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"There isn't a sober person in the family." by richard ross

We have the same mother. Haven't seen dad since I was three, when he died drinking. I'm in here for drugs, pills, weed, and some harder stuff. I've been at this facility for 11 months. I went through the Drugs and Alcohol Program, but I got drunk the same day I finished. —T.P., age 17

I'm in the 9th grade, I flunked out of my first school. We grew up on the reservation. Everywhere on the res, you can find alcohol, pills, meth—the men drink and the women do pills. There isn't a sober person in the family.

—I.P., age 15

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Graham v. Florida by richard ross

By Richard Ross “I miss you like a prison mom.”

Mary Graham has missed her son for the past thirteen years. Since he was sixteen, Terrence has been incarcerated. He was sentenced to die in prison. Terrence grew up with two crack-addicted parents. School was a series of sixteen different institutions as evictions created dislocation and disruption. Classes were special ed for Terrence and his three brothers. School represented food and nutrition. Without the breakfasts and lunches, one brother, Tavaris would get a bag of Doritos and parse it out as a meal to the four boys.

Mary remembers the fridge being adequate. “We grew up country. My Mama used to say if you had bread and potatoes in the house you could always make a meal. It was hard. My kids might have some bread and jelly, but they never went to bed hungry.” Terrence remembers other parts of that narrative. “There would be spoiled milk or government cheese in the refrigerator.”

“We were poor. I would cook one plate of food and put it in front of Diante. He would eat his fill and move the plate to Terrence. Terrence would eat and then move it to Michael, and then to Tavaris. After all the boys ate from the same plate…if there was anything left over I would eat. It was hard. We weren’t the Brady Bunch.”

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Mary has met God.

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It happened on day on December 14th. She had smoked crack incessantly in the six years prior. On the 14th, she prayed and stopped completely.

The six years of parties and a house full of addicts stopped. Prayer had replaced the emptiness and silence of the apartment. Mary apologized to her four boys, the youngest of which still kicked in her womb at the time, and she began her life again. “Mom has been sick for a long time,” she would tell them. But the lives of her boys were already in tatters. All had been incarcerated. Sixteen schools, sometimes no food, crack cocaine parties with an endless parade of strangers for more than six years.

This narrative is an American story. Not the Norman Rockwell, but the alternative, yet no less true. Mary grew up with her grandmother in rural Jacksonville. There were sixteen children served by pigs, chickens and goats. The family went well beyond the sixteen children and two adults—there were cousins and aunts—and the house kept on being built out to shelter them all. Mary and her sister slept in the bed with her grandmother. “Lots of people. Lots of kids. It was hard but we made it. Drugs were not in fashion back then.”

“Then we moved into central Jacksonville and my parents separated. My mother got a job at Milligan’s and tried to take care of the four of us. She was making $2.35/hour. It was hard. It got too hard for my mom so she let my dad take us. When I was 15 I started to party. I was new to the game but I enjoyed the life of the city. I met Harry when I was 20. He was a Vietnam vet 11 years older than me.”

Three children later, they were in a whirlwind of crack and abuse—“we were kicked out of the house and we weren’t let in. We stayed in the street while the party went on.”

Section 8 evictions, drugs, violence—where was Family Services? Mary explains, “there are two kinds of addicts…I was an ‘in-control’ addict. When they would come because of complaints, I would be able to put on a controlled face. They would come, because Michael was out of control a lot. He was what you call ADD. He would do things like try to set an apartment building on fire. They came to look at my apartment and I would always have it neat. I kept a neat house.”

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Bryan Gowdy doesn’t like the reference to Atticus Finch, although he is tall, lanky, soft-spoken, and works out of a modest two story building in Jacksonville. “I was working a lot of appellate corporate law and I thought this would be an interesting, individual case. I certainly didn’t expect to be arguing in front of the Supreme Court.”

