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he three young women whose stories are below were all recently in a state correctional facility for juveniles adjudicated delinquent. They have all since been released from the facility. I have done research with young women in this facility over the course of the past two years, and I include their stories for this forum in the hopes that their words humanize the vast reach of the US carceral society. Nia wrote her story down for me by hand, as part of a life history project we are doing together. De’s story is edited from the first interview I did with her, although there would be many, many more conversations, and eventually friendship, over time. Jessica was released just a couple of months after I met with her.
It was a warm day. Me, my brother, my dude, and a few of my dude’s friends were standing outside when I watched one of my dude’s friends walk up to a car that had just pulled up to the house. Next thing I know, he threw his water into one of the men’s faces in the car. And the car skidded off leaving dust. I thought, damn, what was that all about? So anyways my big brother took off toward C Avenue, and he asked me for a cigarette. I ain’t have my pack but I gave him a $20 bill and told him to buy us both new packs. I turned to walk away and I was like, “hurry up” and he said, “shut up big head.” That was his nickname for me.
Anyways, I saw the car that head skidded off drive through our alley real slow, when I thought, “them niggaz was on some bullshit”, so I was thinking maybe I should get my strap. So next thing I know I heard a few shots right behind me, and as I started to turn around, my brother was falling to the ground. Most people run from the gun shots, but at that moment I ran toward them to see if he was okay. As I make it to him, he was looking at me. I grabbed his hand and laid on him after a few minutes of screaming, “call 911, please someone help me, my brother’s not checkin in. Please God, don’t let him die”. I said, “get up bro, stop playin”. He forced out, “I love you”. And he stopped shakin, and he also stopped breathing. The paramedics finally made it, and they tried to pull me off, but I was going crazy. I think I blacked out. So finally I remember waking up in me and my dude’s bed. I picked up a bottle of Grey Goose and rolled up a blunt, and I drank and smoked every day for about 9 months after his death.
I cried and had the same tear stained face for about the majority of my healing process. I didn’t know how to deal with it. And it’s bad to say, I dealt with it by getting high and drunk, but who was I trying to fool? Everyone know that you don’t deal with anything by using. It may subside the pain and hurt for a while, but as soon as my buzz was gone I was back at square one.
I finally came to and realized that I couldn’t bring him back and that I have to deal with the fact that my bro was murdered for no reason. All because that dude threw water on someone. God will handle it. I mean I went through it and it hurt my heart so bad. But to this day it is something that will not never ever completely heal for me. Because a piece of the family is gone, and we deal with the fact that “he’s not coming back”. And I know everyone probably wants to know how I feel towards the one that threw the water on the dudes. I was mad at him. I punched him in the face like four times that day, they said asking him “why?” But nobody had an answer for me. But we’re cool now, and I forgave him. We’re only human, we make mistakes. At least I know my brother is in a better place.
RIP Big Bro.
My name is De and I’ve been in Juvenile Correctional Facility for seven months, goin’ on eight. I’m a good person. I mean, I been through a lot. My mom killed my dad and like it’s very hard for me to just like be a normal person. And like just bein’ here in Juvenile Correctional Facility, it’s like really, really stressful. It’s depressing. I mean, I have had thoughts of suicidal but I usually go to my social worker and talk to him because I know there’s better ways to go and I’m not a person that gives up. I’m a strong person. My social worker, he’s a very good person. He try to help all his girls out. He advocates for ’em even though when they do be wrong, you know, he let ’em know, like “you gotta take responsibility”. He also let you know what he sees out of you what you don’t see.
I try to take advantage of every program they have for me. Especially when it comes to my school because I do wanna graduate. I know I made a bad choice by comin’ in here and stuff but that’s always reasons for that, you know? Because I’m really not a bad kid.
Since this place is all negativity, it’s like I try to stay out of it but when someone come my direction, I’m like you are not going to talk to me like that. You’re gonna respect me regardless. That’s the only reason why it looks bad on my part because I’m gonna put my word in there. I don’t feel like anyone’s my friend here.
