Pelican Bay State Prison/SHU /My First Fifteen Days
“How did I get here?” “What is this place?” “I want to go back home, back to the streets.”
First time in Juvie I was nine, ten years old. First time looking at the concrete walls. My first time remembering a long silence that occured in my life. The first time remembering being scared by myself, alone in a strange place. But I was from the streets, the varrio, the ghetto and somewhere inside, I found a timid defiance that was ten feet high, a timid defiance that would be timid no longer with each passing day being left farther behind.
While my young fears suckled at the defiant natures of a growing seditious pride, as I began to stare back at the menacing concrete blocks of Juvenile Hall… All the counselors and staff seemed so big, now my courage hasn't yet reached that high especially when they grab my arm with their huge hands, strangers I don't know, I feel uncomfortable when they tell me I must be strip-searched. “Who are these perverts staring at me naked?” I am ten years old, first time in Juvie Hall. Every day I think mom or someone is going to save me from it all, she always eases my obfuscate fears, that is when she is not in prison or nodding away.
Strange meats, funny looking noodles, hot soups and raisin oatmeal they serve me. I have never seen half the food that I'm eating but hey, I don't really care. My vagrant hunger is full, the only thing that never made sense to me is when they mix the peanut butter with jelly in one container and put it on the bread. For some reason I always thought that was dumb, generic if I don't say, in fact if I didn't always feel hungry every minute of the day, then that's one thing I wouldn't eat, but can I really complain? I never ate so many meals before in just one day.
From intake — which I though was always the most dreadful part, to my first unit which for some reason seemed like a walk in the playground to me when compared to the long dark silence of intakes monotonous isolation. My earliest Juvenile times had begun, so many fences, barbed wire gates, so many “face the wall son,” and “get in lines,” “tuck in that shirt.” I can't think straight. I don't like their tone perhaps it reminds me of pops quick hand, that's why I'm real quick to catch one instead of a hand they threaten you with rec. time in your room… Let's see how long that lasts!
So many different kids, different faces around, strange names from distant places but I notice in most of their eyes there is something of myself I see and when they talk; well were already like long lost friends… Of course if your bewildered eyes don't reflect the hard youth of varrio, ghetto, desolate street years, then even amongst a bunch of ten year olds, you'll be an outcast in here. It's peculiar how a barrio, ghetto ten-year-old kid can easily recognize his own kind and immediately sense the weakness of these eccentric suburban kids who ran away from home to get their parents attention, while we got caught stealing our dinner for tomorrow’s hunger pangs.
Every morning we have a hot breakfast with extras, sometimes. Every afternoon we have recreational activities. I think it was the first time I played so many different games, for a moment I happily drifted away, that is until I was locked back in to my cage. I always became restless and anxious, it seemed when I was put back in there, those long seemingly endless hours of monotony haunted me surely. I desperately longed to wonder the streets of my freedom only if I could take all those hot meals with me and a little bit of attention then I wouldn't have a care, with the exception of mom and pops that is, always quarreling over who cops first, who hits first, who's first, who's first.
There's always the kid who looks tough, while I'm the kid who never seems to be okay with being tough enough, so in my constant unrest, I see my way into a skirmish at the slightest Juvie test.
I'm ten years old, nine just past. This is my first fifteen days in Juvenile Hall, which seemed like an eternity in one day behind that concrete wall, but my fifteen days are up now. Mom has finally come to put in her claim. I never felt more free in my youth as I drove away from my first long stay in Juvie Hall, but yet looking back I could not but help feel as those eyes of the ten-year-old boy departing from his Juvenile stay, felt a sense of pride. He made it though Juvie Hall, felt a sense of longing for those hot meals. Surely he was now ecstatically rejoicing being free, yet I think that ten year old kid sensed it was just the beginning — sensed he had not yet seen the last of Juvenile Hall.
Two months and A Day
A scuffle, a melee, Sirens bellowing, “stop the car, get on the ground,” sirens blaring from the cop car that's chasing me…
I'm 12 years old, jammin’ some old fine tunes in my first borrowed ride, The Delphonics, “Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time,” or Billy Stewart’s, “Strange Feelings,” windows rolled down, looking real tough with my creased threads and a seditious look that would probably even intimidate me. I was just swinging by some pad to pick up a homeboy so we could start another night of good times when some local cop just happen to recognize me, not to mention I have been on the run for about nine months for a melee that occurred at school no doubt stirred by my need for provoking controversy in my adolescent rebellion. Growing up in the barrio/ghetto one just knew from the age you began to play around as a kid that you don't talk to or listen to a cop, and if they don't got you then run, something I have seen plenty of times done before in and out of my ghetto life. Well at 12 years old I wasn't exactly a professional getaway driver so it should come as no surprise that I made it through a couple blocks and had to ditch the ride for some Nike training. I didn't get too far either.
There I am handcuffed in the back of the cop car again making another trip up the hill another trip back to Juvenile Hall. Since that first time at ten I made a couple brief returns, but nothing longer than a week. However this time I had a feeling it would be a little longer more than those long ago “fifteen days.” I find it kinda eerie how at ten years old looking back through the car window thinking I'll never go back to that hell again yet feeling still a sort of incompleteness, a missing part as if my journey inside the juvy wall had not guide reached its end. Probably because I just had done some time and I suddenly thought since I made it through Juvenile Hall, I just won't get caught next time, as if somehow by spending a few weeks in Juvenile Hall revealed to me all the secrets of getting away, or doing mischief invincibly… Ever feel that way? Anyhow…
Here I am stripping down naked again in front of the intake controls. I'm not so bashful as before, after the first time you seem to adjust. Still I think they're perverts looking at me naked some times too long, I think. It seems even more disturbing at this age especially when you over heard lewd cracks by the cops being made. “Three minutes in the shower,” they say, “one minute to get wet, one minute to soap up, and one minute to rinse.” No objections allowed and you’re being rushed along with six or seven other new Juvy arrivals. All sharing the some deodorant and toothpaste tube, something that doesn't bother me yet! I feel like I know everything that's around. I'm no longer that scared little kid who was shaking the first time. I know this place like a little town you're visited a couple times and every time on coming back you see everything is the same and you recognize the same familiar faces working in the local bakery or family food store.
