This raw portrait of life as a delinquent and in the juvenile justice system was written by an 18-year-old in detention at the California Youth Authority to dissuade his peers from making the same choices that led to his incarceration. “I always thought, “They can’t stop me.” he writes. “But I’ve been stopped now for two years. “
You’re on your way to the “YA” [Youth Authority]. You have some time ahead of you. you’re missing your parents, girlfriend, brother, sister, or even your children. What will you do?
Are you “down?” Will you play the game? When you get hit, are you going to bang? Do you think you can hang? How many times are you willing to prove yourself? What are the lengths you’re willing to go to? You prove yourself once, get a Level B with a 60-day time add [60 days added to your sentence]. That’s 60 more days before you'll be back with your family. You go to board, get 18-24 months or more.
Then you ship out to your main line institution. Are you going to prove yourself to be down with the other Surenos, Woods, Crips, Bloods, or any other gang or organization you can think of? Are you going to play by the rules they have at that institution? If your homie from your gang gets dropped, what are you going to do, stick with your homie and get dropped too, or will you just get on without your homie?
Are you going to get your ride on with your enemies? Will you get pumped up to use the shank or battery-pack your enemy? What will happen when the “riot” pops off and you stick some rivals? The whole institution goes on lock because some wards were seriously injured and had to be rushed to the ER at an outside hospital.
Now these homies that are so down and would back you to the fullest are now under pressure of catching a new case. You think they’re going to admit to the shit? Hell, no, they won’t. If you’re lucky they might keep their mouths shut and not snitch on you. When the pressure is on about catching a new case, mouths start running.
So are they really your homies? Do they really care about you, or do they just claim to be your homies and care about you? Is your life worth proving that you’re down to the homies? If they were your true homies, they wouldn’t be telling you to prove yourself or care what others think about you.
What about your family? Is proving yourself or possibly dying worth these “NACs” that you'll probably never see again? It’s bad enough that your family has lost you for however long the board gave you. Don’t go around trying to prove yourself to anyone, if you’re sure about yourself. “F–k these NACs.”
* * *
I’m 18 years old. I’ve been locked up in the California Youth Authority for the last two years of my life. It all started when I was 14. I started to hate my family, hate myself. I hated everyone. So I started to run away from home. The first time I was out there, I was free. I felt like I had power. I could do whatever I pleased, whenever I pleased. I kept going home for sleep, then running back to the “free zone.”
One day while I was out, I was introduced to the drug called “speed.” The first time I tried it, I knew I was hooked. The only problem was I didn’t have the money to pay for it. My parents put me in a placement to try and help me. I stayed there a couple of days, and I didn’t like it. I had to follow too many rules. So I took off. I was on the streets again. Then the police started to pick me up for being out past curfew. They would take me back to the placement. I would just get some sleep and take off again, thinking they would never catch me. I got caught so many times it wasn’t funny. I would always say to myself, “They won’t stop me this time.”
Finally, I was on the streets after my bed had been closed at this placement and I did a robbery. The next day I got caught and arrested and taken to juvenile hall. I stayed there for four or five days in Group 4, wearing all blue. They said they’d release me if I went back to the placement, so I did. I stayed about five minutes and ran again back to the “free zone.”
I started using drugs real heavily then. I went home, stole my dad's bank card, and pulled out money. Then I went to the mall where I’d been kicked out for 90 days. So they arrested me and called my dad. My dad came and got me and took me over to see my case manager. I took off once we got there. My dad reported to the police that I stole his ATM card, but they didn’t take me to the hall, so I figured, “They can’t stop me.” About that time, I had a big rock of speed I’d stolen from a dopehead. But after it was gone, I was craving for more and I didn’t have any. So I got dressed and ready to go get some more. But when I started to go out the door, my brother tried to stop me. So I grabbed the broom and hit him with it. My brother jabbed me with a broken hockey stick. I took the hockey stick from him and beat him with it and left. I didn’t think the police were going to find me, but about three hours later they did and told me to put my hands on the car.
