to the prison staff. She is painfully candid and honest: “Each and every day I rediscover little parts of myself that have been long forgotten, or just never before accessed,” she wrote in one recent post. “I do not know, & I cannot say what the experience of growing up as oh girl is like, but what I can say with absolute clarity and certainty, is the experience of transitioning to womanhood later in life, is nothing short of mind blowing.

This transition is documented with an almost continual stream of selfies—mostly headshots of a shy but almost glamorous looking woman.

Mandi doesn’t write about any complaints against her work colleagues, as she fears more discrimination. “I have existed in a military or paramilitary world all my life,” she says. “I know how this works. And where would I start? I am misidentified by pronoun not once or twice a day but tens, hundreds of times a day—it’s endless and it’s crushing. It’s not worth it to me. It’s like Chinese water torture---one drop at a time, one pronoun at a time, one snide comment and aside---one after another. It’s torture.”

Still she knows that others have had it worse. Mandi herself attended the same junior high school in Oxnard where, in 2008, a 15-year-old gay student was shot twice and killed by another student. The assailant eventually pleaded guilty and received a sentence of 21 years.

Mandy’s “gender affirmation” surgery is scheduled for March. One advantage of her prison job is that the procedure is covered by her corrections officer insurance.

“I’m glad you are doing my story,” Mandi tells me. “I would hope the outcome would be to make life easier for other transgender people. Let's just say I'm not used to positive thinking and have not anything positive in my life in a long time. I have never really smiled much, but part of that also has to do this growing up depressed.”

She admits: “Yes, I am anxious” about the upcoming operation, as she sweeps a lock of her blond hair from across her face with her perfectly manicured nail tips--clear lacquer to comply with prison regulations. But she adds, “I will be home recouping with my family. My parents support me, and I am intensely close to my sister. My brother, who is a devout Christian, has disavowed me.”

"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.

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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

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 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

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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.

"When you lead this life . . ." by richard ross

I’ve been here five months. I live in North Hollywood. This is my seventh time here. I was born in Koreatown. I was living with my dad and four brothers. My mom is not in the picture. My dad was in jail until I was 12. My grandma raised me from two to 12. There was no grandpa. My dad was around for about a year when he got out of prison, but he violated and went back. Now he’s been out for about a year again, and I’m living with him. He works at a hospital cleaning equipment. Three of my brothers live with me. I have four brothers: 17, 18, 19, and 20. They all have different moms. And they’re all in Clanton—it’s a Valley gang. I’m gang affiliated. I got jumped in for 13 seconds. Sometimes you have to go on different missions. No, I didn't get humped in, I’m a virgin. If you get humped in, you stay a hoodrat and get used over and over by the homies.

It’s embarrassing. It’s really not me in here, it’s all the mistakes I’ve done in here.

I should be in 11th grade, but I dropped out in 8th grade. I don’t go to school. I’ve been to lots of placements, camps. The longest I was home since I was 12 was nine months. I have no history of abuse. I just go AWOL a lot to hang out with my homies. Now I’ve been living with my brother’s baby mama. She’s 17 now. She was 15 when she had her baby. That brother is in jail. He’s the 18 year old. He’s out of state, doing a homicide. If I win my fitness, I’ll get a job. It’s embarrassing. It’s really not me in here, it’s all the mistakes I’ve done in here. It’s gonna be hard for me to change, but I’m really working on it.

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When you lead this life and you’re on the outs, you just count your days, because that’s where it leads you.

My family is the gang, really. My uncles, my aunts, even my grandmother who’s 52 is in a gang. My cousins are the peewees; they do all the work. My dad, he’s a duke. He’s 32. He sells drugs everywhere in LA. I was selling as well. My family’s uncontrollable. My five uncles—three are in jail for murder, two for attempted murder. My aunts are in for 211—deadly weapons. I’ve got one brother fighting murder, another brother in and out of juvie, they’re all dope related, they’re all in the gang . . . my family is the gang. When you lead this life and you’re on the outs, you just count your days, because that’s where it leads you.

-L.V., 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.

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.

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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.

"Because I’m the new girl" by richard ross

I’ve been here and there for a month at a time. I was a month in girl care. Mom and dad don’t live together. If I get out, I really don’t have anywhere to live. The last time I lived with my mom was in a shelter, four years ago. It was a shelter for kids as well over on Gower in Hollywood. I had just turned 12. I remember it there was never a birthday cake for me. I’ve been in group homes where there’s a lot of dual supervision. One group home had boys and girls together, DCFS and probation. And they were completely out of control. They were crazy. They be peeing on other people’s beds, or taking a crap . . . they’d be having sex . . . I stayed there for three days, and then I got kicked out. One of the staff was very provoking, so I choked her and went. Then they put me in another placement. It was a six-bed place, three different houses.

They were trying to get me to stay with my sister . . . but she don't want me.

I’ve always been fighting a lot . . . I just don’t like to be disrespected. I should get a high school diploma soon. They were trying to get me to stay with my sister—she’s 22—but she don't want me. My days here are me just sitting here, until like, at least next year. My mom is a meth addict and she sells crack out of our house. My dad, he’s a pimp. He’s also on drugs. My mom started doing drugs when we were taken from her…or maybe before then. My dad, he was doing drugs since forever. I went AWOL from placement just so I could go to a mall and chill with my friends. Usually I just do some weed. When I was 13 I drank for two weeks straight. I poisoned myself and I could have died, but I didn’t. I would get real bad beatings from my mom. She kicked me in the face when we were living in the shelter. She started choking me, they pulled her off and took me away.

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I’m mostly here because I don’t have a place to go to.