“Stand by the doors. Face forward on quiet,” is the command a command yelled so persistently you can't but help to think he must've got bullied as a kid, so now he's bulling a bunch of juveniles that remind him everyday of his trouble youth… that remind him of his infantile shame of being bullied, of never learning how to defend himself, or they have an ego trip that strokes their sense of dominating power… There I sit, again I'm sitting staring blankly at the concrete wall, the concrete blocks of Juvenile Hall, there I'm again gazing into the dark silence lost in the deafness of it all. Restless thoughts running though my head, pops still in the Pen, moms strung out again, that candy bar was good, I wish I had a joint right now, who's going to get me out, I hate this place, I didn't do nothing wrong, how long do I have to stay in here. I fidget, I toss, I turn. Wild thoughts continue to go through my head, I never had kisses like from that first girlfriend before. Her kisses fascinated me, the way we held hands, the way we touched. Still there's nothing compared to the beauty of those eyes and wonder of those first real kisses. I wish she was here. Man, what's Jose and Ruben doing? Probably getting loaded, eating fast food, talking about “damn homeboy got busted again. He'll call don't trip.” I want to love so bad, this emptiness of being unloved is truly my deepest despair. I throw a couple punches in the shadows of the wall and do a couple push ups. I don't care, this place ain't nothing, I ain’t tripping. So much time seems to go by, an hour feels like two days. The deafening silence seems to drown me in its unfettered madness. And so my wild thoughts continue thus throughout my stay in intake.
The Boys’ Side
Intake always seemed to last so long. It always seemed like you stared sitting in silence forever, whether if it was two days or two weeks waiting to got to your unit. My first stay was on the girls’ side were all the young ghetto kids usually go before their teens. But this time I'm old enough to make it to the boys’ side. I wonder if it’s my familiar face that decides that, or my tough street kid attitude, because they have units on the girl side for my age, but I'm designated for the big boy side they say because I look like a troublemaker and oh a staff remembered I was previously involved in some vagrant melee two years ago. Now the boys’ side, that's let me tell you, the boys’ side, well once you've been on the girls’ side or little boys’ side, as it’s two-fold known, then you start hearing whispers from staff and other fellow juvies that, oh we got it made over here and that all the real tough kids are on that big boys’ side. The tall tales would be so long that afterwards you had an earful of so many dark things about how tough the boys’ side was that you started thinking it was really scary over there. I mean you already knew you'd probably have to face some big kid or dangerous peril and this effect was maximized anytime you got out of line in your unit. The staff would immediately shout, threatening, “I'll send you to the boys’ side if you keep getting out of line. Or, if you keep coming back to this place again well put you on the big boys’ side and let them get you.” And so the tall tales goes on inside the young juvenile kids mind. By the time the tall tales have ran their course or should I say after the staff’s attempt to intimidate the kids behavioral developments with psychological threats, have embedded their cruel impressions upon their young minds, either the kid straightens up or in my case, the stark image of the boys’ side seemed like a wild jungle of untamed animals preying on the weakness to gain strengths. And I, a neglected, unruly kid had this primitive nature growing inside me that was perhaps the offspring of many abuses and suppressed afflictions/resentments, that I could not defend/lash out, back at or against the unremitting depravities or the cruel leather belt wielder that had left its scars.
What Do I Know Right?
Thus in my helpless state of mind I began to emulate the very darkness of the primordial depravity I was experiencing, perhaps unconsciously believing in my emulation I could some how achieve a greater strength of brutality that would in turn miraculously believing in my emulation I could somehow achieve a greater strength of brutality that would in turn miraculously suddenly over-power any existing or future threats or traumatizations, mentally referring. Hence, I was certainly frightened by the intimidating talks of the boy's side, but yet there was also a frightening excitement of dangerous curiosity provoked by these menacing tales, a curiosity that gave way to extravagant fantasies in my desolate youth, in my one neglected, melancholic state of mind. Fantasies of beating the toughest kids. Fantasies of facing the big boys’ side like pops or some other relative would do and be feared. Fantasies though tinged with fears manifested into a fearless challenge of my very own fears. Believing somehow by being able to conquer my imagined threats/enemies/potential aggressors I would not only achieve security but somehow winning a sense of love and thus being loved in turn.
But hey I'm just a 12 years old kid going to be 13 any time now. What do I know right? All I know is my name just got called and I'm watching every one go to the girls’ side while me and two other tough looking kids like myself are going to the big boys side.
As I was learning the undaunted silence of dark intake and I might add not with the slightest reluctance, the big boys’ side at that moment seemed for more promising to my wild imaginations despite the mounting fears growing anxious in the shadows of long told tales, in contrast to the prolonged monotony of staring into a impenetrable darkness of unrestraining silence. I caught what was to be my last glance of the girls’ side corridor leading to the what was later to be referred to as the little girly side, or the rich part of town, because of its cleanness and well tended facade not to mention the extra food calls. In comparison to the big boys’ side or as better termed, the real juvenile side. The ghetto side where the street kids are trapped in constant unrest, where there are no extra trays and superfluous tales have no room to intimidate the vagrant mind.
