June 5, 1998

Voices From Juvenile Hall — Any Town USA

To the Victims of Crime

In a crime, there are more than one victim. There's the victim, the victim's family, the offender and his family. In a crime, many people suffer and feel grief or pain through the entire ordeal. The victim and family, of course, may suffer more because it's their loved one permanently disfigured, injured or dead. However, you must go behind the scene to see why the offender did what he did and to see how he feels. For some, rehabilitation may be too late, but for others they're not beyond held.

People are afraid of what they are unaware of. They're far too quick to judge. If we lived in a perfect world, we'd never have problems such as this. But the world is not perfect, and neither are the people who live in it.

How many victims have lived the life the offenders must live for years even life? How many know the demeaning dehumanizing, degrading way they must live?

Everyone cried for justice, yet who truly knows what justice is? Death is a part of life whether violent or natural, and we all must go through it, but what justice do you get from imprisoning someone who has committed a crime?

Don't cast out that person who committed the crime, because it won't stop the pain and won't bring back or heal your loved ones. Help him! Help him to be well. Rehabilitate. Don't punish. That offender will surely see the streets again one day and may come out more messed up than when he went in.

Does it hurt to lend a hand? I don't think so, but if you don't and he comes out worse than what he went in and hurts another person, that should be on your conscience, because you helped hurt rather than heal the offender's wounded heart.

"Even though we may have committed a certain offense, doesn't mean we're heartless. It's our cry for help, but no one hears and instead of helping you cast us out and make us worse."


Buried Alive

By Mario R.

On Friday the 13th, I woke up at five o'clock in the morning as a probation staff member unlocked my door. I got up, quickly threw on my orange pants and top, put on my shoes, walked over to the restroom and began to wash up. As I splashed some cold water on my face, out of nowhere a crazy thought occurred to me: Today's my funeral. I wonder who will show up and pay their final respects. I declined my breakfast and walked back to my room. I folded my sheets and blankets and placed them neatly at the head of my bed. I lay down, opened my Bible and read a few scriptures. A few minutes later, I got up, positioned my knees to the ground and placed my arms on the side of the mattress. I lowered my head and began to pray: "Father God, without you... I am nothing. Without your love, my life is pointless. Today, as I enter the courtroom, be with me. Let your Holy Spirit fill me with your confidence and comfort and let everything go your way. Bless my family, and be with all those who have been there for me. Amen."

About an hour later, I was in the basement of the Criminal courts building awaiting to be called for court. Lying on a metal bench, in a graffiti-infested holding tank, a million thoughts ran through my mind as I closed my eyes: 18 years old... my life can't be over yet! God, why am I facing so many years in prison! I have so much to look forward to. There's a world out there that I have never seen. Regardless, I have faith!... I'll be okay. Everything is going to work out. So maybe I'm gonna have to go to prison and so some time... Damn... Prison! My dad used to always tell me, "M'ijo, I never want to see you in a place like that--locked up como un animal!" And my mom, she would always say, "If something were to happen to you, m'ijo, I'll go crazy!" But they've been okay these past two years. They have faith that I'll be with them soon. And when I was convicted, their confidence remained. I always tell them that I know there's a reason for all of this. And that gives them hope. They see that I'm okay--God's love is in me... Man, there must be a reason. If I would've never come to Central, I would've probably been in some warehouse right now, driving a folklift all day, unaware of my potential—lost in a troubled world, drinking beer and smoking weed to escape my problems. I would've never met all the wonderful people that I am now very close to. People who have helped me find myself. I would've never discovered my true gifts... Man, I know there's a reason!

I dozed, awakened, dozed awakened, and finally the electric caged door of the holding tank slowly opened, making a loud buzzing sound that always gave me a feeling of anxiety. A voice shouted: "ROCHA." It was time. "Get on 12," a male deputy ordered, as I walked out of the holding tank. I approached the three elevators to the right of the building. Elevator 12 was already opened. I walked in. The doors behind me immediately closed. I began to pray as I felt my body gradually rise. "Father God, let everything go your way. Hear my prayers and the prayers of all my loved ones. If it's your will that I get sentenced today, help me accept whatever comes my way." Suddenly, the lift came to a stop. There was a high-pitched sound, as if I had answered correctly on a game show, and the doors opened. Before I stepped out, I gave myself the traditional Catholic sing of the Cross: In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Division 107--Superior Court. Lead by a bailiff, I walked into the courtroom. I made my way to a blue chair on the side of the defendant's desk where my attorney was seated. I sat down and glanced at the people crammed in the courtroom gallery: my family, friends, loved ones, people who have been there for me throughout my stay at Central. any of them were smiling. Some of them looked as restless as me. I smiled and slumped my head forward. I thought: All these people are here for me... They really do care. 8 o'clock in the morning, and they're here to support me. Suddenly the tears began. I felt hopeless, yet secure. Weak yet mighty.