I barely talk to my dad. I’ve never been to a foster home. Nobody wants any older body in a foster home. I think foster homes are a lot quieter. Group homes I get into lots of fights just because I’m the new girl. I was gangbanging but they never caught me or charged me. When you bang you protect your territory, nobody can touch your property, or make any money on the property you own. If they try, the gang put on a T.O.S.—termination on sight. Means you kill them, hurt them, or beat them up bad. I’m part of BPS, the Jungles. Black Peace Stones. The Jungles are the projects; they’re in Crenshaw. They run from Coliseum all the way up. Girls get humped into the gang. Means they have to have sex with all the gang members. If you’re gay or a virgin, then you have to fight. You fight to get your rankings. You fight boys or you get jumped on or you do one-on-ones. Honestly I don't know where my case stands. I might get camp, or lockdown, or placement. But nobody from placement has come to get me. Most of the places I’ve been are dual custody. I’m mostly here because I don’t have a place to go to.

-T.U., 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.

The Boy in Cell Number 7 by richard ross

WA_Seattle12 It’s April now, and I’m wondering how it came down to this, and how I stooped this low, and how I am in here because of these so-called friends.

We just got back from school, and soon it will be lunchtime. We walk over to G-unit, and I walk straight up the stairs to my room while others stand around wasting time talking to Officer Rob, annoying him.

Rob is the guard assigned to our unit. He’s younger than the others and kinder too. He sings R&B songs to himself throughout the day and he doesn’t send us to our rooms for little things.

Our unit is just like the others: There are 10 rooms numbered from 1 to 10 – the four right ones have double bunks.

I walk to my room upstairs to Number 7 and close the door behind me. I hear the door lock, and I sit on my bed reading my “Spiderman” comic book until the next time I get to come out.

WA_Seattle30This cell is so small sometimes I think I am living in my bathroom. My bunk is welded to the wall, and I have a thin mattress and two thin, brown blankets. There is toilet paper hanging from my ceiling, lots of gang writing carved into the walls. All I can see are white bricks and my purple steel door.

It’s a very cold cell.

I have been here for well over three months and still don’t know when I’m getting out because they keep moving my court date.

I am not a bad person. I am only 14 years old and even though I am in juvenile detention, I still don’t disrespect my staff. I like to be honest and follow rules even though I’m looking at a harsh sentence. I get so lonely sometimes I start to talk to myself. I can’t have a roommate because I am so small and scrawny, but I am used to this now.

When the door pops, I feel relieved that it’s time for lunch. Once again we have the same warm tuna sandwich with American cheese. I am so used to this food now and I’m always looking forward to making trades for food since I barely get full. I hang out with older kids since I am the youngest and people use to take advantage of me by stealing my food.

These three other kids take good care of me since I’ve known them for so long and they don’t let people take my food.

The oldest is Ferris. He is 17 and has slicked hair and light skin. He is also very tall, almost six feet. The second is Nako. He is very short, pudgy and has dark skin and a Mohawk to go with his Presley’s, sideburns that go down to his chin. The final one is Ortiz. He is 5-foot-6, has a goatee and is the live one of the group. He’s cracking jokes from morning to night.

WA_Seattle31As I walk down the stairs from my cell to the day room where there are four tables with four benches around each, I think about how every day is exactly the same and how I am so used to this.

Then Officer Rob calls my name as I’m walking down to lunch.

“You got court, Cuban. Go get a blue top and go to Post One.”

I walk over to the laundry area and I stare at the clothes we all wear every day: white shirts, white socks, blue pants and blue tops. I look for a small sized blue top with the V-neck collar and put it on.

As I am walking to Post One, I am wondering what this is about. I am feeling nervous and anxious to find out where I am headed.

An officer at Post One tells me to stand against the wall until they come to get me. I walk over to the wall, shaking, wondering what is going to happen to me.

 

 

Ivan wrote this essay  for Rich Mohan's language arts class at King County Juvenile Youth Services; it was later published in the Interagency Academy literary journal and again at KUOW.org. He currently lives in Shoreline, Washington.

"She kept beating me up. . ." by richard ross

I think I’m from Laverne. I live in an apartment. I don't know where, just an apartment. I live with my mom, she goes to Citrus College, my brother who’s six and sister who’s eight. I don’t do drugs. I do a lot of sports. I like to read a lot. I read everything—realistic, fiction, every kind. My friends and me, we all go to the library a lot. We read and take naps. In two weeks I go back to court. Then I either go to my mom or foster care. I went to foster care the first time at age ten. There were two other foster kids there. After 11 months, I went back to court and they told me to go back to my mom. They kept on taking me from my mom because she kept on beating me up and the neighbors would report the beatings. But now my mom has started taking parenting classes at Citrus.

My friends and me, we all go to the library a lot. We read and take naps.

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My social worker came and took me to a childcare center. I spent the whole day there. Then I went to the social worker’s office and I stayed with her until midnight while they called and tried to find a foster home for me. Finally V, the social worker, took me to a foster home in Simi Valley. My brother and sister went to one foster care home and I went to another. I’d like to go live with my dad, he lives somewhere in Florida. My dad left my mom. They had an argument when I was 8 and dad said he needed his own space. That was four years ago. I saw him once in foster care and then twice since I’ve been here. The last time was only yesterday. He works for a company in Florida. They don’t give him any breaks and he works a lot of over shifts and weekends.

-K.F., age 12

 

**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.

". . . he crossed the anger line." by richard ross

Sometimes you get angry at people and the anger takes control.

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I was born in Mexico. I live in Panorama now. Been here six days. The court decides where I go from here. Sometimes you get angry at people and the anger takes control. Me and this kid had a discussion, but then he crossed the anger line. The discussion was about racial things. He was African American. He called me a fat Chinese kid and said your parents are wetbacks. I live at home with my mom and dad. She cleans houses and he does construction. They’re both waiting for papers. I have two younger sisters. I’m the only boy child.