I must admit, though I was anxious to leave intake and venture into the jungle of wildness, I felt some what indifferent seeing the more familiar and explored side of my first early times spent in Juvenile Hall dissipating from sight. I felt the secure attachment that comes with time spent in one place begin to rapidly slip away into the consuming chaos of the approaching unknowns and the foreboding shadows of my imagination. I was reluctantly saying goodbye, but I didn't know it at the time. I stared rebellious in timid, in defiance, in challenge for, but a glance and the corridor to my earliest juvenile times was shut and the blink of doleful reflection was masked by the staring anticipation of expected melees masked by all the staring menace a 12 years old street kid from the ghetto life could summon up in his imagination that would surely intimidate any preying-like beast or shall I say any prowling threats on the challenging prowl.
As I walked into the dim labyrinthine hallway that seemed like a maze with many iron locked doors leading to some unknown office or mysterious place perhaps an old dungeon… as many speculate. I felt the chill of a rank breeze upon my weary yet determined cheek and a stiff shiver that caught me off guard as I took in for the first time the stale seemingly airless atmosphere. Were it not for the slight chill then an eerie coldness would be all that remained, a smothering coldness like that of first opening a freezer and its rush of icy smog breathes into the passageways of your senses.
With only an unnoticed brief pause did my second step reveal perhaps a slight hesitance in my stride, maybe it was because I noticed the two other tough kids abruptly halted by a shiver perhaps and being remanded for their startled reaction, or perhaps it was my intense focus on being tough at that moment that my internal charade allowed no room for external deviations without imperative cause. Either way I continued to walk further into the penetrating breeze of a cold dimness towards that concealed designation that occupied the inner depths of my mind, towards that realm which would forever hold me captive in its wild claw, towards the shadow of the beast that awaited to dine on its next generation of prime flesh.
After many doors and countless stops I finally reached the barren, dirty, rundown, corridor that lead to my new home; chipped paint falling off the walls, shoe marks stained on the ground, an empty wrapper or piece of gum stuck on the floor, and not a few reaches scurrying from one corner to the next probably picking up a crumb or chasing a strange ant- something to me that's not new. Perhaps what a Rockwell image of the real barrio projects would be depicted as, only without some loud voice overgrown staff yelling like they’re mad, “Face against the wall, on quiet, don't move, stop looking around keep your head straight,” with a hard nudge to your back or a sharp poke on the arm to get the message across. I can't stand it when they yell in my ear especially when sometimes so close enough their foul breath or gross spittle reaches near.
Just a few strides more through the neglected hallway and I finally reach the place were all the tall tales began, where all the tall tales were staring at me lurid and omnious, which seemed now before my eyes a poor remnant of a ghetto scene. Every face I seen appeared to gaze with the same poverty ridden, broken home, neglected youth, imprisoned parents, grinding or addicted eyes. Eyes manifold desperately longing for what they never had, desperately staring that loveless stare; staring steadfast in their stark rebellious vagrancies with the exception of those few who happen to be from the Beverly Hills side of town, who sat at a corner table frightfully, probably praying to someone be promises never to run away from home again, just to get his parents attention or steal something he never needs while he has a pocketful of allowance money.
I notice a couple faces or so perhaps that are tougher then the rest and I see they all glance at me with the preying cunning of a wolf’s glare, that is until they see the like image of depravity staring back into their gaze; a gaze that if lasting any longer than the period of recognition would provoke an unrelenting primal reaction of volatile feeling that could only be tempered by the inevitable challenge of the juvenile melee. I see Brown stares from my side of the barrio, who look just like me, who have the some familiar eyes of generation of poverty, distress and depravity.
I see Black stares from the brothers’ projects that appear deceivingly different then me that is until you see, you look into their eyes and see your very own reflection of depravity, abuse and neglect. That is, until you see in them another fellow soul born in a life of poverty. That is until you realize we all live in the same ghettos of desolate streets.
Occasionally I see a White stare who has empty eyes like all of us or an Asian glance of straying aloof, but it’s transparent that every one here is Black or Brown, every project, barrio, or ghetto just happens to be full of us, every economic default seems to happen in our community, every educational funding seems to go to another school district in a suburban area, and all relatives seem to be either divorced, in prison, in a drug rehab, or somewhere mournfully else. But hey I'm just 12 years old going to be 13 soon and I finally made it to this place that intrigued, that frightened my untamed, timid darkly curious feral imagination.
The first couple days are always preceded by the usual chaos of first coming in. The staff that don't know you always seems to be yelling your name out every minute and you get this eerie feeling that how the whole unit is staring at you reproachfully, reprimanding, when they're just really hoping they don't hear their name bellowed out next and end up doing something clumsy anyhow trying to be extra careful not to be noticed. Showers, bathroom calls and laundry all seem to he done in a rush and you always feel like you’re just not moving fast enough, then you are and you end up dropping something suddenly. It all seems to be outside your sense of time, then you always got to keep your eye on the next tough kid just to be sure he doesn't think he’s too big, just to be sure he keeps his mischiefs in another direction. All the while you want to ask so many questions all at once, but when you go to ask the counselors it never seems to be the right time so I'm left to depend on a familiar face to run me down in the basics and play the rest by eye and ear. Meanwhile, my natural curiosity takes the features of the place in, the painted walls with all time murals fading on it, the expired rules and old administrative memorandums hanging loosely, torn on the ancient bulletin board. The outside area with an old basketball hoop, the wooden tables, the phone on the wall that everytime you see it, you think about how to sneak an extra phone call.