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"There was a surprise ruling by the Florida Supreme Court last week. They overturned sentences of life with the possibility of parole that had been doled out, citing that they were counter to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Graham v. Florida. The majority argument was that because a defunct Florida parole system had not granted parole to a single person sentenced to life in prison, the state could not continue to sentence juveniles to life with the possibility of parole. In fact, as the state evaluates parole, the fact that the inmate was a juvenile at the time of a crime counts against them.

This is counter to Supreme Court decisions that have determined the adolescent brain to be still developing, giving children the unique possibility of reform and rehabilitation. The practice of the parole system in Florida is so counter to this information, that the Supreme Court here has ruled life with parole effectively is still a death sentence for a child in Florida.”

“Effectively I am a small business with my partner. I have a family to support so I can’t take all the cases I would like to take. But I am going to take a new case that relates to this. Too much is a stake for these kids.”

“When Terrence was first sentenced, the authorities had somehow painted the family as being nuclear, well cared for with nurtured, loved children. The judge was influenced by the discordant actions of a teen who would turn his back on this perfect home. When the case was returned from the Supreme Court for resentencing, the judge looked at a more detailed, revealing and demining picture of Terrence’s environment and the mitigating factors contributing to his delinquency. It was the polar opposite of what was presented in the original sentencing. Realistically when you argue for them you have to prepare as if each case is a death penalty case…effectively they are. When there are determinate sentences that are 50, 60, 70 years and the parole system is so hostile, they are death sentences.”

Meanwhile in Starke, Florida, Terrence is in the Main Unit West. He helps clean and cook for the Close Managed section that houses the behavioral problems and the sixty-six inmates of death row. Soft-spoken, Terrence explains ‘When I came into the system and looked at my EOS (End of Sentence) date it said ’99-99-9999.’ That meant I was never getting out. Now I look at it and I figure I served 13 years now and have a 25 year sentence. I have some time earned for behavior so I have about eight years left. I get out sometime around 2025. It’s a real date.’”

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

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

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

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

—T.Q., age 17

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"I'm not allowed out." by richard ross

I'm in a segregation cell. I've been here for one and a half months, out of a 6-month sentence. I came to visit my grandma here in town in the summer but I got in trouble. My parents live in different states. I've been in detention in other states three times now. I'm here for credit card theft, but I'm in segregation because they said I threatened intimidation against the staff. My mattress stays in the hall during the day, I can only bring it in at night. Staff might say I'm out for at least one hour a day, sometimes two hours. But I'm not allowed out. Only to use the bathroom.

—J., age 16

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

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

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

—S.Q., age 16

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"Mom does the best she can." by richard ross

I’m from the East Side. I have two sisters, 12 and six. I think they probably took over my room. I was 15 on my first visit here. I was picked up three days ago on a warrant for not appearing in court. I got out of camp and didn’t check in with my PO (probation officer) for eight months. I just wanted to be done with probation and all that shit. I was chilling with my homie and the cops stopped us for open containers and they ran my ID and found me with an open warrant. They would describe me as gang affiliated. I been here a bunch. Maybe 25 times. Mostly violations, and little misdemeanors. They always portray gang members as a negative thing, but there are different levels. Some people just like to hang with their homies rather than hard core banging. If you are identified as a gang member they finger print you, take your DNA. They make you sign a document that you are affiliated. They showed it to my mom and told her what it was about but she didn’t understand it. I have minor charges “hanging” over me. These are forgotten if you don’t stray as an adult, but if you do, they make those charges a part of your history and you have to answer for them as an adult. I didn’t really go to school on the outs. I think I am supposed to be in 12th grade. I go to court tomorrow.

"I been here a bunch. Maybe 25 times. Mostly violations, and little misdemeanors."

My mom visits me. She’s a box checker in the strawberry fields. She has her resident papers and has been here 18 years. My dad passed away when I was 5. He was DUI and went off a cliff. I was in AS (administrative segregation) for a week one time. I try to stay straight here. I was never in foster care. I had lots of issues when I was young. There was no dad in my house and there was a lot of domestic violence. There were always men beating on my mom and myself. Her ex-husband was violent. I think it was because I wasn’t his real biological son. My mom filed a restraining order against him. He was arrested and kicked out of the country.