-K.K., 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.

"Ain’t no way I’m coming back here." by richard ross

They’ll keep me detained until the next court date, but I’m gonna be the child they want me to be.

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I’m from the high desert, Antelope Valley. I’m in the sixth grade. I’ve been here four days. This is my second time here. I was being stupid. I live with my grandma and my grandpa and brother and sister. She’s a teacher and he works at Lockheed. I think I get to go home in two weeks. My mom lives in Texas. I haven’t seen her since I was 3. I don’t know where my real dad is. I’ve been here 16 days total. They’ll keep me detained until the next court date, but I’m gonna be the child they want me to be. Ain’t no way I’m coming back here.

-E.L., 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.

". . . it wasn’t loaded." by richard ross

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DCFS put me with my granny . . . She’s a saint.

Grandma visits every Sunday. I’ve been here for four months. I consider this an opportunity for learning. My mom passed away when I was 12 from cancer. DCFS put me with my granny. My dad is not around. She takes care of my two brothers, my two sisters, and her own mentally disabled daughter. She’s a saint. She’s my legal guardian. I’ve never been to a foster home. I’m not a gang member. I knew I screwed up. I feel bad for myself but also for my grandmother. Everybody has guns, its no big deal. A friend gave me a gun . . . it wasn’t loaded. The school is in the hood. Most of the kids grew up around that shit, so it wasn’t no big deal to them. It was just “you got caught with a gun, oh well.” But to everybody else, there was some other shooting going on in Colorado, so I was supposed to be real bad.

-K.R., 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.

"In my country people play like that." by richard ross

This is my first time I detention. I’ve been here 5 months because my attorney said I need to see a special doctor. I’m from Norwalk. I live with my mom, who’s a babysitter, stepdad, who’s a mechanic, and three step brothers. I don't know my real dad. I’m in eighth grade. No there’s no gang affiliation. I’m here because of an incident. I came to the US. from Nicaragua. I did something that I didn't know it was illegal. I didn't know the rules and laws. In my country people play like that. I think the attorney told me to see a doctor to see if I know the difference between good and bad. CA_Central_12_15_13-9

I did something that I didn't know it was illegal.

My mom is fighting for her papers. I came to the US. on a U5 visa. It allows somebody in the family to visit a family member when he’s been hurt. I visited my brother because he was raped by my uncle. He was five. I think my uncle was in jail, but he’s out now. My mom doesn't like him. I was living with my aunt and uncle here and I came with my grandma by airplane. They tried to send me back to Nicaragua, but they may put me with a program or placement here. I didn't know what I did was wrong.

-I.N., 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.

"This isn’t my first time here . . . but it is my last." by richard ross

CA_Central_12_15_13-8 I was born in San Bernardino, now I live in Culver City. I live with my mom and dad. They visit me as well as Po Po, my grandpa. My mom is in school, my dad is out of school and he’s about to work. I have four younger brothers, two older brothers and a younger sister. At home I have my own room. We have a four-bedroom house. In one room three of my brothers live but I have my own room and so does my older brother. The other kids have bunk beds. This isn’t my first time here . . . but it is my last. I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing. I think I want to be a mechanic. I want to be able to fix almost anything.

-L.I., age 12

 

**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.

"They tried to get me involved . . ." by richard ross

I’m from Palmdale. This is my first time here. I’ve been here three months. I’m from Helena, Montana. I live there with my mom, stepdad, two sisters and a brother. I was visiting my grandpa and grandma in Palmdale. I go there once a year during the summer as it gives me a break from my mom and her a break from us. I was with my brother. He does drugs like heroine. I visit a month every year. My brother is part of a gang, but they don’t have a name. They are just kids that hang out together. At home I was suspended for truancy. I was in sixth grade. CA_Central_12_15_13-6

My brother is part of a gang, but they don’t have a name. They are just kids that hang out together.

A lot of time here I play with my cousins they are four and five. My brother does heroine like twice a month. They tried to get me involved but I didn’t want to. I ran home and told my mom. She called the police and my brother was sent to jail twice for drugs and possession. Mom is a vet at an animal shelter. Not horses or big animals. My dad works at a gas station. He’s with my step-mom and other cousins. I don’t see him much. My mom, grandma, grandpa, and stepdad have visited me here. This is where Palmdale is on the map.

-C.N., Age 12

 

**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.

[Guest Post] End Solitary Confinement of Youth in Adult Jails and Prisons by richard ross

Governors have an historic opportunity through the Prison Rape Elimination Act to do just that:cfyj_prea_teal-01

From Campaign For Youth Justice's Liz Ryan: This year, governors will need to certify that their states are in compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), a law that Congress unanimously approved in 2003, designed to end sexual violence behind bars. To implement PREA, the U.S. Department of Justice issued regulations, including provisions restricting the placement of youth in adult jails and prisons. The U.S. Department of Justice regulations state: “as a matter of policy, the Department supports strong limitations on the confinement of adults with juveniles.” The regulations further ban the housing of youth in the general adult population, prohibit contact between youth and adults in common areas, ensure youth are constantly supervised by staff; and limit the use of isolation.

Simply separating youth from adults in adult jails and prisons isn’t enough to protect youth. When officials separate youth from adults in adult facilities under the guise of protection, they are addressing one problem and creating another. In order to keep youth separated from adults, youth are often placed in their cells for excessive periods of isolation—isolation that equates to solitary confinement. The report, “Growing Up Locked Down” released by Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, along with Ted Koppel’s March 22, 2013 program about youth in solitary confinement in adult jails and prisons showed the harm this practice causes, including depression, exacerbating already existing mental health issues, and putting youth at risk of suicide. It is crucial that governors implement best practices being set under the PREA to fully protect youth in the justice system—by removing youth from adult jails and prisons and by accessing federal support to undertake new reforms.

