10/07/2011

Shawn Smith - Remember Me

Shawn Smith
Letter to Mom
Shawn Smith was 13 years old. At the time of his death he was incarcerated at the Volusia Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Daytona, Florida. Shawn complained that he was constantly harassed, bullied and beaten at the hands of those entrusted with his care. Those hands belonged to employees of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. On October 30, 2001 when the pain of dealing with his daily torture proved more that this child's ability to cope Shawn Smith completed suicide.
Shortly after his death, a friend of his grandmother wrote this letter on Shawn's behalf:

  Mom, When tomorrow starts without me and I’m not there to see, If the sun should rise and find your eyes all filled with tears for me; I wish so Much you wouldn’t cry the way you did today, while thinking of the many things, We didn’t get to say. I know how much you love me, as much as I love you, and Each time you think of me, I know you’ll miss me too; but when tomorrow starts without me, Please try to understand, that an angel came and called my name, And took me by the hand, and said my place was ready, in heaven far above, And that I’d have to leave behind all those I dearly loved. But as I turned to walk away, a tear fell from my eye, for all my life, I’d always thought I didn’t want to die. I had so much to live for, So much left yet to do, it seemed almost impossible, that I was leaving you. I thought of all the yesterdays, the good ones and the bad, I thought of all the love we shared, and all the fun we had.
If I could relive yesterday, just even for a while, I’d say good-bye and kiss you and Maybe see you smile. But then I fully realized, that this could never be, for Emptiness and memories would take the place of me. And when I thought of worldly things I might miss come tomorrow, I thought of you, and when I did, my heart was filled with sorrow.
But when I walked through Heaven’s gates, I felt so much at home. When God looked down and smiled at me from his great golden throne, he said, “This is eternity, and all I’ve promised you. Today your life on earth is past, But here life starts anew. I promise no tomorrow, but today will always last. And since each day’s the same way, there’s no longing for the past. You have been so faithful, so trusting and so true. Though there were times you did some things you knew you shouldn’t do. But you have been forgiven and now at last you’re free. So won’t you come and take my hand and share my life with me?”
So when tomorrow starts without me, Don’t think we’re far apart, for every time you think of me, I’m right here in your heart!
Love,
Shawn
[Terri Mestre is Mom. She can be contacted at Tmestre@cfl.rr.com]

An investigation by Mr. Hurtibise and the News-Journal sheds light on the abuse in juvenile facilities. Nothing much has changed since Shawn Smith died in the Volusia Regional Juvenile Detention Center two years ago. Read the article; then e-mail Ron Hurtibise, Terri Mestre (justice4kids - Orlando) or Cathy Corry (justice4kids - Tampa Bay) with your story. Until more people speak out, nothing will ever change.

Vigil

  Remember me?Shawn D. Smith
October 29, 2001
Remember us...
Danny Matthews May 31, 2003
Omar Paisley June 9, 2003
Willie Durden III October 13, 2005
 
  Fourth Annual CANDLELIGHT VIGIL
for Shawn Smith
October 29, 2005
 

2005
 
 
Shawn Smith two months
before his death in Volusia JDC.
    The Second Annual CANDLELIGHT VIGIL for SHAWN SMITH was held Thursday, October 30, 2003 at the Volusia County Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Daytona Beach, Florida. It was here, on October 30, 2001, that Shawn died. He was 13 years old. Shawn suffered continual abuse at the hands of those entrusted with his care. Those hands belonged to employees of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.During the vigil, Terri, Judy Kay and Cathy listened as parents, leaving after visitation, told stories of abuse that never stops.
Mr. Bankhead, if you care at all, go to any juvenile facility in Florida and listen to the parents!
   
The vigil, October 30, 2003
Cathy Corry (left with sign) joins Terri Mestre (center with sign) at the second annual vigil for Terri's son, Shawn. Also pictured are Shawn's sister, Heather, and grandmother, Judy Kay.
   
  2002         2003    
 
Shawn with those who will forever care: Grandmother, JudyKay (l),
and Mother, Terri (r)
   
Shawn's Grandmother holds his picture during the second annual vigil of his death.
   
