Armando Macias artwork

Unless you have a child – or know a child who is “at-risk” you don’t give it much thought. We read a lot about gangs and the violence that comes from it be we don’t understand why it happens or about the kids that get caught up in in it. The violence has increased so much over the years and the court system that is supposed to take care of it – can’t – it so the easiest thing to do is to either look the other way, or lock them up and get them off the street. What they don’t do is get them the help they need at a time where some of them can be saved. Juvenile courts are too chaotic. The don’t have the manpower or the resources adult courts have. Many crimes can’t be proven. Witnesses don’t show up. The reschedule court dates so often the people involved give up and don’t show up. When that happens the case is dismissed. Finally the kids are old enough to push over to adult court and have them tried there. So many of these kids are crying out for help and no one gives a crap. Case loads are so heavy they don’t have time.

If you live in a city that has a lot of gang activity, the kids who don’t have parents who end up in foster care also end up getting sucked into the life of a gang because at least now they have people in their life who care about them. Many of these people came from the same broken homes. They know how that feels. This cycle keeps churning out people who have to survive somehow. They don’t have educations. They can’t get good jobs. So, for them, crime pays. They start making regular visits to juvenile court, but there is no help. If they had been helped their life could have been different. ‘

States have gone back and forth over when it is okay to try kids as adults, especially when they do adult type crimes. Finally they have released the harm it causes to keep them in solitary confinement. Why anyone thinks it isn’t harmful to adults is beyond me. Maybe because by that time most of them have lives that are already ruined. To ruin someone so young with isolation gives that minor no chance. It’s such a shame that it had to take Kalief Browder committing suicide when he got out, to wake “them” up from the outcry from the public. America won’t even admit we keep keep adults in solitary for the decades we do. We don’t torture inmates they say.

It is easy to see that the way we deal minors only makes certain that when they get out, they will be full fledged criminals because they have no concept of how to live. They have more than likely never experienced anything close to having a normal life. I say “more than likely” because there has been a greater trend toward children coming from “good” homes and still deciding that the life of a “gangsta” has more appeal and excitement. But just like the sentences given out to older criminals, those children are looked at as having more promise and worth rehabilitating and get more breaks within the system. What helps is they have family support who show up at court hearings and typically hire real attorneys who have gone over their cases and planned a strategy so they don’t end up in prison at 16. Most juvenile offenders don’t get to see their attorney until the are sitting at a desk in front of the judge who will decide whether they stay in the juvenile system or proceed to prison.

If they go to prison they are subject to the same system as adults, which means, no rehabilitation and being subjected to adult predators. They come out with a felony record they will never escape from. Education becomes extremely hard to get and their spiral down happens quickly. The law isn’t set up to benefit minors. Juvenile courts are not allowed to consider why the child is there. What is his background? They can only look at the offense. But where do these kids come from? Why did it get to the point wher3e it became hopeless? Why wasn’t the child helped when there was plenty of time to do it, but feet were dragged and nothing was done?

These kids became a lost society, kept out of view. They eventually became found a home in prison with the same people they were with on the outside; friends back with friends. They never had anyone who cared so they gravitated to the only people who loved them, people like themselves. Of course there are exceptions. There are kids that just seem determined ruin any chance they had. They go against what their parents tried to provide for them who don’t understand what they did wrong or couldn’t see in time to fix. Maybe there was nothing that could be done. But I want to talk about those who had no choice. Those who were born into a life that pushed them into a life of crime because it was all they knew.

I write to several inmates about their life and how they feel about where they are. I want to tell you about one who recently confided in me:

“I want to explain the way culture and the environment I lived in all my life formed my outlook. Blacks are not the only ones being racially targeted.  Growing up I remember if white people in cop cars saw you they were going to stop you.  I remember that no matter what, you would be searched.  Driving, they’d pull you over.   It didn’t matter if there was a reason to pull you over. If you ran and they caught you they’d beat you, so you ran faster and you didn’t get caught. Staying there to find out meant you would probably go to jail. Innocence is not a factor.  Never was, and it still isn’t.