 

Take Action Now: 

Click here https://www.change.org/petitions/governors-remove-youth-from-adult-jails-and-prisons# to sign the petition, which will be sent to governors nationwide. Your signature makes a difference.

Liz Ryan brings more than two decades of experience to the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), an organization she founded that is dedicated to ending the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating children in the adult criminal justice system.

Solitary Confinement: A Mother's Perspective by richard ross

 [Guest post by Grace Bauer, Co-Director of Justice 4 Families]

 

IMG_4379_750

 

In what feels like another lifetime…

 

It was summer and we decided to take the kids and my mom fishing.  My son wanted to bring his new bike with the training wheels.  As soon as his dad took it out of the truck, he was off.  Happy to have a big place to ride, he had a smile from ear to ear. 

 

 

A little while passed and he asked his dad to take the training wheels off.   Once the wheels were off, his dad held on to the back to steady the bike and he began pedaling.  It didn’t take long for him to tell his dad that he could do it and dad should let go.  I held my breath and his dad held on for a minute longer, despite his protests.  Dad was running behind him and then he stopped.  He was right!  He could do it!  Off he went, pedaling like mad, red hair blowing in the wind, yelling the whole time, “I’m doing it!  I’m riding my big boy bike!”        

 

...

 

[aside title="Sign the ACLU Petition to end juvenile solitary confinement"] ACLU Action: A Mother's Plea: Stop Solitary Confinement of Children[/aside]Solitary confinement, or isolation, is widely used around the country in jails, prisons and detention centers for adults as well as young people.  Until very recently, few people, beyond attorneys, families and advocates, gave it much thought.  Isolation, like so many corrections practices, happens behind the walls of silence, long ingrained into facility culture and practice.  In our punishment-oriented society, we tend to think those behind bars deserve whatever they get.  This kind of thinking is fueled by a distorted sense of fear created by media and political rhetoric so much so that falling crime rates and research showing the failure of such practices barely register in society’s consciousness.

 

When a young person enters into secure detention, they typically become isolated from their families and communities.  Exorbitant phone costs, limited visitation procedures and times and placement in facilities long distances from home all add to that sense of isolation.  Often, facilities will have a standard 2-6 week “intake” period where the child is not allowed any visitors and very limited communication by phone.  Given that the majority of children involved in juvenile justice systems come from families who live below the poverty line, many families do not have transportation to reach far away facilities or the extra money to cover the cost of calls that experts describe as “gross profiteering.” These are common practices in detention that fail to take into account the research that demonstrate the critical importance, of maintaining family and community connections, to the successful reentry of young people and to prevent recidivism.

 

My son is 25 years old.  He has spent the majority of the last 15 years in detention centers, youth prisons, county jails and state prisons.  His sisters have grown up, his niece was born and will celebrate her sixth birthday, our home was lost in a hurricane, a new home was built, his sister started college (and will graduate) and his uncle died, all while he was confined.  He earned his high school diploma but has few job skills, little job experience, no home, no family of his own, few friends and few prospects on the horizon.  We have missed him and his presence in our lives and he has missed life, period.

 

He will return to society, at some point, along with roughly 800,000 others released each year; 95% of all sentenced inmates.  The “tough on crime” rhetoric may make folks feel better but the reality of mass incarceration impacts everyone in society through lost revenues, increased health cost, lower wages, unemployment, expensive corrections and judicial budgets-- the list goes on and on.  As facilities cut back on the very things that lead to successful reentry, we can expect that young people, returning to society, will return less prepared, more disadvantaged and more deeply scarred.

 

All of the above and then we add on the deep psychological damage of solitary confinement.  During this video, you can see how isolation looks during a 24- hour period.  You are able to watch the entire day pass in mere minutes.  From the outside looking in, especially in this condensed version, you might believe that isolation isn’t that bad.  In fact, for those of us living in a high tech, ever-connected world, 24 hours of being disconnected might seem like a welcome relief from the endless text messages, calls, voice mails, email and social media alerts!  Before you volunteer yourself, lets think about this from the inside looking out.

When my son was 13 and placed in a notorious juvenile prison, he spent nearly a year in protective custody, AKA solitary confinement.  In those early days we had no information on the damaging effects of solitary and actually felt relief that he felt safe from the rampant violence in the facility.  He was released from state secure care in 2002; four years would pass before we learned the truth about his time in isolation.  It should have been evident that something traumatic and life changing had happened and we certainly saw the signs of something but we didn’t know what.  In 2006, a young man confined with him at the youth prison called to tell us about the day my son was raped by another young person, in solitary, who had been placed in the cell by guards.  Those guards then took bets on which “kid would win”.  My son lost the fight that day. Throughout his years of incarceration, he has experienced solitary confinement in every facility, often for extended periods of time.

 

 

Crisis/isolation rooms at the recently built Kapolei Court Complex & Secure Detention, Kapolei, Hawaii. (Richard Ross / Juvenile In Justice)

[aside title="Sign the ACLU Petition to end juvenile solitary confinement"] ACLU Action: A Mother's Plea: Stop Solitary Confinement of Children[/aside]

I clearly remember the call from my son.  “Mom, this can’t be legal.  This is so wrong!  I can’t believe they are doing this to this man.” This from a young man that never complains about his own stark living conditions, poor treatment, the brutality that is inflicted on him or that he witnesses almost daily or the arbitrary enforcement of rules.  His concern during that call was for another man being held in solitary.  This man, who was a little older than my son, was quite obviously mentally ill.  My son was afraid for this man’s life.  He told me about the man’s behavior over the last few days, including banging his head on the bars and floor hard enough to knock himself out and needing stitches to close wounds, screaming for hours until he was too hoarse to scream anymore, crying uncontrollably for hours, threatening to kill himself and talking to people who weren’t there during hallucinations.  My son, the “criminal”, called me to see if I could find help for this man because he was very concerned that the man was going to hurt himself or take his own life and he felt like the facility staff were ignoring how serious this situation actually was.