October 30, 2003

 

Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents - Our Mission is to do better!
Dear Friends, In 1999, sixteen year old Michael Duc Ta was driving a car from which shots were fired at another car. No one was hurt. No evidence was presented that Duc had shot the gun. He was not accused of shooting the gun.
There are a lot of unknowns in this case. Duc denies gang affiliation, he lacks gang tattoos, and there is no evidence that he was in a gang. He also denies knowing the third boy who got in his car that day had a gun.
But there are also facts. It is a fact that no one was hurt and it is accepted by all sides that Duc was not the shooter. Most people, even crazy-right-wing-tough-on crime-lock-everybody-up people, don't think that the person driving the car should get more than three years in this situation.
That's not what happened. Duc Ta was given 35 years to life. Twenty years for "gang enhancement" and fifteen more for "gun enhancement", law enforcement tools for which the original intent was only the most severe and hardcore gang members.
For all his bad luck Duc had one piece of good luck. He was chosen at random as one of twelve children being tried as adults to participate in the excellent documentary, Juvies. From this film and the outpouring of letters of support Duc's sentence was reduced to 11 years to life.
It's not enough. In California, only 5% of people who come up for parole are actually released. It is unlikely that Duc will get out after 11 years. I shouldn't have to point out the obvious, but I will - We are paying for Duc's incarceration, twice. We're paying in the more than $30,000 a year to keep him behind bars as well as the tax revenue lost when society loses a fit member.
This was Duc's first offense. He's served six years, most of it in adult correction facilities. He is not the only juvenile in his situation. It is in fact more and more common for children at crime scenes in auxiliary roles like driver to be tried as adults. Worse, children tried as adults, for a variety of reasons, are actually serving longer sentences in California than "actual" adults charged with the same crimes. We're making a mistake.
The facility the prisoner is sent to is based on a point system. The higher your points, the more restrictive your incarceration. Some ways in which points are assigned include the length of your sentence (ie. if you have a life sentence like Duc you are assigned more points), whether you're married (if you're not married you get more points), if you haven't graduated from high school, and if you commit a felony under the age of 18. Strangely, you are given more points for committing a felony as a youth than as an adult. Because of this point system Duc is being kept in a level four 180 yard reserved for the most dangerous criminals. This kind of yard is constantly on lockdown and Duc is only allowed to the yard twice a week for two hours.
If you think that six years is more than enough time for driving a car from which shots were fired and no one was hurt and you live in California I'd like to urge you to sign the petition linked at the bottom of this page asking Governor Schwarzenegger to release Duc with time served. There are hundreds, maybe thousands or children like Duc, prosecuted for murder or attempted murder simply for being at the scene of a crime, caught in the nightmare of being tried in adult court in California. Duc happened to be one chosen at random for this film but if we can raise awareness in this one case, that might spread to others, and maybe we can start to make some real changes in the way we view the rehabilitation prospects of youth offenders.
You can sign this petition online, provided you are a California resident, while keeping your information private. Your email address will only be used for verification.
Sincerely,
Stephen Elliott
Go here to sign the petition: http://www.petitiononline.com/freeduc/petition.html
Go here for more information on Duc Ta: http://justiceforduc.com/index.htm
Follow Stephen Elliott on Twitter: www.twitter.com/the_rumpus
Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents - Our Mission is to do better!

California prisons: Torture by any means necessary

by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa
Artist Tommy Silverstein, who calls this painting “Skull,” suggests the deprivation that comes with solitary confinement. He has been in solitary for more than 27 years, currently in the federal prison at Florence, Colo., known as the Guantanamo of the Rockies.
 
This is a glimpse into torture by any means necessary. Solitary confinement in the Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit (SHU) is a reflection of our inhumane treatment and clearly violates our constitutional rights under the First, Fifth, Eighth and 14th Amendments. Prisoners in all the solitary confinement units in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), whether SHU or Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg), are subjected to the same treatment: the application of human torture.