All this in a blink of eye, in one long yet short process of evaluating thoughts. Then your wandering curiosity oblivious for a moment is drawn to a tough kid who has been staring at you for too long, and suddenly your whole psychic focus has transported itself into the wild depths of an inexorable darkness. “What are you staring at vato?” My irascible tension on the very threshold of challenge poised to react as I wait to hear the reply. He turns his head in attempt to avoid the counter threat as if he didn't I was talking to him or perhaps satisfied I passed some unconscious test of his and he wishes no conflict. Again I repeat, “what are you staring at homes?” I press more confidently perhaps resulting from a perceived sign of weakness I somehow felt, or perhaps my tension had not been quite satisfied with his apparent concession and needed to be tamed a little more, or the wild natures that were growing inside my soul sensed a savage impulse that wanted to devour the weakness of my challenger’s cunning threat, that suddenly sensed a wild nature opted for a gesture of peace. Again he fakes as if I'm not there, until I go up to him, myself now the prey turned hunter in brutal, cruel confidence pursuing, “Were you looking at me vato or what?” In front of his face now. He replies, “No I wasn't looking at you homes,” with as much courage to save face without seeming weak. He doesn't look so tough to me now. “Well if I catch you looking at me next time then it's on!!” I'm poised for any disconcerting reply. He says every thing is cool, so okay, I say everything is cool. My wild impulse has withdrawn from tension’s dark brink; my unruly youth of madness has been briefly tempered.
Someone always told me when I was young, if someone in there looks at you too long just take off and if he’s too big there's always a little help lying around that will always help get the job done.
So, within the first couple of days I felt the wild embers begin to stir in my dark nature. I felt my first timid encounter in this new part of the jungle I was in, I felt my first timidness being conquered by a growing ambivalence of an unruly darkness not yet quite understood in a young boy’s mind.
In My Room
Monotonous gray hours passed in my graffiti carved, spit stained, stale ventless room that I shared with some strange kid this time. On the girls’ side it was always single rooms, on the boys’ side it was all double cells. Something that was new to me in experience, so I sat across from my strange roommate from some forgotten place and we exchanged many tales from the gutters of are ghetto lives. Telling them with all the pride of exaggeration and mischief that fuels the flames of our gamin’ aspirations and dreams, that appear to make us bigger than what we seem and feeling a sense of camaraderie in our shared identities. After our tall tales, poor jokes, game of tic-tack-toe and those moments of testing one’s exaggerated strengths, we probably share a snack or two smug had from our lunch tray or compare pencil stubs we swiped for letter writing or scribbles in our cage, before drifting back off into our intrinsic darkness of silent reverie, slipping back into the lonely depths of our depthless abyss as we are consumed by the tormenting afflictions that really haunt our dreary souls.
Three, Four, Five weeks
Three, four, five weeks have externally passed; three, four, five weeks my face is a familiar one; three, four, five weeks – when am I going to get out of here?! I watch every weekend ghetto kids getting visits from their loved ones. I feel a sharp pain of emptiness knowing I'll never get one. Every phone call I make is to the same phone number over again, every phone call that's answered I hear the repetitious despairs in a relative’s voice your, ” Pops should be out sometime soon, your mom is in the fast lane to cop, there's no time to stop.” So the phone call is always the same. Though I did get a visit once from my old grandpa, I never felt so happy before, nor so sad. I reproach myself countless times. This isn't fair. I didn't do nothing wrong. It wasn't my fault. What did I do, besides provoking a school melee and a futile attempt at a high-speed chase at 12. I thought I could do whatever I wanted… this just isn't fair. Thus my blind dangerous logic grows in distress, thus my ignorance turns into a reasoning violence.
My first court date I was denied, because only my grandpa came to petition my release. the judge; however, was not convinced. “A couple months judge,” grandpa pleads “and his had will be here.” Okay I get a break so in a couple months we will just have to see. I don't want to go to camp or some group home in some unknown place. It just isn't fair, Christmas is in a few weeks and I will have to be stuck in here unless I can get a day pass or overnight leave something they do for some families on Christmas or important circumstances. Feeling of despair, every thought lost in bewilderments of fleeting cares, the monotonous days pass in growing unrest, monotony approaching the brinks of volatile intensity in perilous distress.
I write letters, but never receive one in return. I made a friend or two, but they always seem to be the ones to go home in a week. I can't stand this Juvy school. What do they think – I didn't start skipping school in the fourth, fifth grade just for fun! I don't understand anything they say, read this or that, hell I can't tell the difference from a run off sentences or a broken paragraph. And how does one of us understand one chapter of a book to the next when everyone in the classroom has the same problem as me, when everyone in the classroom comes from the same broken home, who lacking in nourishments of love, and troubled by the pangs of empty stomachs never had a chance to worry about schools, never had the opportunity to develop a care for educational tools, like our run down local school could provide educational equality. Gym period always seems to be the best, that is when the teacher doesn't make us do some weird exercises for a punishment. Handball, basketball, or some gym game is always the most fun, but we never seem to have enough time to finish one.