 

From January 25th through May 8th of this year, my son was confined in isolation, though the prison called it “protective custody.”  He was confined for 110 days with the exception of being allowed to take a shower on Monday and Thursdays and use the phone at midnight or later.  Several of his showers and calls were denied for unknown reasons.  The average call lasted 6 minutes. That means that over a 110-day period my son showered approximately 30 times and was able to speak with us for about 3 hours.  In this particular case, my son was confined for his own safety after being stabbed three times during the robbery of his cell.  As his mother, I am grateful that he was kept safe and at the same time, terribly troubled by this prolonged period of isolation and its impact on his mental health.

 

 

[feature href=”https://www.juvenile-in-justice.com/take-action” buttontext=Go!”] Ready to take action against juvenile isolation? [/feature]

 

I have witnessed the long-term impact of my son’s time in isolation and prison.  Some nights when I try to sleep, visions of the assaults play in my mind, like a movie that you can’t turn off.  I have sat across from him, trying to maintain my own composure, while mentally cataloging and assessing the bruises and wounds on his body.  I have waited for calls or visits where I can know, at least for a short time, that he is safe and alive.  I listen to him talk about how useless he is and how he has no worth.  I held back tears (at least, in his presence) the day he said, “I’ll never be anything but a criminal.” In the car, on the way home, I cried like a child, as I thought of all the good in him and the future I had once dreamed of for him.  The level of violence and inhumanity that he endures sickens me.  Sometimes, when I can’t hold it off any longer or we experience a new trauma, I cry hard and long for all that he has lost, all we have lost and how far we still have to go.

 

Day in and day out, we look for ways to keep him up-to-date on the world and engaged in learning.  I marvel at his continued compassion and concern for strangers in such circumstances. His belief that, someday, he will finish serving his time and somehow overcome the numerous and complex barriers he faces inspires me. If he can still feel hopeful, I’ll be damned if I will be the one to take that from him.

 

Once, he was an honor roll student that was well liked by his teachers and peers.  After a few short months in juvenile detention he became fearful and anxious.  I could not touch him to wake him up. He would strike out blindly in his waking moments out of fear of being assaulted. He cried out in his sleep and suffered from nightmares.  He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and deep depression.  The physical abuse has left him with physical scars but it is the emotional damage, caused by the extreme isolation and exposure to horrific violence at such a young age, that concerns me the most.

 

My son’s original crime was stealing a stereo out of a truck and breaking the window out of the truck.  He was sentenced to five years for that crime.  We were fortunate to find an attorney to represent him and get him out after a year.  Unfortunately, the damage done in that year was enough to alter his life in ways I could not have imagined. He was grieving for his beloved grandmother and acted out, as adolescents often do in those tumultuous years. The vicious assaults on his body, severe neglect and emotional and verbal abuse he suffered would be considered criminal if I or anyone else, other than the system, had inflicted them upon him.  Yet the state and its employees were allowed to do this kind of harm to him and to thousands of others and there has never been any accountability for those crimes.

 

Behind the razor wire fences of America’s prisons, there is seldom fair redress of grievances, little accountability to the safety and wellbeing of those housed within those facilities, scant programming, meager education services, woefully inadequate healthcare, widespread racial disparities and the pervasive and systemic abuse of power by those in authority. Study after study, report after report, all confirm the negative impact of isolation and the abject failure of mass incarceration.  The cost benefit analysis, illustrated in volumes of data and research, demonstrate the exorbitant cost we pay to have less public safety, generate more crime and do unnecessary and possibly irreparable damage to those behind bars.

 

Prisons were supposedly built to lock up those who might harm others and deter crime.  Somewhere along the way we lost sight of those goals.  Today, prison walls have become an impenetrable shroud that shields and perpetuates crimes against humanity.  Those walls allow the rest of us to ignore the root causes of crime and save us from having to look at the mass destruction of human lives that our appetite for retribution and punishment have caused.

 

 

 

 

Grace Bauer is the Co-Director of Justices For Families, a respected leader and a trusted confidant for families seeking justice across the country, and the mother of three children from Sulphur, Louisiana.

 

[Family-in-Justice] A Mother Speaks by richard ross

-8 Last week, we brought you inside Santa Maria Juvenile Hall to meet S.D, a 17-year-old awaiting sentencing for a violent crime committed with a group of older boys when he was 14. S.D was facing 60 years to life, now he has taken a deal of "juvie life" which means he will stay in the California Youth Authority until the age of 25. To get the deal S.D had to testify against multiple other members of his gang, which has put him at serious risk even inside the juvenile hall...

A couple days after talking to S.D at Santa Maria Juvenile Hall Richard met with his mom who lives in Santa Maria and tries to maintain a normal life in spite of the rocky years she had with her son leading up to the arrest-- from camping out  in the 'hood at all hours to try and find S.D and bring him home, to his expulsion from school and ultimate initiation into the gang at the age of 14...

Read her story below:

 

Richard Ross / juvenile-in-justice.com

 

"I gave my son his Grandfather's name... He will 18 in May. I hired an attorney for him... She gave me a deal, $15,000.00. I was going to do whatever I had to do to make sure he had a fair shot. This was his life. He was in trouble and being charged with something serious. I was going to do whatever I had to do to make sure he had an attorney. I was very fortunate and my uncle, my grandma passed away and left me some money. My uncle was the beneficiary and was able to send me more than half of what the attorney charged. Then I found out that my mother had another account in Arizona... but my lovely brother sort of wiped out the accounts and took all the money. So I was sort of stuck with half the balance. Fortunately, very fortunately, the courts took over and helped in paying the rest."