The triggering of deprivation

The objective of deprivation is not complicated: It’s to attack and impair the prisoner’s senses and perception. The weapons of deprivation cannot be effective without having in place the conditioning process to produce degeneration over a long period of time. The conditioning involves psychological, social, cultural, historical and natural phenomena that are observable.
Deprivation is cannibalistic, for even when the spirit is willing to stay the course, the flesh becomes weakened as men feed on themselves and others, eating away at human excellence. The feasting of deprivation will become more than flesh, blood or nature can endure.
Indeterminate SHU sentencing has forced individuals to choose between discontinuity or becoming inflicted with a cannibalistic nature. There are two aspects of deprivation, with psycho-physical causes and effects either way. But in order for deprivation to eat away at the targeted prisoner’s conscience, a conversion reaction must occur that breaks down the psychological defense mechanism.

Declaration on Protection from Torture

The Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in its Resolution 3452 in December 1975. The declaration contains 12 articles, the first of which defines the term “torture” as:
“Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purpose as obtaining from him or a third person information or confession, punishing him for an act he has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating him or other persons.”
Types of torture
1. Medical: Honorable Judge Thelton Henderson ordered a receivership over health care in California prisons due to intentional medical neglect that leads to prisoners dying one a week in CDCR – largely after hearing horror stories from the PBSP SHU. Many of these deaths were and continue to be in solitary confinement – this is torture.
2. Solitary confinement: Long-term isolation 10-40 years for non-disciplinary infractions – this is torture.
3. Mail: Prisoners’ mail is being used to create physical and psychological torment when it is being denied and withheld – this is torture.
4. Food: Intentionally disproportional servings, poorly prepared and contaminated deliberately – this is torture.
5. No human contact: No family, friend or real meaningful social interaction with other human beings, sensory deprivation that deprives prisoners of their five senses: feeling, sight, smell, hearing and taste – this is torture.
6. Visiting: Constantly under the “Gestapo” type Office of Correctional Safety (OCS), Investigative Service Unit (ISU), Institution Gang Investigators (IGI), who deliberately intimidate visitors and prisoners – this is torture.
7. Cell searches: Trashing prisoners’ cells to intimidate and harass them, leaving the cells in disarray while taking political writings, pictures, manuscripts, books, pamphlets, magazines etc., causing psychological torment – this is torture.
8. Climate: Prisoners deliberately kept in freezing cold cells, a complaint which has been made for over 21 years, or burning hot cells, depending what time of the year it is – this is torture.
9. Pottie watch: A humiliating, dehumanizing and outright cruel and unusual punishment where prisoners are held in shackles and placed in the middle of a hall sitting on a real pottie as everyone walks by in transition to other places, or where you are placed in a cage with no toilet or running water and forced into a human diaper with a prison jumpsuit over the diaper while your hands are bound into a fist wrap and you’re forced to defecate three separate times during a three-day period and you can see the torment and suffering on the prisoner’s face; this is done to cause severe humiliating mental, physical and psychological torment – this is torture.
10. Family: Each validated prisoner family is deliberately harassed, intimidated and intentionally hoaxed into a false prosecution for a thoughtless crime by a Gestapo (i.e., OCS, ISU, SSU and IGI) with the intent to discourage any prisoner support and communication – this is torture.
11. Grievance: The 602 appeal process is deliberately set up at every level – 1, 2 and 3 – to not afford the prisoner any relief regardless of whether prison officials are dead wrong, clearly establishing there’s no accountability for what officials do to prisoners – this is torture.
No sane targeted prisoner can escape the deprivation that comes with long term internment in one of the many supermax solitary confinement control units across this nation. The science behind the use of deprivation has been perfected by the handlers to operate with devastating force. The wicked techniques of human torture by deprivation are used by U.S. military intelligence and their political police interrogators (PPI), from the prison OCS to the FBI or CIA.
They attempt to break down the will power of the targeted prisoners by conducting a war of attrition against the mind and body. We know there is no separation between physical torture and mental torture. Torture is two-edged and can be effective either way, towards exacting punishment or revenge. We prisoners of course know that breaking our will is the basis of long-term isolation and indeterminate solitary confinement.
The use of deprivation is to take away from the prisoners their human dimension and essence. Deprivation tampers with the senses by way of environment stimuli to the detriment of the targeted prisoners.
Sitawa represents New Afrikan prisoners on the hunger strike negotiating team. He came very close to death during the July hunger strike. Send our brother some love and light: Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (s/n R.N. Dewberry), C-35671, PBSP D1-117, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532-7500.

Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents - Our Mission is to do better!