The judge then entered the courtroom. The silence in the air became even more still when he began to speak. As he started to introduce the case and formally explain the matter at hand, I raised my head and looked toward his direction. For weeks, I had prayed that light would enter his mind, that God's compassion would enter his heart, that he would see The Truth: My Innocence. Two weeks earlier, my attorney had filed several motions asking the court to: overturn the verdicts, to grant me a re-trial or to drop the charges and reduce my sentence. My attorney had also presented a "sentencing package" that consisted of numerous letters of recommendation and support written to the court on my behalf—a total of approximately fifty letters. In addition, my attorney had recommended that I be housed in Y.A. until the age of 25 and then be sent to prison. The judge asked my attorney if he would like to be heard on these matters. As soon as my attorney began to speak, something in the back of my mind told me. He's gonna deny everything. This judge doesn't care! He just wants to get this all over with. My head dropped to my chest. I knew that my attorney's efforts would produce no results in this courtroom.

When my attorney was finished with his argument, the D.A. came back, opposing the motions and briefly stating his point of view. At last, the judge denied all motions and asked my attorney if there was any other legal reason why I shouldn't be sentenced at that point. "No, your honor," my attorney replied... The casket was closed.

My attorney informed the judge that a few of my people had pleaded to be heard before I was sentenced. My tear continued to run down my face and my head just hung there as I heard the voice of a man who, although he had entered my life near the end of my stay at Central, had inspired me to trust God and to teach other to trust god in a very unique way as a true homeboy. As father Ken-nedy began to speak, I started to think about the essay Marlon Rivera had read in the MN writing class two days earlier, when he spoke about Father Kennedy "saving his life" on his sentencing day. It was a beautiful story, but deep inside I had a feeling that no words would touch the heart of this judge.

I then heard the voice of a person whom I respected so very much. A man who had taught me so much about life: life as an incarcerated young man... life as an innocent man... life as a writer. My writing teacher, Duane, began by greeting the judge with respect and approaching the victim's family with condolences. He had prepared a draft that disclosed some of the words I had written and expressed on prior meetings with him. He talked about the power of words and the strength that my words possessed. He spoke with self-assurance and honesty. And he read my words with poise. He earnestly asked the judge to search for the essence of what he had discovered through my writing. On a different day, different time, different setting, after hearing those words of praise. I would have probably just laughed. Flattered, my face would have turned red with emotion. I would've had a big ol' smile that said. "Thanks, Duane! I feel honored. I can never repay you for those beautiful words," but on this day, all I could do was cry. Like a child lost amongst thousands of people, strangers. I felt helpless! Before he was finished, in a very dignified manner, he asked the judge to consider giving me the most lenient sentence that the court was capable of imposing and thanked everyone for listening.

In the whole two years that I have spend at Central, I never cried —I never felt as bad as I did on that day. An eerie voice in my head began to whisper: This is your funeral. Look at all these people. They're here to pay their final respects... to view the body before they lower the casket into the ground... the cold and dark soil, where you will never be heard, never be seen. A memory is all you will be. Take a good look at your family— and never forget about the love that they have for you! Look at all these people! They will never forget you!

Rosie, a friend of mine who I had met in KL a year ago as a VISTO volunteer, and Eric McGinnis, my drama instructor, whom I admired, were the only other speakers. They spoke from their hearts and unveiled their love and respect for me. They talked about the potential I have and the impact that I have had on their lives. They spoke of me as an inspiration. It was just too much. Although I was about to be sentenced to many years in prison, the love reflected in the eyes of all my loved ones in the courtroom demonstrated the radiance of God's grace. His righteousness. His passion. But for some unknown reason, my family and friends and I were the only people who had been touched. The only ones whose hearts had been moved was ours.

I was sentenced to 29 years to life in prison plus a second life sentence on March 13, 1998.


Slowly We Move Backwards

By James T

America, the land of the free, the home of the brave. America, the place where everyone wants to be.

America grew slowly and began to make laws to benefit minorities and juveniles. However, not many are noticing how slowly we're moving backwards instead of progressing forward. Sure, we may have technology that's rapidly improving daily, but what about our system?

Our so-called justice system is failing; not to say that it ever worked before. Our sytem has taken steps forward from the years when kids would be in facilities with adults to kids having their own system, the juvenile court system. However, times have changed and not for the better. Again, they are putting kids in adult prisons, and sentencing them to life and death sentences. Instead of trying to rehabilitate, they punish and incarcerate our youth.

Why? Why do we slowly begin to move backwards instead of forward. It's because people are afraid. People fear what they don't know or can't understand.

As we slowly move backwards, everyone begins to lose rights that took years and lives to gain. Slowly the hate groups, which have been silent for years, re-enter the American population. However, their job is easier than before. Instead of going out in the middle of the night to kill a minority, they sit back and watch as we slowly kill ourselves off with ignorance, as we kill each other over a stupid color or over a street we never owned.

What can we do as we slowly begin to move backwards into time, where minorities lived in slums, people were getting hung, and juveniles could go to jails housed with adult men.

Society needs to wake up. We're losing everything we have worked so hard to get. People are allowing their fears to cloud their better judgment, and in the end, we will all suffer.