[superquote]He was only in the gang for three months and 20 days before the incident occurred. I noticed him drifting down the wrong road and tried to get help for him, doors were all closed on me. Every resource I tried... nobody could help me. They basically told me they could help me when a crime had been committed. I was even out there on the streets at all hours trying to pull him out of there and bring him home.[/superquote]

"He's propped up, charged as an adult. His charge was first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and gang enhancement. He was 14 at the time. Lompoc has gotten so bad. The gangs have gotten larger, I guess you could say kids that are jumped in are younger. It's so sad. He was only in the gang for three months and 20 days before the incident occurred. I noticed him drifting down the wrong road and tried to get help for him, doors were all closed on me. He was never on probation. Since he wasn't on probation I couldn't get help. I tried the Grizzly Academy, they wouldn't help either, you have to want to go there on your own and you have to be 16, he was 14. Every resource I tried... nobody could help me. They basically told me they could help me when a crime had been committed. And that's basically false information because now that this crime had been committed, even through he didn't do it but he was there, I didn't have anyone knocking on my door saying O.K we can help you know. I went to Lompoc PD, narcotics officers, gang enforcement officers... I looked online. Tried boys town in Oklahoma. He had been in counseling, therapy, I had reached out to Victory Outreach, the big brother program... I mean you name it. I tried everything I could. I was even out there on the streets, they call it the hood, at all hours. It didn't matter if it was 10 pm or 2 am, I was out there trying to do what I could to pull him out of there and bring him home. I was ready to pitch a tent out there. Sometimes I could catch him and sometimes he'd run away from me. It was a nightmare. But I wasn't giving up. I was told him I would never let the gang win him over no matter what I had to do. So..."

 

-5

[superquote]S.D is my only child. He's my baby. He's it. He's a good boy, he has a good heart. He just didn't make some good choices.[/superquote]

 

-7

"S.D is my only child. He's my baby. He's it. He had been in trouble once before. It was a fight with another gang member, in the court he told the judge “Fuck you,” and was sent to Los Prietos Boys Camp. It was after a month in there that the gang enforcement agents pulled him out and charged him with the murder. He had changed a lot in Los Prietos, he said it was a good program for him. That camp was probably the best thing that could have happened to him."

[superquote]He was introduced to the gang life at El Puente. Lots of kids on probation, gang members, you name it they were there. I don't know if it was the excitement, the thrill of it all... I raised him to be different.[/superquote]

"What had happened was he was going to Vandenburg Middle School, he wasn't doing great. To make a long story short, a few detentions added up and then he and a friend made a hole the size of a quarter on the seat of school bus. Due to that he was expelled from the entire district. Forced him to to go El Puente School. I think that did it. He wasn't able to go to his school. He was introduced to the gang life at El Puente. Lots of kids on probation, gang members, you name it they were there. I don't know if it was the excitement, the thrill of it all... I raised him to be different. Maybe it was “this is new, I'm curious.” I mean I am a single mom, but I raised him well. S.D was never out in the street, never out past curfew, once it was nighttime 7 or 8pm S.D was home. I've worked since he was a baby. I also made sure that every time I got a job it was Monday through Friday during day hours so I could be here at night. I was working at Michael's, I still work there. After three years of day shifts my manager had a fit, and the district manager forced me to work nights. That was it. I had to start working nights, I couldn't be home 'til 11:30, I had to work weekends. That and El Puente is when things started falling apart. He was here by himself, I 'm sure that had an effect on him... but as a single mom I had to work. Didn't have a choice, I had to raise him. I don't have any family. My mom and dad, his grandparents are passed away."

 

-2

 

-4

 

-3

 

"He started being disrespectful at home. I would take his cell phone away and he would fight me for it. I would ground him and he would just fly out of the house. I thought “Whoa, S.D has always listened to me.” I could tell he was doing drugs when he was out on the street, with the gang members, it was altering him. He was drinking, smoking, popping pills, I think he tried meth a few times."

[superquote] I think he's come a long way. He's doing awesome in school. I meet with him every Monday and Sunday, our last visit he was very proud and excited. [/superquote]

"S.D has come a long way. He has an attitude and a temper. He got in one fight a couple years ago, it was his fault. Once he was rushed by another gang member who called him a snitch, and then he got in trouble for defending himself. Other than that... I think he's come a long way. He's doing awesome in school. I meet with him every Monday and Sunday, our last visit he was very proud and excited. 20 credits and he's done. I am very, very, very, very proud of him. He wasn't doing any school outside, all Fs."

 

"He's a good boy, he has a good heart. He just didn't make some good choices. He was looking at 60 years to life. But... S.D's a good kid and he's always told the truth. I told him, “it's your decision. But I'm your mom and I don't want you to take the rap for something you didn't do.” I told him, “I understand you are in a gang, I get it. You might have a little bit of an initiative for his horrible crime but you need to speak up.” He was the youngest one out of all of them, so they expect him to take the rap. One day in juvie he said to me, “where are my friends? Why aren't they coming forward with the truth?” and I said exactly and we had a good conversation. It was a hard decision but he decided to take the deal. Which is a crappy deal, but, they are willing to release him when he's 25 years old. So, a few weeks ago he had to testify against 3 gang members. He's at risk in there right now. According to his attorney, they did a crappy investigation, they had the kid who actually shot and killed the man and they let him go, now he is at large. If they catch him S.D will have to testify against him as well. But he won't be at juvenile hall. They'll be transporting him to YA, Youth Authority, which is basically a mini youth prison to my understanding. They don't know which one they'll transfer him to. I'm praying for Camarillo. I can file a hardship, because I'm a single parent and this is my only son, so I can request for him to stay near. If not, my understanding is that the next one is 6-8 hours away in Preston."