Hope for prisoners sentenced as juveniles to life without parole

by Jawad Latif James
What could be more terrifying than to be a child locked up for life in an adult prison?
“True prison reform starts with the enlightenment of the inmate about who that inmate is in reality and not what he or she has become because of circumstances,” says the Honorable Minister Farrakhan. In California there is a bill, Senate Bill 9, formerly known as Senate Bill 399, going through the process to become law, introduced by Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco. Under SB 9, the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, juvenile offenders would be allowed to ask a court to review their cases after they have served 10 years in prison and could potentially get their sentence reduced to 25 years to life. In the state of California, 227 people who were juveniles when they were convicted are serving life term prison sentences without the chance to ever re-enter society.
This law in California that is allowing juveniles to be sent to prison for the rest of their lives is very unjust. This means that we have given up all hope in those who have committed crime in their youth. A sentence such as this says to juveniles that their lives are worth nothing and they can never rehabilitate themselves and do anything positive after they have done wrong.
We must understand that these juveniles have been sent to prison for life with no opportunity to ever gain their freedom and enjoy life as everyone else. Their crimes were committed when they were children, not having a clear understanding of life as adults, but tried as adults, and now they will die in prison.
Although 10 countries allow “life without” sentences, most don’t use this harsh sentence for juveniles. International law prohibits the use of life without parole for juveniles. The United States is in violation of international law when sentencing youths to life without parole.

The United States is in violation of international law when sentencing youths to life without parole.

This is cruel and unusual punishment. This crime needs to be taken up by the Supreme Court in the same manner as when the United States allowed juveniles to be sentenced to death, which was found to be unconstitutional in 2005.
It is also surprising to note that California has the worst record of racial disparity when it comes to locking up juveniles and throwing away the keys. African Americans are given this sentence at a higher rate than other races – followed by Hispanic youth. In the state of California a few years ago, juveniles were seen by psychologists for what was called a psychologist’s evaluation for their fitness hearing. Within this evaluation, the psychologist makes sure of a few things that are required by the courts:
  1. Whether the juvenile was fit to be tried as a juvenile or fit to be tried as an adult
  2. Whether the juvenile understood the difference between right and wrong
  3. Can the juvenile be easy manipulated by peers.
The most important part of this psychologist’s evaluation was to see whether the juvenile was mature enough to understand the crime he or she was being charged with. The reason this part was important in this fitness hearing is because it is commonly understood that the juvenile brain continues to grow as they get older. The ability to think rightly and plan has not fully developed before adulthood.
Now some juveniles in California, when evaluated by the court’s psychologist for their fitness hearing were informed that they were immature and the psychologist was going to recommend that they be tried as juveniles and would also recommend that they be sent to the California Youth Authority (CYA) to do their time and be able to receive help before they fully mature, meaning they were amenable to treatment in the juvenile justice system.
Even with this recommendation by the court’s psychologist, many juveniles were still sent to adult prison unable to understand life. Why?
I pray for anyone with a sincere heart to support this bill, SB 9. The reason I find this bill so close to my heart is that I was one of the 227 juveniles in California sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, and I am still in prison due to this sentence.
I have completely changed for the better. I have received an education and have completed many of the prison programs that are provided to inmates for rehabilitation. I have written articles for inmates to help change their lives and have created a program, “Self Improvement, the Basis for Community Development.” This program allows inmates to conquer new goals and have a better outlook on life.
However, I know with deep thought this could not have happened without the Nation of Islam Prison Reform Ministry, not by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) allowing the Nation of Islam Prison Reform Ministry into the prison to help inmates, but by inmates that receive instructions from the NOI Prison Reform Ministry taking that message from prison to prison, educating inmates about the key that is the foundation of their lives, the knowledge of themselves and who they are on this earth.
What Senate Bill 9 would do is not only to bring California in line with international law, but it would give those prisoners who were children at the time of their crime and are now mature adults who have changed their lives another chance at life outside of these prison walls.
Many in California and the world are doing much to change this law. If anyone cares to help, please contact Elizabeth Calvin, attorney at law, at Human Rights Watch, 350 Fifth Ave, 34th Floor, New York, NY 10118-3299, (212) 290-4700, fax (212) 736-1300 or by email at www.hrw.org/en/contact-us.
Send our brother some love and light: Jawad Latif James, K-40336, Centinela State Prison, P.O. Box 921, C2-130, Imperial CA 92251.



Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents - Our Mission is to do better!

Challenge the criminalization of our youth!

by California Coalition for Women Prisoners
For prisoners sentenced as adults to life without the possibility of parole – in effect a death sentence – SB 9 offers a little hope.
On Friday, May 13, 7-9 p.m., at the Eastside Arts Alliance in Oakland, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners will host a screening of “Juvies” (directed by Leslie Neale, 66 minutes, USA, 2004), a film about youth tried as adults and serving outrageously long sentences. The California Coalition for Women Prisoners regularly visits young women and trans folk sentenced as adults for crimes they were involved in before they were 18. Some of them are sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).
From inside, one woman sentenced as a juvenile writes, “This place does it to you. You lose hope and patience. You fight so hard to not lose yourself in this place, it’s disgusting.”
Several CCWP visits with women prisoners are featured in the film “Juvies.” Others are eager that their stories be heard, too. CCWP has developed this event in collaboration with women organizing inside prisons in California, and the evening will include some of their writing.
Another woman from inside writes: “I’ve been in and out of trouble since I was 12 years old so I know what it’s like to be busted at such a young age. At first we say it’s nothing, I can do this. If this ain’t your first rodeo, it’s easier because you start to familiarize yourself with wasting away.”
From San Francisco and the East Bay, CCWP volunteers travel to women’s prisons to provide legal advocacy support and to sit, for a short while, with these young women and trans people to reflect on our lives together. Some belong to a self-organized group inside of prison, the Juvenile Offenders Committee, which recently organized to fight for the opportunity for people who did not finish high school to take the GED and earn a recognized degree.
One woman we visit tells us about her job picking up trash on the yard for pennies an hour and how she’d like to wear a long camel hair coat when she gets out; another that she wants to have a child; another speaks of her worries for her young daughter outside the walls. They are all sentenced to LWOP.
“Any sort of life sentence to youth is morally wrong. You rob them of hope. How can you say someone so young can’t be rehabilitated!” exclaimed a young person sentenced as a juvenile.
Ironically, although crimes against children are universally regarded as heinous, the United States engages in state-sanctioned child abuse by sentencing some of them to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The United States is the only country in the world where youth can receive a LWOP sentence, which means no hope of release from prison in their lifetime.

The United States is the only country in the world where youth can receive a LWOP sentence, which means no hope of release from prison in their lifetime.

Youth are targeted by “tough on crime” laws which hold them to the same standard as adults, although it has been demonstrated that teenagers are still maturing and cannot reasonably be treated the same as adults. This practice is in strict violation of international human rights law and represents a severe lack of compassion – a lack consistent throughout this country’s history. Since the majority of the young people with LWOP sentences are youth of color, this also duplicates the pattern of racism which pervades the entire criminal legal system.
Groups like the Youth Justice Coalition in Los Angeles, Californians United for a Responsible Budget and Human Rights Watch, together with a broad number of organizations, continue to challenge and pressure lawmakers. In December 2010, Sen. Leland Yee introduced SB 9, a bill which would make it possible for young people sentenced to LWOP as juveniles to request after 10 years of incarceration a review of the crime they were involved in and their conduct in prison. If found eligible following the review, they could be resentenced to 25 years to life.
This bill is similar to SB 399 which, shockingly, was defeated last August by two votes. SB 9 is being heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, May 2, and then hopefully will go before the Senate for a full vote.
However, SB 9, like SB 399, does not address the core injustice of juvenile LWOP, and it has many serious limitations. If LWOP youth are resentenced, they only go before the Board of Parole Hearings after 14 years to present their case for suitability for release. This is a Board that currently finds only 14 percent of the prisoners who are eligible suitable for parole. Even the majority of those found suitable are reversed by the governor. Although the bill is a only a small step in the right direction, it is unconscionable for it not to pass yet again!
The young lifers whom CCWP works with are urging everyone to campaign for its passage and have actively taken part in organizing for its existence. Together with these young lifers, we hope the film will bring greater awareness of the severe sentencing of youth and some of the problems inherent in the juvenile injustice system.
The film will be followed by a moderated discussion where community groups, youth organizers, formerly incarcerated community members and local activists can reflect and share strategies that continue to challenge the criminalization of youth, particularly youth of color, and learn about the recent SB9 legislation. There will be updates on current youth justice campaigns and opportunities to connect with ongoing actions, and join the fight.
An organizer inside urges us to help: “I ask you to please get involved in ending this draconian sentence of youth LWOP. Support SB 9, have family and friends write letters to the legislature telling them that SB 9 is a bill that offers youth a second chance they deserve.”
The May 13 screening of “Juvies” is 7-9 p.m. and is free, wheelchair accessible and open to the public. Eastside Arts Alliance is at 2277 International Boulevard in Oakland. Please join us!
If you are unable to attend, you can still help with this campaign. Go to www.fairsentencingforyouth.org to find out how your legislators voted and how to write a support letter and follow the bill. Postcards will be available at the event to send to women and trans people organizing around this issue inside.
Learn more and get involved with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners at www.womenprisoners.org.


Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents - Our Mission is to do better!

The Kids* of LCJC

Some of the kids we met and featured for our series "Lake County Juvenile Justice". *Calamari Productions never films or photographs anyone without their written consent!

Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents - Our Mission is to do better!

The Ballad of Kenneth


When I first saw Kenneth in the intake area of LCJC two weeks ago, I was compelled by the structure of his face. He is too beautiful to be a repeat offender from the Midwestern capital of urban blight. He was handcuffed to a teenage runaway, and with them was another handcuffed pair, Kenneth's 14-year-old brother Kentrell and a clownishly goofy looking accomplice. They were cuffed in pairs so that the four could be managed by a single police officer.
Kenneth and Kentrell were facing charges of vandalism and criminal mischief, having been picked up for breaking into cars at the Gary train station.  A local resident snapped photographs of Kenneth and crew in action, called the police.
Kenneth and his brother are the most hopeless pair to have crossed through while I've been here, and the most seasoned of the facility's staff look upon them with sympathy.  Last night, one of the residential supervisors (LCJC's version of a prison guard) delivered Kenneth's meal, on the eve of his court hearing, and admonished him for showing up so many times in LCJC---this is Kenneth's seventh visit---and he shared with Kenneth words of hope, and he told him that he loved him.
Kenneth and Kentrell are two years apart, brothers in a family of ten children, father in prison for narcotics, mother who did time two years ago for dealing crack cocaine.  A woman with her own demons, to be sure, demons that follow bloodlines upstream.
When Kenneth was eleven years old, he was handling a firearm  and accidentally shot his brother in the stomach.  He hoisted his brother into his arms, frantic at his mistake, and carried him to get help.  Picture it: a shocked eleven-year-old carrying his nine-year-old brother, the latter bleeding from the gut.  Kentrell lived and now lives in his brother's image, a repeat offender at 14.
Kentrell is also an attractive young man, though he seems simple with his slight overbite and constant giggle.  When he responds to questions he responds unintelligibly, communicating more with a shake or tilt of his head than with his utterances.  This is true whether the questioner is a documentary interviewer or a judge.  Some have concluded that this demeanor is a clever ruse, while others believe he is mildly retarded.
Kenneth responds to questions with the sincerity of grade school student giving an oral book report.  His responses to general question seem like rehearsed, stock answers.  But they seem like answers he believes to be true, the only answers one could give.  Hidden in his vague and simple responses is a desire for them to be more profound, more convincing.
The brothers have been in and out of detention for a third of their life.  Their mother has been likewise.  Same for the father.  Same for their uncles.  Their childhoods have been spent in Gary, Indiana.  The photographs speak volumes.  They have been a plague to their community, from the perspective of the system, and their community is rife with plague.
I don't excuse this kids for the choices they make, I simply cannot imagine them making different choices.  I can imagine very little for Kenneth and Kentrell, they seem to be very appropriate products of their family and community.  They could be guilty of far more egregious crimes and still seem thus.


Kenneth and Kentrell's mother declined to show up to their detention hearing, citing heart palpitations and recently diagnosed cancer.  In her stead, their 24-year-old sister Octavia came to court to speak on their mother's behalf.  Octavia is dipped from the same forgiving gene pool as her brothers.