Within the first month and a half I'm the kid sweeping the Juvy hallways, I'm the kid all the staff know by name and face, I'm the kid who sees everyone leave and return, the kid who in his prolonged stay begins to develop a comradeship with all his like identities thus feeling a sense of love, thus feeling a sense of family in a preternatural sense of development. The food is no longer strange to me. Oatmeal, eggs, potatoes every morning; mystery meat sandwiches, a snack and a piece of fruit every lunch time; and half cooked rice, pasta, chicken or meatloaf with a scoop of jello or slice of cake every dinner. Nothing changes. Not bad I dare say. I wake up every morning anticipating breakfast for the day, I try to rush the hours between morning and noon to escape from the ill-literate school. I hurry the hours away in vain (ecept for gym and movie day in class) and after dinner comes the bittersweet sorrow of the day, a hopeful phone call can be made. I find myself forgetting time occasionally as I'm sweeping the halls or exchanging ghetto tales with another gamin’ face, forgetting reality in my anticipations of the orders for the next day. It’s only when I find myself back in that graffiti carved, spit stained, stale ventless room that I drift back into that intrinsic darkness of silent reverie, into those lonely depths of a depthless abyss where the tormenting afflictions in my soul, in my dreary soul stirs ominous, brooding, intrepid.
I’m A Teen
I spent my first birthday in Juvenile Hall. I'm thirteen now and it looks like I'll be here for Christmas too. Since I appear to be getting along fine in this stay of Juvenile Hall my Probation Officer said I may have a chance for a Christmas day leave. Now there's a thought that made monotonous hours pass, but hey what has really changed? I learned that Juvenile Hall really ain't that bad. Okay the monotony of the endless time is distressing, frightening to the point of madness on occasions, but that seemed to be comforted by the new sense of family and camaraderie I began developing amongst my fellow juvies who all had the same eyes as me, who all come from the same poverty ridden streets as me. Even a few of the staff were cool. One or two always seemed to have grown up in our very same streets and only narrowly escaped their next generation of prison stats; perhaps with a fortunate had to help or a mentor who intervened at the right time, showing him the ancient road that leads to many wonderful pathways.
What Has Changed?
Again I say what has really changed?! What has really changed!? I say what has Juvenile Hall accomplished in helping me understand society in a better light?! All I know is the streets of despair and depravity, the varrio, the ghetto, the projects… the broken home, the hunger pangs, the leather belt or extension cord, the absence of parental nourishments, I say! The need for the essential elements of nature to nurture the health of a child's soul; love, temperament, humanity, and almost every point made in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on “Self Reliance.” What has changed? I need that parental nourishment, the feeling of love and loving in return. One is in the fast lone; the other is still in the pen. And I'm still a bewildered 12, 13 year old kid returning back to the same drug addicted, poverty ridden, desolate streets in which I was born.
In retrospect it would appear as if Juvenile Hall's only lesson, only inspiration would be the sense of family and comradeship I began to perhaps unconsciously develop within its walls. So in all true aspects Juvenile Hall was built to teach me what?! A sense of discipline? A sense of responsibility? How to be compassionate? How to love? How to develop educational tools that would give my life direction? How to feel closer to humanity and the free society of which I was supposed to be a part? How to what? What did Juvenile Hall teach me? How to become attached to the stable environment of Juvenile Hall, inspire in me a sense of pride and affection in the cruelest sense, in the most despairing sense, a sense of belonging in the milieu of Juvenile Hall, thus ensuring a bed spot for the future local economy — ensuring my safe return!
They teach you discipline and how to obey. Well I might not like their constant reprimands, but did I like the attention, the sense of acknowledgment? I didn't get none of that in a broken home! How about the warm food and extra trays?! Did I always get that in the ghetto of life?! How about that unit job? Didn't that give me my real first sense of responsibility?! Hmm, things to contemplate. Things that all seem to be very minute in the overbearing shadows of Juvenile Hall. How about sharing those tales from the streets that filled our imaginations with aspirations, envy, and budding pride with our second selves? Where else could I find the shared pains of that mirrored reflection of mine?
Two Months and a Day
But hey, what do I know, right? I'm just a 12, 13- year-old juvenile from the dark side of the jungle's pothole streets, and all I want right now is to get out of this place, to get back on my wild streets where the green wonders hold me captive in a hungry fantasy, enchanting my dark afflictions.w Where I'm free to ride from place to place, where me and a couple a gamin’ spirits can roam in wistful affray until we come up with some mischievous adventures to intrigue the melancholic hours before they come; thus sharing the experiences that would later become our fond memories.
How can I forget those Juvy bingo nights where we can win those generic sodas, cookie packs, or cheese cracker snacks, those days were sometimes the best. And we mustn't leave out Sunday, the day we all sign off for church, pretending to read the Bible passage of the day while we really flirt with the girls on the other side, wishing we could kiss one or maybe just dance! Okay, so maybe dancing isn't quite on our young minds yet, so there we are trying to exchange a hook-up or two for a future time, or perhaps we recognize one and we smile at each other, eyes dancing in the wonders of a pastime that reminds us where we met, thinking how cool it would be if we could hook-up again. Staring at each other oblivious of the church hymns, staring at each other, longing perhaps not just for a kiss, but thinking that somehow you know that one of those girls can truly fill your emptiness.