Mom does the best she can. She works in the strawberry fields Monday through Saturday. When the girls are in school sometimes my aunt helps out. She lives with us. I will tell the judge, “you gave me a lot of chances but I blew most of them.” I was a skater when I was 13/14 but they don’t have space in this town for those kids.

—J., age 18

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"I don't have a dad. He’s locked up." by richard ross

I like to swim a lot, but they only give us 3 minutes to shower. I’m 15 now. I was 13 when I first came here. I live with my mom and grandmother. Not my stepdad. He split with my mom—she kicked him out because he was doing drugs and giving me drugs. Just bud and beer. I don't have a dad. He’s locked up. He wants to know about me but I don't care about him. I’m here because of drugs and because I’m a runner. I run from placement. The first time I was in placement it was for 7 days. I was 14. It was a group home with 4 girls. The judge put me there. Before that I was in juvie. I was 13. Then I was in placement for 4 days. I was 14 years old. And this was after change of faces. I was at a place after that for 20 hours. I’ve been here 18 times previously. I just don't want to be in placement. The judge doesn't want me at home. He gave me a lot of chances. I was on EM (electronic monitoring) at least 5 times, I would just cut it off. I would get arrested, then maybe get out and go to my grandmas house, and then somewhere else. And then I’d be back home within 72 hours, but they would still charge me for running.

My mom would call the cops on me. I would be all high on meth. I tried to stab my mom, but that wasn't me. It was the meth. My stepdad tried giving me meth when I was younger, but I liked the beer and the bud. There was no sexual abuse, but there was verbal abuse when my mom would party with her homegirls. They would get drunk and they would verbally abuse me when they partied. There would be drinking and cigarettes, no hard drugs. One time I got crazy with them because they went into my room and got my blankets and stuff and I started hitting them. They would talk shit to me but I wanted them to respect my shit. It’s my house and my property.

The dot on my arm? That's where I got a TB test and the nurse gave me a shot. I smoke meth, I tweak, sometimes I’m twisty. I smoke it. I usually didn't go to school. I would go for 2 or 3 days when I was 10. But once I tried meth I stopped going to school. The first time I tried meth I was 13 at a party. We would smoke at parties, we would smoke at my house, but I could stop. I don't need anybody to help me. I could stop because I overdosed in a restroom about two weeks ago. I was throwing up and I knew I was close to death. But I stopped for two weeks, and I been here for a week. So that's 3 weeks. So you see I could stop any time I want. But I have a taste for it, when I think about it I have a taste for it. But then I think I was going to die, and I was so scared… I was this close. So I think I can stop.

I go to court in 5 days. The judge wants me to go to placement. He wants me to do what he wants me to do. He’s not my mom. He’s not my dad. Why would I listen to him? I listen to my mom sometimes because she wants me to be safe. But then other times I don't listen to her because I just want the drug.

—O., age 15

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"My mom is deceased. Drug overdose." by richard ross

My mom is deceased. Drug overdose. I stayed with my auntie until I was 11.  She was abusive, verbally and physically. I went to maybe 15-20 foster homes. They were all ladies, no man in the home. My baby is one. His daddy’s family took him to see his daddy. He wouldn’t give my baby back. The baby was in the hospital with a lung problem. I asked my social worker if I could go to see my baby. She said I had to wait until my next court date in two months to see the judge. So I went AWOL to see my baby. They picked me up and now I am 241.1—dual custody between dependency and delinquency for going AWOL. I just wanted to see my baby.

I like Ms. Perez, one of the corrections officers. All the staff here just order you. Ms. Perez talks to me.

