Teens Face Life in Prison Before Having a Life of Their Own
In California, people under the age of 18 who are charged with certain serious crimes can be tried as adults if the court finds the individual charged "is not a fit and proper subject to be dealt with under the juvenile court law."The question is argued before a juvenile court judge in a "707 hearing" (named for the relevant section of the state Welfare and Institutions code). The law stipulates five criteria, which call for judgments about the minor (his or her "degree of criminal sophistication," for example) and the particular alleged offense. In general, the law applies to people over 16 and under 18, but with some charges of murder juveniles as young as 14 can be considered fit (or unfit) for trial as adults. The short essays that follow are all by teens facing the possibility of life in jail -- some awaiting 707 hearings; others tried (or soon to be tried) as adults.What My Life Will Be, InfinitelyI am 16 years old. I'm in juvenile hall for one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder.It is very, very hard for me, knowing I'm going to spend the rest of my life in prison. I'm still a kid, and kids make mistakes. We can learn from our mistakes. But nowadays, all people want to do is send a kid to prison and throw away the key.When I'm in this room thinking about my freedom, family and girlfriend, all that, I start getting sad, then I start crying until I fall asleep. I've been reading a lot of books about prison life. It's really bad in there. They say a lot of people get killed. I'm starting to worry and think I might not make it. I know the Lord has my back though. I wonder if I'm ever going to be with my family. I wonder if I'll be caught in the funk because I'm Asian and there aren't a lot of Asians in there -- and I'm a small one. I wonder if my friends and girlfriend will forget about me.I've been here for six months, and I'll be here for another year and a half. It's hard knowing I'm going to prison for the rest of my life. I count off every day I'm here, every month. Everything is the same, every day the same. Wake up, go to school, rec for an hour, shower, then go to bed -- that's every day. That's what my life is going to be infinitely. -- S.S.No Such Thing as RehabilitationThe way this system that I'm confined in operates there's no such thing as rehabilitation.I'm seeing more and more precious young lives being set up for failure, and believe me, it's a sad sight. I sit in the maximum security unit, still awaiting my 707 trial, and look at seven other young men in this unit who are going through or have already been through the same thing. Instead of making new programs, it's more prisons being built. You see, if you send someone somewhere where there's a good chance they'll rehabilitate themselves, there's more of a chance they won't return, and that will mean less money for the system. But if you send someone somewhere where they will most likely become even sicker, then the odds are they will return. That means more money. That brings up the saying -- "If it don't make dollars, it don't make sense." The incarcerated people are the dollars so I guess the system figures that what they're doing makes sense. -- D.R. No One Can ComprehendI'm facing life in prison for something I was charged with when I was 17. It is scary to think about it.My father came to see me and we looked face to face and I asked him a serious question. "Can I survive in prison?" He told me I can. He has spent time in prison himself, so it took a lot of stress off my mind when he told me that.A lot of young men in here that are going to camp or a group home tell me they feel what I'm going through. This makes me mad and sad, because they don't know what people who face life are going through. I think nobody in this system can really comprehend us, the minors facing life in the adult system. Because the adults can take advantage of us and probably rape us. Those things run through my mind and they scare the hell out of me. -- G.S.Part of the System -- PermanentlyIf I'm convicted, I may never get to breathe fresh air or see the outside for the rest of my life. It feels like someone is just all of a sudden taking my life. Everything that I know and love they're trying to take from me. They want to make me a part of the system permanently, taking orders from people I don't know, and would not care to know. The worst part about my situation is that I can't be with my family anymore and it eats me up inside. I have a young brother and sister that I am missing right now and I may never get to see them again, or help my mother raise them.If I get sentenced to life I don't know what I'll do, but I do know I don't want the opportunity to find out. It can be very easy for someone to say, "Maintain, keep your head up, stay strong," but they're on the outside looking in and don't have a clue about how this situation feels. It can change a person's whole personality or mentality. I pray to God every night and ask him to make me strong inside and out I am stressing myself out with the burden of facing serious time. Because right now juvenile is like Disneyland, but the Pen could be something that can just mentally kill you, if you have to spend the rest of your life there. -- T.M.I Try Not to FeelTo be honest, I really try very hard not to have any feelings about looking at a life sentence. I do not have any, but they come in like the days. I guess you can say that I don't want to deal with any of them. But when I'm alone at night I go crazy, because I know that I'm going to do some kind of time. But how long, and if I go, would I come out? That runs through my head every day and I can't really deal with it. I just try and find a way to work with it. I just live my days as if they were my last. I try to go through it getting all I can, and appreciating everything I get. -- T.S.These young people write for "The Beat Within," a weekly newsletter by and about incarcerated youth published by Pacific News Service. This is the second of two articles on the teenage gulag.