Two months and a day of monotonous hours spent in the darkness of silent reverie. Two months and a day of tormenting afflictions stirring in the depths of my dreary soul. Two months and a day from morning till night I found myself somewhat intrigued by this new Juvenile Hall. Two months and a day the girls side is for whimps, I now say. Two months and a day, I can't stand this Juvenile school; two months and a day, everyone got a visit except for me, everyone got a letter except for me, everyone got a phone call home, no one answered mine. Two months and a day it seems like I'm the tough kid around here now. Two months a day and I'm the one who's staring around like I have nothing to lose, not a care, the one who gets along just fine with all the empty eyes from ghetto streets. Two months and a day and every one of those days in those two months and a day, I wanted nothing more but to go home. And on Christmas day, the judge granted me an eight-hour leave because of my exceptionally good behavior, and, oh, moms finally pulled over for a second out of the fast lane and petitioned for my mercy. Two months and a day in Juvenile Hall. I embraced my mom for the first time, “Hop in the car mijo, it’s time to go cop, I'm sick,” she says. “Hey mom, I isn't going back there again,” I say. Looking at me she smiles that lovely smile and whispers, “Oh honey, I love you,” as she caresses my cheek. An eight-hour leave, yeah right! Not when they just let me back out on the streets! I stare through the windows, intoxicated by freedom’s release, convinced at that moment that they will never catch me, yet again, I have this stirring feeling deep inside, ominous, foreboding, incomprehensible, feeling that my journey through Juvenile Hall still has not quite reached its end.
Juvenile Times: My Last Seven-Month “Farewell”
I feel a dark winter wind blowing against the ominous nightlife of mischiefs, I shiver, as it’s sharp brisk chill sneaks through my derby collar to caress me like a trembling suitor upon my nape. A silver-menacing glow from the half moon light penetrates through the dim alley of darkness I'm in; a menacing glow pursuing, reproachful, escapeless… My heart is racing, I'm out of breath, I hear the sirens in close pursuit; sirens calling, threatening, demanding, unrelenting. From one dark alley to the next my heart beats in dangerous anticipation, my mind is out pacing my frantic, desperate Nike race. My eyes are trying hopelessly to blink away mary jane's bewildering haze, eyes blinking with devious zeal.
Sirens deafening, whispering in my ear foretelling of a cold darkness to come, foreboding sirens shattering the placid, solemn, mischievous night air, mercilessly pursuing, warning the rest of the unseen night creatures away from their covetous endeavors. Panting, breathless, gasping for air, racing adrenaline pounding with every beat of my anxious heart, dangerous tensions driving the very speeds of an already ill-fated chase. Over fences, through dim alleys of strife, through strange back yards with starving dogs, pass all the weary souls of the night, my eyes desperately implore through the dense wild jungles of the dark for a hidden corner to escape from my tireless, pursuing beast.
Tainted crimson stains, viscid, like a burgundy violet wine spilled in the chaos of wild times, spilled from the depths of the streets dark soul, drip from condemned hand, and streak my Charlie Brown and Ben Davis pants. Born in the cruelty of the unsparing ghetto streets, this is the jungle in which my gamin’ natures have been forged; this is the wilderness where savage instincts determine your strength to survive, where your unruly nature is your salvation to longevity. Where I find myself being hemmed in as the foreboding sirens draw ever near and the helicopter spot light pursues every dark shadow that would bring me a secure reprieve.
“On the ground, hands behind your back, cross your legs, face down, if you make one more I'll be forced to shoot!”… comes the blaring warning from the k-nine (cop) cars …light flashing, engines idle, mad… “Seditious thoughts run through my head, the dark natures stir in the depths of my young soul, stirring wildly. Bewildered eyes no longer gazing in a mary green haze; ambivalent eyes staring in a youth of tenebrous rebellion, in a defiant rage. I am fourteen years old, fifteen is more near… I feel the knee of some over grown cop pressing in to my back. Another one holding my neck, while the other brutally slaps the iron cuff on my wrists. Trying to intimidate me with their taunting words—tauntless in the ears of my dark youth, superfluous as they enter in to mocking ears… taunts about Juvenile Hall!
They must not know that's like my second home by now, the must not know that place was built for me; or have they forgotten the daily poverty they patrol, have they forgotten how we insure their monthly paycheck? A bit farfetched to pretend they don't see, if you ask me! Or maybe everyone is just used to it.
I stare out the back of the cop car window thinking I stained my new pants, thinking I'm in serious trouble this time… I gaze at the passing streets of my wild boyhood. I gaze at the familiar street signs that come with your first childhood memories of playing in those streets. I stare longing, remembering another time knowing a cold monotonous dark awaits my company. I stare thinking about an affectionate loved one or two, I stare looking with all eyes somewhat still dazed by a sobering joint or two. Thinking, I’ll be back on that street soon. Thinking, I know a girl or homeboy who lives down one dark street or another, as I pass reluctantly by, captive, captured, careless… Thinking, damn I was supposed to call this girl up. Thinking, damn, the homeboy is going to the carnival without me this time. I stare looking at my familiar ghetto streets — not knowing this was the last time they would see me, not knowing that this was going to be my last day of being free… that this was to be the last glimpse of freedom that would be left to my adolescent memories.
As I am being hauled off into the depths of the winter night — towards that darkness that awaits to embrace my young soul, I'm thinking how I started off the day with my creased Ben's, Charlie Brown, and deciding whether I want to wear my Stacy Adams or Nikes while touching up the palm comb class. With a joint in one ear and another lit, talking with one homeboy or another making plans for the day. Then suddenly I feel my resting heart begin a rapid pace, a stir of adrenaline dances in the dark light of my eyes and I grow restless as my mind sees the crimson tears left by the wounded shadows of our perilous life.
I think just another wild night I have survived in the jungle, yet I can't but help feel some deep sorrow of stirring humanity in the depths of my young soul, a stirring however, unable to reach the conscious depths of my adolescent life that has since birth, been nurtured by the desolate, coarse, neglected hand of ghetto cares; unusual by the ancient pacifier of wretched poverty.”