—T.L., age 16

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

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

—E.K., age 15

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

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

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

—Z.O., age 15

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"I was angry and got in a fight..." by richard ross

I came in yesterday to LP. Spent the night here and am here this morning. I didn’t have any lunch. I’m in 7th grade, 8th grade soon. I live with my mom, aunt, cousin… my grandma went to Mexico. I’m going to be here three days and then I go to court. I might go home from there in days or hours. Over at LP it’s quiet and lonely. My mom knows I’m here. My dad is in Mexico. We all have papers. In LP I was just in a room reading by myself. When they bring you here, they handcuff your hands and your feet. Your feet are separated by this little chain and you have to walk at full speed and it hurts. I couldn’t call my Mom because it’s after 1PM and she goes to work. Maybe tomorrow. The police came yesterday at 10 AM. My mom is a bus driver. I was angry and got in a fight with my 13-year-old cousin about who had to clean up. The neighbors called the police. My mother was home. My cousin wasn’t arrested. My mom couldn't break up the fight between my cousin and me. I pushed my mom away. They say I bruised her… but look at my bruises. I am here because I hurt her arm. I said I was sorry and she was crying.

—D.T., age 12

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"This is a complicated neighborhood." by richard ross

I live with my mom and four brothers. Two of the brothers are from the same parent. One by a different dad another from a different dad. And then one from the same dad and a different mom. And then there are some stepbrothers. My grandma on my dad’s side is dead. My grandma and grandpa are on vacation. I’ve been here twice. The first time I was twelve. I was at LP first for two days. Then the morning of the third day they moved me here. I’ve been here two months. For battery and robbery. Me and my homies jumped a guy. He was a grown man.

I’m affiliated. We have rules; you don't disrespect ladies and old folks. Like I would never disrespect my grandfather. My older brother has never been caught. He has a four-year college degree from Michigan State. He’s working, but he’s also banging. He doesn’t act like a stupid little homie, but he still chills with them. My dad is affiliated too, but with a different gang. I can get along with members of other gangs; if you don't disrespect me, I won't disrespect you. But if there is disrespect happening we’re going to get down.

The sheriff, he be cool with my dad and he knows me. But I got picked up by some other cops that don't normally patrol in our hood, so they brought me to a different station so I wouldn't get released so quick. They said I was selling marijuana. This is where they stabbed me in the back. This is a complicated neighborhood. I'm on the borderland, right where a bunch of gangs have been beefing up. Everyone is in some sort of gang.

But my mom is not gang banging. She went to college. She has to be supporting me and my brothers. She works at a fruitcake factory. Couple days of the week she works for the homeless; she’s a Christian. I live with my little brother who's eight, a three-year-old, and a 16-year-old and some other kids. She’s a good mother, she keeps clothes on my back and feeds me and everything. You feel me? I started fighting to protect my brother. I would have never gotten affiliated if anybody would have helped me. I got jumped and told the principal, told security; they didn't help me. All of a sudden there are 187 kids in front of my house ready to fade. My momma told me to go in the house I did. But from that point on, I knew I was gonna join up with the gang.

—L.B., age 13

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

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

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

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

—B.B., age 13

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"She told me today that she’s pregnant." by richard ross

I live near the city college I live with my mom, two sisters, a newborn, and my stepdad. I have an older brother, but he’s out of the house. My stepdad’s a chef. And my mom works at a bakery. I was taken away by social workers. My mom told them that I hit her, but I really just ran away with my girlfriend. I wasn’t going to school. I was living in the street at friends’ houses with my girlfriend. I guess I was couch surfing. Yeah, I guess I was homeless. My mom came to see me today, with my girlfriend. She’s still with me. She told me today that she’s pregnant. I’m in 11th grade. I can barely take care of myself. I got a grand theft charge. The judge sent me to placement rehab. Mostly alcohol and weed and meth. My girlfriend would keep me on the right path. When I was on the outs, I wouldn't eat or sleep because of all the drugs. In here, I’m always sleeping to catch up on lost sleep and I’m always hungry. ‘Cause now that I’m not on drugs I’m hungry.

They have me for grand theft and possession of meth. I hope they give me probation. I think I’m going to go to a placement home. I was interviewed on Friday, and I’m just waiting for them to pick me up. I have to do nine months. If I go AWOL, I’ll be in bigger trouble. I’ve been here for two weeks for the same charge. The grand theft was I snatched a phone from an open car. They caught me sitting in the car and they tried to catch me for GTA. They tried to put those charges on me.