Because you know, we still young teenagers. I’m 17 years old. We’ll be sittin’ on the unit and you hear this person sayin’ this about you and then these people over there’s talkin’ about this, like you don’t have anywhere to go. So it’s like I rather just stayed in my cell if that’s the way it has to be. Like, I can adapt with my environment that I am with now, but I only let ’em know a certain amount of things, you know what I’m sayin’?
I mean, there’s good people who in here. It’s not that many. It’s probably like two people. In this place that’s real good. I think, they just come from this environment, this negative, negative environment. Because I think, it’s all about tryin’ to get attention, tryin’ to show people that you’re something that you’re not. And it’s for nothin’.
But I’m tryin’ to step out of that environment because I know deep down in my heart I’m not one of those type of kids. I’m not a bad seed. I just made bad decisions and knowing what happened with my family, it brung a lot of stuff to me, you know what I’m sayin? So, now I have this person that I became that I shouldn’t have became. But I did so now it’s like you gotta work on yourself now before it’s too late. So, that’s what I’m all about is working on myself right now. Actually, I been found in some little drama here but you’re not gonna see me fall into nothin’ major because I have fallen in things major and I can say every round trip I have learned my lesson.
When I first got here I was smiling. I’m a happy person. I wasn’t smiling because I had to come here. I was smiling because I knew through this time I was gonna get something out of it. I felt like if my mom could do eight years, I know I can do four years to two years, however long they give me because I’m a strong person. All I do is pray. I’m very spiritual. So I just pray on my situations. Because everyone falls, falls down, you know what I’m sayin’? God forgive them. That was the reason that Him dying on the cross for us.
I have been here four weeks yesterday. It sucks. I hate this place. I can’t wait to go home. But I mean I guess I’m really not that bad, you know, I get to see my dad. He comes every weekend but he might not be coming for much longer because we are moving. I’m excited. I think we all need a new fresh start and I feel like if I go back to where I was, I’m just going to get in trouble and end up back here. I’m also hoping that maybe, possibly this could help me get out early because I’m not going to be going back to the same place. I’m going to be going to a completely different state. And my social worker is worried about me hanging out with people and doing drugs at home. I’m not going to know how to get drugs down there, in a new state.
In April I was with some boys, we were on a bunch of drugs, my drug of choice was meth by the way. We were going to the drug dealer’s house but they stopped at this girl’s house that we didn’t like from school, and they robbed her house. I didn’t go in but I caught the felony 2 burglary for it and that’s what got me here, but I was on a suspended commitment. I was clean for a year while my boyfriend was in jail. And when he got out we started kickin it again and we started using again, and I got arrested for failing my drug test.
I can’t be in touch with my mom because my mom is an addict. She has been almost as long as I can remember. When I got arrested the second time she hooked up with the meth cook and she’s with him still. She got busted, they were cooking together. My dad used to smoke weed and drink before I was born but when my mom found out she was pregnant, he quit everything and went in the army. He’s walked the straight and narrow my whole life; he’s the only good person that I really have. My parents are divorced.
I just hang out with bad people, I don’t know why. Like I really don’t know why. It’s just that’s who I get along with. Even my mom, every time my mom gets in my life, you know, I go with her. I’m always worried that something is going to happen to her so I always go with her and my brother stays with my dad. I’ve always been there to protect her. But I hate it so much because I always told myself I would never be like her, I would never be my mom and here I am. I just didn’t want to deal with real life. Like instead of dealing with things I’d rather not deal with things, so I just get high instead.
I’ve hurt my family so bad, like my dad is crushed. I’ve been such a bad example for my brother and then my little brother, my five year old brother, he was just here to see me on Sunday and he was like, “Sissy when you getting out of jail”? And nobody even told him where I was at, he just knew this was a jail somehow. I’ve been a really bad role model so I’m like “Okay, I want to do better” so I’m setting goals up for myself in the future, you know, I’m going to college, I’m going to get a job. So I work towards those goals but with the using it is just one day at a time. I’m working my one day at a time to reach my goals.
The drugs, that’s a part of my life but that ain’t all my life. I was on drugs, my freaking life sucked man. But I really don’t think that that my crime was as bad as this punishment is, that I needed this consequence for that crime. The system is messed up man, it really is. And I think that’s the reason why I want to try to help people who are stuck in this awful, awful system. Nothing is fair, nothing is right. I don’t see anything going as it should be.