[superquote]It was a hard decision but he decided to take the deal. Which is a crappy deal, but, they are willing to release him when he's 25 years old. So, a few weeks ago he had to testify against 3 gang members. He's at risk in there right now.[/superquote]

"S.D's never had an issue with my being gay. I've been with my current girlfriend Shady two years now, she writes to S.D. My ex and I had been together for 11 years. We were having relationship issues and S.D saw all of it. They'd known each other since he was 4. He used to call her dad. At the end he lost respect for me, having to watch our relationship crumble. I think it had a huge impact on S.D joining the gang. I blame myself. As a mom, I know it was up to him to make that choice, but I know that things at home weren't helping him to not make that decision. His father just barely came into his life. They met for the first time one day before he was locked up. So he's met him. He's not a great dad, that's all I can say. He visits him off and on. He might pop up and go with me faithfully to visit S.D for a few months, then disappear. He says he's been clean and sober and I think I believe him. He was a heroin addict. He was a gang member in Santa Barbara, he says no longer but sometimes I wonder."

 

"April 5th will be three years awaiting trial. There were so many co defendants. They were waiting for their trials to be through, which should finish up this month. After that, S.D will go back to court a couple times. Because he took the deal, S.D might be able to go back to juvenile court and he might be able to be charged as a juvenile. One of the facilities he might go to has fire camp, I'm really pushing for that. Encouraging him to take advantage of any and all opportunities he might have in there."

[Family-in-Justice] Cheryle and her grandson Anthony Part 2 by richard ross

[Read Part 1 HERE] 

Anthony at the Wabash County Correctional Center, Indiana. Image courtesy Cheryle Abul-Husn.   Cheryle:   Sometimes I wish we had left the country. We had that weekend, we could have run away. But we had no idea. We knew he was innocent. We went on vacation. We were so naïve. I used to believe in the system. Now I am angry with myself for believing. Devastated that something like this can happen, does happen. Looking back, there were so many things I would have done differently. But you can’t go back. It was the first time we’d been involved in the juvenile justice system. We hired a lawyer we heard was very good. We paid a fortune. My daughter sold her house to pay for him. He let us down immensely.” [superquote]I used to believe in the system. Now I am angry with myself for believing. Devastated that something like this can happen, does happen.[/superquote] One of my biggest regrets, since we were all going to testify as witnesses, we couldn’t be in the court during Anthony’s proceedings. We waited in the hall every day, waiting to go in, waiting to hear news. Since we weren’t in the room, we couldn’t know exactly how bad our lawyer was.   The juror selection was completely unjust: how was it that when I looked across the room at the jury pool I recognized so many faces? Lake County is HUGE, why couldn’t they pull a more diverse selection of jurors? One of the jurors was from our little community. He was an Elk’s Club member. His wife and the prosecutor’s mother knew each other. This juror gave another juror a ride home to Whiting each day, discussing the case in the car. The trouble with this juror began when he was first selected. He was a neighbor of a niece; it was not a friendly relationship. We knew that it would be wrong for him to be on the jury. My daughter wrote a note during jury selection and asked our lawyer not to allow this juror on the jury. The Judge saw the note being passed to the lawyer and called him to the bench she asked him if there was a problem with the juror and he said, “we already picked him.” A witness came to us during the trial and said they had seen yet another juror hugging a member of the dead boy’s family. We were told by our lawyer, “don’t bring these things up it will anger the Judge.” An alternate juror was so outraged by what had taken place in the jury deliberation, she called our lawyer crying. She told us how jurors were convinced to change their votes to guilty. How the evidence that was used to convict Anthony was that he wore a school uniform and there was someone seen in the area wearing a uniform. The school was a couple blocks way; there must have been many kids in the area in uniform. The other so-called evidence was that he was not on the phone for 17 minutes that afternoon. The prosecutor said in his closing arguments that the murder took 17 minutes. How would he know how long it took to murder this poor boy? There were other times throughout the day that Anthony had not been on the phone. When he came to my house I made him get off the phone to talk to the family. This was not evidence; this had nothing to do with the murder. The DNA is not Anthony’s. The eye witness said it wasn’t Anthony.   Anthony and his sister as children. Image courtesy Cheryle Abul-Husn.   [superquote]Our whole family life has been turned completely upside down. It’s so rough right now.[/superquote] Our whole family life has been turned completely upside down. It’s so rough right now. My granddaughter, Anthony’s little sister, hasn’t been getting enough attention from us. She got lost in all of this. She told one of her friends at school about the whole thing and the parents of the friend forbid their friendship. So she just holds it in, doesn’t tell anyone for fear of reprisal. I have started homeschooling her. She was being bullied. I woke up one morning and realized that whatever energy I had left needed to go towards helping her. She sees a counselor now. At first she didn’t want to visit Anthony, she was scared and so young. But now she visits. We bring in all the kids: the cousins, my 3-year-old grandson, Anthony loves him. Some people question why we bring them in. But they have a right to know each other. He didn’t do anything wrong. Grace [Bauer, of Justice For Families] says you have to do things however you see fit, whatever works for your family. Anthony loves the kids. He talks about driving a car and having kids of his own someday.”   After The Sentencing   “We had a Writ of Cert that was reviewed and denied by the Supreme Court on November 30th. Getting the Writ cost us $8,500.00. My daughter already sold her house, so she sold her car. This should be a right for EVERYONE. It should not be this cost-prohibitive. At least we have these things to sell. It is a sad truth in this system that if you have money, you have a better chance. If you have money and connections you might fare better. There are so many people who can’t afford to take the system on, on any level.”   [superquote]My grandson is innocent. But even for kids who did do something wrong, 60 years is a lifetime.[/superquote] My organization, Indiana Families United for Juvenile Justice, had a panel discussion at Purdue University on February 28th, 2013. Grace Bauer of Families For Justice was there, and Karen Grau, Producer of MSNBC’s Young Kids Hard Time, attended. She has met Anthony and she has said how much she likes him. She said he is quiet, and very nice. Those words mean the world to my family. Mark Clemens from Chicago attended. He spoke about being in prison since the age of 16, 28 years for a crime he did not commit. His strength gives us strength. In April I will be attending the JDAI National Inter-site conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Attending will be 180 sites from 39 states and over 700 Juvenile Justice System folks. I am doing what I can to help other families. To be for them what I didn’t have when we started this. Grace has been and is always there for me. I wouldn’t have made it without her. She keeps me hanging on. She tells me, “You can’t let em’ beat you down.” We want to make a manual for other parents and families that are going through this. It’s a complex, often shadowy thing, the juvenile justice system. For many of those involved it’s basically inaccessible. If you don’t have a computer, don’t have internet, you can’t look things up or communicate with others in your position. Having a network is key. Every time something changes in Anthony’s case I email and text everyone to get more advice and information. There is so much I don’t understand.”   Anthony's girlfriend Erika, Anthony, Cheryle, and Anthony's cousin Hunter Abul-Husn at the Wabash County Correctional Center, Indiana. Image courtesy Cheryle Abul-Husn.   My grandson is innocent. But even for kids who did do something wrong, 60 years is a lifetime. These are children. They cannot drive, cannot vote, cannot make adult decisions but they can be tried as adults and can receive sometimes even longer sentences than adults for the same type of offences. When we used to visit, Anthony would sit there and say, just tell them I didn’t do it. He tells us he will do whatever it takes; he just wants to come home. Before this, Anthony was beginning 9th grade. In December he celebrated his 5th birthday in prison.   [superquote]He missed his freshman year, his freshman dance, his prom, getting his driver’s license. What more must he lose out on before he is allowed to come home?[/superquote] He tells me I feel like I’m 15. I don’t feel like I’m any older. How could he not feel this way? He’s frozen in time and hasn’t been in the world since he was 15. Anthony is in a good program at his prison. He earned his GED and is starting college classes. Because of this program he was able to order rotisserie chicken last week. He told us his tears just came rolling down his face when he bit into the chicken. It breaks my heart that he has lost so much. He missed his freshman year, his freshman dance, his prom, getting his driver’s license. What more must he lose out on before he is allowed to come home?  