—K.O. age 17

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"I’m not allowed to see my biological mom, but I know her telephone number by heart." by richard ross

The first time I was in the system, I was 14. I've been here twice. Now I’m here on violation of parole. I was fighting in school. They had me for assault with a deadly weapon. I hit a girl with a hammer. The hammer was in a utility closet. The girl tried to jump me. I’m a junior, ninth or tenth grade, but I rarely go to school. I violated my parole before. It’s stupid, because I cussed out a teacher. My mom has visited me here today. I’m a twin. My brother still lives with my mom. I have an older sister, M.H., she’s 16. She’s in here too. There are five kids that live at home. I don’t know my dad. My mom works at a convalescent home. I don’t do drugs, no weed, no alcohol. I had a boyfriend at the last place. He was there for assault also and doing 9-12 months. You do good and you can get early release. My sister M.H., she’s been all over the place. From level 14 placements. She got in a fight with two white girls and they sent her to to a different facility. I refuse to go to the other unit. What’s the point in getting settled in another unit when I’m getting released to another place tomorrow. Then I’ll leave May 8th for a home.

We were taken away from my biological mom. Her boyfriend was beating her. She was doing a lot of drugs. She was leaving us kids alone. She was using meth, coke, staying out late. My sister M.H. had to watch over for us. She’s strong. She isn’t a fighter, but if someone is messing with my family, she’ll fight. I’m the same way. There is just a lot of dirt and filth in my house and my mother would abandon us for hours, days at a time. We were taken away from her when me and my twin were four, had one sister that was two, M.H. was five, and one brother that was three. We’ve been living with my foster mom since I was four. I started cutting when I was 12. That’s when things started going away fast. I’m still doing it once in a while. I’ve seen my sister come over here once and I see her walking around. I’m not allowed to see my biological mom, but I know her telephone number by heart.

—L.S., age 15

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"She doesn’t have papers; she’s not a citizen." by richard ross

This is my second time here. I’ve been here 3 days so far. I was going from my friends house at 8 o'clock at night and the cops stopped me. Two units. They took me to the downtown station for three hours. They did mugshots and fingerprinted me, and then they brought me here to central. They said I was riding a bike without lights…and attempted robbery. The first time I was here it was for trying to push my sister out a second story window. They put me on probation. My mom called the police. My sister was babysitting me and she wouldn’t let me out. They say I’m affiliated with 18, but I’m not. I have family, I have a cousin in with them. I live with my mom, she works in a factory. My sister, a little sister, and a little brother. My mom works in a factory from 6AM to 8PM. She doesn’t have papers; she’s not a citizen. I’m in seventh grade now because I flunked first. I was born here. I’m gonna be a cop when I grow up.

—N.N., age 13

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"Then he raped me. My mom didn’t believe me. " by richard ross

I’m dual. No one visits. I was in placement. Then I was in a facility up north for two weeks. I’ve been here five days. There is A/C in the day room but not in the cells. I live far from here with my grandfather, mom, tío, and younger sister. Me and my mom got into a physical altercation over me smoking some weed. She roughed me up so I went AWOL and stayed with my friend just around the block. My mom reported me missing. Then I went to school after being truant for three days with a busted lip, black eye, and a broken nose. When they saw how beat up I was, they took me and my little sister away and put us in a foster home—this lady with two kids—a son and a granddaughter. My dad was incarcerated for 14 years. I was having attitude with my foster mom so DCFS put me living with my dad when he got out of prison. I was living with him and my half sister for four months. Then he raped me. My mom didn’t believe me. He wasn’t held behind bars—he was just walking around. Then when they found out, they re-incarcerated him for coke and being a pedophile—for having sex with a 13 year old. This was my biological dad. No one believed me and I ran away to the valley and had to find a police station by myself to report him. I was in junior high. I went to a foster home. My little sister was able to go back home to my mom, but I have an order that I have to be separated from my mom for six months. I had attitude so my foster mom gave my social worker seven days notice to evict me and move me.