I’m from the ghetto.  There were foothills nearby.  At times we’d see the KKK burning crosses in front of black people’s houses.  That stopped in the 80’s.  In 1992 there were the LA riots because Rodney King was beat up by cops.  Only when I received my first prison sentence and reached my 20’s did I learn about the laws.  They weren’t even supposed to be allowed to stop and search us for no reason, but the law never seems to apply to the police.

In prison, on paper, they say there are rehabilitation programs.  They say that, but in reality there aren’t any.  I wanted to go to school.  I wanted to learn a better of living but I soon learned that it didn’t mean me.  There was no rehabilitation for people like me.

There is a mentality you learn growing up and living like that. The chances of people escaping that life is small.  Most don’t.  I’m one of the ones who didn’t escape.  all those programs for “at-risk” kids never existed back then. I don’t know many kids benefit from them today.  Everyone went to jail.  Punks went to jail.  I accepted that mentality.  It was all I knew. It didn’t scare me.  In fact, jail was a vacation from an abusive home.  Violence was normal to me, so gangbanging was no biggy.

When you see very few people you know not go to jail and many of them die, it become normal.  When I got out of jail the first time all my good intentions faded in a second.  I got out wanting to do good, but when you encounter a hugh problem, who you really are comes out. Your intentions disappear.  It’s engraved in you.

So you ask, why did I go back to prison?  Why is it that if I knew the consequences, why am I here?  Because that is how it was. I had no place else to go.  It is the only experience I knew.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This man was raised in a violent home where he got beat every day.  There was violence all around him.  He didn’t have parents who made sure he had good food every day and went to school.  There was no Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny.  There were no family Thanksgiving dinners and birthday parties.  The kids I grew up with all had these things.  We had families that cared.  I’m sure violence existed but it never entered in my life.  If you had his life what would you do?  You would bond with other kids who had a life who could relate to yours.  They were your family.  You never really knew there was any other kind of life you could experience.  There was no choice.  You would end up in prison.

There many kids who don’t have families.  Maybe the state took them away because of drugs and neglect.  Many of the parents died and there was no place for the kids to go.  We have all heard horror stories.  The juvenile system is overloaded with kids who have no place to go.  They get shifted between multiple foster home which are also rife with drug abuse and violence. There aren’t enough case workers who can take the time to care even if they wanted to.  Nothing is done in a timely manner.  Even when there is someone who is willing to take these kids in, the paperwork is insurmountable.  The kids get lost in the system.  They find themselves in and out of court until eventually they get old enough to prosecute.  One more person locked up. Another one to take his place.

80% of those incarcerated went through the foster care system.  Those are scary numbers.  Doesn’t that tell you that if there were a better way of dealing with these throw away kids the prison population would go down?  Isn’t it time something better should be done? Haven’t we had enough generations of throwaway kids?

Here is an excellent article about what happens to kids we lock up. Why Do We Still Put Kids In Shackles When They Go To Trial

http://facebook.com/jamielifeinprison . . .Blog posts and news about injustice in the world

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13 thoughts on “Juvenile Detention – A Cry For Help

    1. Thanks. I’ve been reading this book written in the late 90’s on the juvy system in LA. One of the many stories has to do with the Mexican Mafia. Armando Macias, who drew the picture was part of that gang. It is his experience in the post. There are a few posts from him on this blog. He is – at this point – a gentle man. Very intelligent. We’ve had many good letters. I think for him that being on death row is a place he found peace. His study of Buddhism helped him make sense of everything.

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        1. What did you buy? The best place to start is the website I gave you. But it is good you took a first step. Just Remember – like Christianity, there are many sects.

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    1. Only when you keep repeating the same thing. You DO have a choice to get off. But … this isn’t the cycle of life I’m talking about. This one happens only once in each lifetime. Birth, aging, sickness and death. just like the seasons and all of nature.

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        1. Did this happen to you? If it did, then how could you have faith and trust in God? There has to be more at work in life that causes our life to go in directions we have no control over. What causes that to happen. These kids in juvy or a child with brain cancer, it is easy to think it was done TO them, and in a way it does but there is something more going on. So yes, to question the universe is a good place to start but ultimately it is that person’s karma that dictates what happens, even a child with brain cancer as heartbreaking as that is.

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