“But hey, I'm only a young tough street kid…” so my thoughts wander back to some party I went to that was all the way live, not even vaguely thinking that would be the last party I would jump in — not suspecting that it was the last party I would attend.
“Throw him in that tank over there.” The Intake staff says, at my arrival, to the cop — not yet catching sight of my face. “What's your name juvenile?!” he says. Looking up at me for the first time he suddenly exclaims: “Hey are you back again? What's going on with you!?” He says, smiling as he recognizes my face… looking at the reports left by the police. He gives a whistle and says, “well you're in here for the long stay on this one.” I smile with all the rebellious mockery of my youth, as I reply, “I started missing you and all those extra trays…” Every one in Intake knows me by now, they look at me perhaps struck for a moment by a sad thought, then brushing it away with a smile and a extra sack lunch they had left on the side. “You know the drill,” they say, and without another thought I'm back in to the daily Juvenile Hall routine.
I sit in the cold silence of my concrete cage no longer intimidated by its perpetual stare, no longer swayed by its stoic glare. My eyes implore the wild darkness for it's tepid embrace. I'm embraced by the enchanting darkness of depravity; my young soul had already been lost in the inherent darkness of the ghetto life, had already found the inevitable road leading him into a world beyond the tiny walls of his Juvenile Hall. Beyond the life of battery packs and razors melees of CYA, into the infernal depths of a prison’s dark rage, into an incessant darkness of depravity that would devour even the intrepid flames that flicker in the dark shadows of prison walls.”
I sit there in intake lost in the myriad thoughts of my feral mind. I sit there in intake ready to go to the ghetto side where my face is familiar to the eyes of all. Where my eyes see the integral afflictions that torment the souls of poverty, in a struggle to free themselves from the grip of Juvenile Hall; desperately struggling to escape from the impoverished despairs that weigh so heavily upon their homeless hearts.
I walk through that same ghetto corridor that seemed to intimidate my young eyes years before, that how appear to me as a distant thought that has long lost its care. As I enter into my unit, a few steps tougher up in age, now that I'll be fifteen soon, I glance around and see a familiar face or two and nod in the casual silent, “what’s up! Q’vo!” As I continue to scope out the day room, noticing several new faces looking at me, I notice one or two tough kids staring a moment too long, they haven't met me yet obviously, I guess I'll have to introduce myself another time whether they like it or not and show them this is now my Juvie place.
I have embraced the darkness that for so long frightened me with its eerie whispers of insensate feelings. I'm now whispering the dark cold endearments to the Juvie souls that share my afflicted, lonely, beseeching, seditious eyes of the barrio, ghetto streets, of broken homes and frigid poverties.
I sit in the deafening silence of monotony as I fill the empty hours exchanging mischievous tales with my fellow Juvie souls — while we probably are contemplating the mischiefs of the next day; maybe there will be a little riot or spontaneous me’lee, we are the gamin spirits who found our lonesome natures unruly, forged together in our desperate need for a sense of family in our want to belong, to be loved, thus we found ourselves in a bond of tribal-like unity.
Silently, during the early first weeks of Juvenile Hall, my primary concerns revolve around the impending court dates, the implications in the court rhetoric that always seem to frighten our young minds with visions of doing time for a hundred years or some even darker vision of having to face some unknown darkness in a far off strange place, convinced we will probably lose an eye or get fatally wounded there. So we begin to develop an aggressive impulse, an automatic defensive/ hostile mechanism provoked by our own vulnerable fears. Whilst my restless thoughts of fresh memories on the streets begin to lose their sense of immediate importance with each monotonous day lasting longer in the shadows of Juvie life, with each passing day of venturing further into the darkness of mischievous intrigues… intrigued by the sense of tribal-like unity.
My second court date within a month, I find out they want to send me to CYA, “CYA! What about camp? What about a group home? Even some far off program?” I declare, perhaps just somewhat startled because the thought hasn't really quite sunk in … “but wait I don't really care, didn't somewhere along the way I develop a longing curiosity in CYA. If pops and other loved ones all been there, isn't that the where the true strong survive, isn't that the place where I'll learn how to be tough just like them” —CYA ain't nothing they always said “you're tough just like us” and they would whisper a secret knowledge in you ear and by its possession, convincing you that now some how you already have an upperhand.
Defiant, rebellious, scared, cruel, timid, I stand in the tall shadows of Juvenile Hall facing CYA time… I feel a deep vulnerability of fear, of doubt growing inside the internal conflicts of the soul, threatening to unbalance my fragile mind, that is until the external forces of depravity, of the dark pressures of Juvie Hall register back into the wild darkness of conscious sight to repress any perceived vulnerabilities that might attempt to develop into compassionate affinities, into a sense of true humanity… where the dark impulses in progressing manifestations of depravity allow no room.
With each court date preceding the last, the more convinced I am that my CYA fate has come, the more I begin to lose care, as I run deeper into the depths of darkness, losing sight of freedoms sense… A riot here and there, a me’lee, I no longer care, even the tough kids in Juvie revere me, only a few like natures have grown cold like me. A few like natures who share the same fate as I, who has grown up in the wretched poverty of life. Who lost themselves in that same inexorable darkness as I.