They found me a place at a different facility. I was there two months and I AWOLed. I was supposed to do six months there, but part of their program is family counseling and I was too far away from my grandfather to meet with my mom as part of counseling. My social worker knew I was on the run and she called my mom. My mom knew I was trying to get home and when I got home she snitched me out. I was standing on a corner in my city at about 10 PM and a police officer asked what I was doing out after curfew. They took me to DCFS headquarters and had me stay there overnight because they didn’t have a place for me. Then they found me a group home on a Thursday and I was supposed to stay there for a month. I got in a fight with another girl and accidentally socked a security guard. They put me in a place that used to be a school for girls. They gave me another chance there. I was there for nine months and then AWOLed—for a guy. Yeah, it’s always a guy. I thought he was the one.

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I was on drugs a lot: doing weed, PCP, Angel Dust, Meth, Uppers, Downers. There are no NA or AA meetings here. In order to help me they told me I had to admit my addiction to myself and I wasn’t willing to do that. At that point my mom didn’t want me. I was living in an abandoned house for three weeks. I would go in and out of this boarded up house through a ‘doggie door.’ Or I would sleep in a van.

My mom moved out of the house so I have been living with my grandfather. I’m here as a runaway. My first case is closed. My grandpa always gave me what I wanted and what I needed but not my mom and certainly not my dad. I’m in 10th grade but I have junior credits. I’m smart when I’m sober. I’m catching up on schoolwork a lot. I have two kids. The first I have from my dad when I was 14. The first thing he did when he got out of prison was to rape me and get me pregnant. I didn’t show until I was eight months. The baby was tiny, so I didn’t know I was pregnant. I had irregular period all the time anyway. I was still doing a lot of drugs, heroine and coke and crystal meth. The baby was born three pounds eight ounces.

When I came here a month ago I was only 50 pounds. I’m 4’8”. My second baby was with my boyfriend. He’s 18. I was off drugs and by then I was only an alcoholic. I don’t believe in setting goals, but I would like to stay sober. I’ll get off probation as soon as possible. I want to build a relationship with my mother. My boyfriend has two other kids, both are from another girlfriend. I asked my mom for help, but she said I ‘should learn the hard way.’ My mom was abused by my uncle when she was a kid and she was bullied back in her high school days. I think she is 53 now. I’m 16.

I get interviewed on Friday. I may go to a new placement.

—B.E., age 16

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"They took me away from my Mom." by richard ross

This is my first time here. I came in a week ago. I’m in on a warrant. It’s a bench warrant. I was in a car that was involved in a burglary. I didn’t do anything though, I was just in the car. The other kids did a burglary over at a school. I was in placement at a group home before this. I had my own bedroom. I don’t remember how long I was there, a week, a month, a year. I’ve been to four other placements before. They took me away from my Mom. I don’t want to talk about it. I have two sisters and two little brothers. We went to my Grandma’s house for a while. I don’t know my Dad.

I’m in 8th grade. Maybe I’ll be out in 2 weeks. I don’t know, I go back to placement I think.   —K.S., age 13

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Joseph Ligon by richard ross

By Richard Ross

“I may be released before you get here…”

These are the optimistic words of Joseph Ligon.

Joe was incarcerated when he was 15 after a one-day trial for a murder he denies committing. He is in Pennsylvania—one of the three major states (Michigan and Louisiana) that required a subsequent Supreme Court ruling to allow juveniles committed to life imprisonment to have reconsideration. Joe went in when Eisenhower was in his first term, the Korean War was in full swing and the Dodgers (Brooklyn) were playing the Yankees in the World Series.

The images you see are of Ligon during his incarceration. These three states do now allow any photographs of these people with varying excuses that range from victim’s rights to Dr. Jack Kevorkian and Barbara Walters. Regardless of the excuse‚ the result is to keep these people faceless and without voice.

These wordless images should speak volumes about the inhumanity of the juvenile justice system even though they are punctuated by an image of a quiet, humble almost 80-year-old prisoner.