They arrested me and took me to the holding station for fingerprinting. After that the police woman took me to juvenile hall. I stayed there for about 90 days. I was charged with a strong armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, fraud, and grand theft auto. These were all felonies, and I had six misdemeanors in connection with the four felonies. They gave me a plea bargain if l just admitted to the strong armed robbery. I was sent to placement. I stayed in the placement for about nine months. I was then removed and sent back to the hall. I got into a couple of fights while I was at the placement. Then I went to juvenile hall and got into a few more fights there. Not that I’m proud of it, it’s just something I had to do.
I was in and out of three other placements. Then I got lucky and was finally sent home on probation. I was doing good for a while until I got tired of being on probation and decided to leave the state. I figured I’d never get caught. While I was in Vegas, the car broke down. I called my mom to tell her and she said, “You got yourself there, so you can get yourself back.” So I tried to go to a runaway shelter in Vegas. Then after I got out of the shower, the police were waiting for me. They took me to juvi out there. Then they flew me out to Ontario Airport. When I arrived, there were two P.O.s [police officers] waiting for me. They arrested me and took me back to Riverside Juvenile Hall. When I got there, they put me in Group 1 security unit. I was there two months and was sent to the California Youth Authority (CYA).
I came to CYA on January 1, 1996, and I’ve been here since. I would've been gone in March of “98, but I wanted to get my ride on and get an image of a “down motherf–ker.” I got into several fights with other wards and even my own roommates at times. I even got so stressed I tried to kill myself by popping my vein. So at board I got shot a six-month time add. I didn’t care. I was hard-headed and thought I had to be down. It took another time add (three months for another suicide attempt, one month for an assault and setting a fire, and two months for treatment and training) for me to come to reality. To be honest, I was not sure of myself or my strengths.
* * *
This place is no place for no one. I always thought, “They can’t stop me.” I’ve been stopped now for two years. I thought no one knew what I was going through, that they can’t help me. I really wish I would've had someone to tell me how this place was, someone that has been here. I’m no bigger or better than anyone since I’ve been here. All I can say is that I’ve lost out on a lot of my freedom and fun, like my high school dances, football games, work, a lot of stuff.
All I’m trying to tell you is that you will get stopped, if not today, sooner or later. I just want to help you. I don’t care who you are, what you look like, if you are a boy or girl, or if you’re cool or not. you’re still a human being and I don’t think this place is good for any human being. Everyone has problems and needs help to solve them. I never thought I’d say this but it really helps to talk about what’s on your mind and be upfront about it. Don’t hide anything because it is for your benefit. Also keeping a journal helps you get to know yourself better. You can also say anything you want and no one will know unless you want them to.
The reason I ask if your life is worth your image or homies, is because last year (1997) there were four deaths in the CYA. Two were down south and two were up north. I’ve been here at Chad [Chaderjian Youth Corrections Facility] for two and a half months. We've been on lockdown four or five times. The two most serious ones happened back to back. The Northenos sliced up five Surenos. We were on lockdown for four and a half days. Then the next day we went back on lockdown, two Surenos stuck a Northeno in the lung. You just got to learn to let the bullshit the NACs talk roll off your back. If you can avoid coming here, by any means take the offer.
I was in and out of Riverside Juvenile Hall from 1994 to 1996. I remember a lot of cool staff like Mr. Hulling, Ashman, Johnson, Allen, Rowing, Jefferson, Thomas, and Thomson. Ms. Jones, Graves, Thomas, Sims, and Daily are super-cool also. If any of those staff are still there, ask them how hard-headed and stubborn I was! It took me this far to finally wake up. I really wish I could tell you guys how much I wish I didn’t go this far. You guys might think, “If I go to CYA I'll gain respect from my homies and females.” But 99% of the people’s homies don’t even write or send money, and what kind of decent female would want to have a boyfriend locked up? I can see if she is your fiancee. I personally wouldn’t want any female coming to visit me and having to stand in line for an hour or two just to see me for two hours.
I’d give anything to be able to go back to the hall or placement if they would let me go. Here, you never know when something is going to pop off. I just try to stay to myself as much as possible now, because I’m too close to the house now. My parole consideration date is in April of “99.
You probably don’t really care what I’m saying because you’re going to do what you want to anyway. I may sound like a punk to you, but I’m sure about myself and I don’t care what others think. I’m just trying to help you.
This feature: Stoltie, B. (1999). They can’t stop me. Reaching Today’s Youth, 3, 3. pp.4-6