Within two months, I find myself at home in the Juvie trenches, in the Juvenile Hall holes, losing myself in the icy concrete, colorless walls of a staring, strange silence, penetrating the wildness in my soul. Paralyzing me for a moment in its deep isolation, the timeless impulse momentarily suspended in privation, the external pressures briefly arrested in a solitary cage. Contemplating the next juvenile me’lee… the next esteemed endeavor of tribal—unity…thus insuring greater tribal esteem”
Note; the Juvenile hole/ Juvenile trenches, hole seem to be very similar to the deafening silence of my first experiences inside “intake,” and later experiences there. Only with the added knowledge I was being punished for hostile or defensive reactions or actions. However after the initial impact of my first stay in isolation, which lasted two weeks of sitting in my cell twenty-four hours a day — with one hour out of my isolation room every other night—and a shower as often as the cops wasn't lazy. Besides them taking my mattress every morning, at five in the morning, and serving me with food trays that had a bug or two in there, sometimes, I sat there in abstract thought. At times, perhaps, I felt an utter sense of despair, but because perhaps I had endured so many abuses and restrictions or deprivations as a gamin in the ghetto life along with a combination of analogous experiences character of that lifestyle — all of which helped allow me to easily adapt/ grow accustom to long periods of solitude in isolation. Thus, instead of isolation serving its intended design for punishment and conformity, it became an unconscious affinity to my wild natures. Of course I didn't like the idea of going or being in juvenile isolation, yet neiher did I find myself dreading the atmosphere of the hole, despite all the attempts by the cops/staff to provoke distress at every sign of peace.
Where I saw some young kids like me, banging on walls, attempting to hurt themselves, screaming madly, I seemed to adapt to the habits of isolation with little effort, that is, after the initial prolonged silences has passed. The initial assault of monotony oppressive in its nature of totality… that often reminded you of some forgotten freedom that resurfaced from your dark depths, that momentarily strived the suppressed natures of longing, which always seemed to bring your thoughts to a fated despair—thus leaving you in a state of melancholy until you found some external idea to entertain your imagination with. While anticipating the counting days of returning back to your unit where the Juvenile homeboys proudly greet, revere, embrace your presence/ your return
I would spend many more occasions in juvenile isolation before my final departure, the longest being a month and a half.
Over the next couple months I found myself lost in the milieu of juvenile life, while every day contemplating my CYA fate. I had no idea this would be my last time seeing the inside of my what had become my beloved Juvenile Hall. I had yet to realize the feeling of a, of my bittersweet goodbye. Nothing ever changed in the daily routine of Juvenile Hall except when the occasional little riot or melee occurred. And yet does not the endless cycle of such disturbing violent reoccurrences in the daily behavioral patterns of Juvenile Hall become an essential feature of its very infrastructure.
I sat there in Juvenile Hall for the countless time, remembering my first time I spent ten days here when I was nine years old, confused, scared, wondering. Remembering how I came back on a few minor occasions at eleven and twelve, remembering when I first come to the boy's side frightened vulnerable within, yet rebellious, defiant on the facade as I began to succumb to the external darkness of ill-fated curiosities at the age of twelve, thirteen. And how I stood on the run for about six months, one time, before I got caught again, luckily it was just for that ol' Christmas leave, absconding warrant. I got released in a week — pops spoke up for mine. Remembering how I was running wild, confused, neglected, careless, reckless, dangerous at the age of thirteen, fourteen, how now, I sat in Juvenile Hall, fourteen going on fifteen with the judge’s ruling, echoing over and over in my deaf ear, with the judge’s voice ruling my fate in a single condemned sentenced finality that was thousands of miles away from reaching the dark depths of my defiant ears.
The Last Time
I sat there in Juvenile Hall for the last time, at age fifteen, not understanding I had lost, just lost the freedom of my young life, that I had just lost the freedom of my young adult life to come… that I had lost the true freedoms I never really knew I ever possessed! I lost a freedom that already seemed to have been lost in the despairing youth of my melancholied emptiness, in the cold dregs of ghetto streets, in the broken home of perilous distress, in the malnutritions of loveless nourishments in the missing touch from humanity.”
There I sat for the last time in Juvenile Hall contemplating how tough I'll be in CYA thinking how I'm ready to show CYA just how bad I am. Only abstractly remembering the distant echo from the judge in my ear, “I hereby sentence you juvenile' to thirteen years in CYA.” Juvenile life, he says “you have been condemned,” which means I'll get out when I'm twenty-five, lest I find my way into the dark shadows of state prisons’ rage some where along my journey though CYA.
But hey I'm only fourteen, fifteen years old I'm no fortune teller or psychic hot line. What do I know, right? I'm the tough kid who's been in and out of Juvenile Hall since the age of nine; I'm the tough kid who is ready to take on every CYA from Preston, Nellis, YTS, and Chad… I should have enough time, you think?
There I Sit
There I sit for the last time gazing out the back window trying to steal a peak of the night moon there, trying to catch a drift of wild air from a crack, thinking about my loved ones who never seemed to be there, or are lost in a similar cage of despair. There I sit in the midst of my collective shadows regretting one moment and forgetting the next. There I sit justifying, rationalizing, convinced the world is against me. There I sit in Juvenile Hall for the last night, then tomorrow I'm off to CYA” There I sit, my haggard soul alone, afflicted in despairs… There I sit watching the darkness of the night slowly engulf the brooding peaks of the moon. There I sit lonesome, dreary in a strange detachment watching the remnants of my Juvenile times slip away — slipping away into the dark cold, unfeeling wild secret night.
William Grajeda writes about his experience of entering juvenile hall at age nine until fifteen. Theses letters were originally published by The Beat Within, a juvenile justice system writing workshop, which has generously allowed The Crime Report to share.