We’ve been contacting a several of the Innocence Project organizations. One recently wrote Anthony to say that they’d received his case and were processing it. I can only hope… and keep trying. I won’t stop telling his story. His mom, his step-dad, his aunts and cousins and I will never give up. If nothing changes I’ll be dead before he comes home. Please don’t let that happen. I know there are other families who cry every night. If I can leave you with one thought, just imagine Anthony is your child. He is good and kind and loving. He just wants to come home to be with his family who love him so much. He is innocent.”   Written in collaboration with the author.   ------------------

 

 

If you are a family with a child in the system and you are seeking advice or assistance, please contact Justice For Families, They can be reached via email at zachary AT justice4families DOT org or via phone at (510) 268 6941. Justice For Families is a national alliance of local organizations that can provide emotional and logistical support for court hearings, advocacy support to enable families to obtain the best services for their loved ones, and engage families in policy campaigns to change systemic failures in the juvenile justice system. Another excellent resource is the Campaign for Youth Justice's Family Resource Center, which offers guidance, valuable information, and opportunities for advocacy.

 

If you are a family that would like to share your story on the blog, please email us at: blogdirector@juvenile-in-justice.com 

   

[audio interview] Both sides of the bars: K.X, age 19, and the superintendent by richard ross

Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility is an all-female facility in Albany, Oregon. The only one in the state. Last month Richard Ross spent 12+ hours talking, photographing, and recording the people who live and work at Oak Creek. The following post focuses on two perspectives: K.X, a young woman in insolation at Oak Creek and Mike Riggan, the superintendent of Oak Creek…[See all blog posts on Oak Creek HERE] 

Image by Richard Ross for Juvenile-in-Justice.  

[superquote]“I’m in isolation at Birch. [During the day] you can't lay down, gotta sit up. If they see you laying down they take away your mattress." [/superquote]

[superquote] I started doing a lot of stuff when my sister left: snorting powder, popping pills... I thought I was grown." [/superquote]

- K.X, age 19.

 

“We do have good staff here. K.X, the girl in isolation, unfortunately, chose to assault another youth and refused to stop when staff intervened. Staff was hit by her as a consequence of her refusing to stop. O.Y.A (Oregon Youth Authority) has a Matrix that was put into place a few years ago. Any decision to place a youth in isolation is in accordance with the policy and plan. This young woman, who has a history of assault and has been at Oak Creek before, can be very intimidating to other youth and is a bona fide gang member. I think this dynamic is something Casey misses, that fact that these kid’s (gang affected) loyalty is to their gang and family ties are subordinated to their gang identification. They will often put in work, usually in the form of assaults and managing it is a chore. I think what also gets lost is there is a victim(s) in these assaults and separating the youth until the dust settles and giving everyone a break is the safest bet." [superquote]"Now whether isolation is the right method, I don’t know. I do know that financially, to wrap a single program around this girl that is staff secure would be difficult." [/superquote]  

- Mike Riggan, Superintendent of Oak Creek.
 

[See more blog posts from Oak Creek HERE]