There is little hope for the brothers to be sent home in their sisters care, and for as much time as they've spent in the system you might think they would guess as much.  Kenneth takes the stand to speak on his own behalf.  When he responds to his attorney's questions, Kenneth repeats the question as a school boy might recite his teacher's query.
"Kenneth, considering how many times you've been where you are now, what can you say to convince the court that you've learned a lesson this time?"
When Kenneth listens to his attorney, a kind and attractive man of roughly my age named Don Wruck, he looks him in the eye, concerned, and when he responds his eyes track to a vacant place in the middle of the courtroom floor and he focuses on some distance only he recognizes.
"Why do I think I've learned my lesson this time?  Because this time is more serious.  Bein' in here's made me think about what I did, and the seriousness of it . . ."  And he recited the admonition that he's been hearing for years from a first person perspective, until ". . . and that's why I think I've learned my lesson this time."
And he lifts his eyes from the place on the floor, looks back to his attorney who nods and finishes his questioning.  Don elects not to call Kentrell to the stand, for the boy's bewildered simplicity will do nothing to sway the court one way or the other.
Octavia takes the stand, and her role too seems familiar, almost rehearsed.  She reports her mother's illness, cites her father and an older brother who are incarcerated, leaving Kenneth as the man of the house.  She says his siblings miss him, and they look up to him, and Kenneth begins to cry.
He covers his face with his slender, feminine hands and rubs the tears into his cheeks.  She continues and he looks at her, attempts composure, but when tears slip out and fall to the glass top table he looks down and sweeps them away, dries the table with his sleeve.
tears.mov.jpg

The judge has little choice but to detain the boys until their initial hearing.  As she reads her decision Kentrell seems dumbstruck and Kenneth drops his head in deeper sobs that continue as the brothers are led from the court.
You cannot help but be saddened by these two, and the judge is no exception.  But what home life can she send them home to?  Detention is the only safe place for Kenneth and his brother until the court decides their most promising path to rehabilitation two weeks hence.  And at that hearing, their mother shows up.
Kenneth and Kentrell’s mother showed up to court in a T-shirt that read “Stop The Drama."  Her face said, “not this again."  Her short hair had the faint memory of a red dye job and she wore a tiny red piercing in her left brow. There was no mention of her health, her heart problems, her cancer. None of it exists.

Kenneth is more aware than his brother and it becomes apparent that Kentrell has never been more than Kenneth’s shadow.  Their mischief is real and it flirts with violence.  Kenneth:


Make no mistake, their transgressions are real, but these are not gun-toting, liquor store robbing, car jacking thugs.  Could they become that?  Absolutely.

But for now they are petty thieves, they are thuggish among their own, and they are territorialists, proud animals.  They run with gang members in a place and time when every neighborhood, the prosecutor tells me, has its own gang.
At one point in the trial the prosecutor questions their probation officer about a situation that landed Kentrell  in LCJC on another occasion.  It was told that Kentrell had thrown cinder block fragments at another young man.  Kentrell:

No details are shared about what really transpired, just that Kentrell assailed this individual with a broken cinder block.  That’s an ugly scene, but it’s just a glimpse.  It may have been worse than it sounds.  It may not have been.  In the tapestry of startling stories coming from the inner city, I’m not sure how it stacks up.
In any case, as soon as mention is made of Kentrell’s involvement in this incident, Kenneth puts his hands over his face and weeps.


I see the responsibility he feels for his brother.  I see that he feels responsible for that incident, and later when I ask him about that he says, “I should have taught him better.”

And the weeping doesn’t stop, though it hides behind grimaces of anguish until the Probation Officer testifies that home is no place for Kenneth and Kentrell, that he believes they need to be detained until further psychological evaluations can be performed in order that their issues can be better explored.


He was probably right and shortly thereafter the judge agreed, ruling that the boys stay in detention pending these evaluations.  Both boys break down, sob, swear, and mother gets up without looking at them and hurriedly leaves the courtroom.
Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents - Our Mission is to do better!

Unforgiven

By Leah Sottile
Today, 13 million people have a felony record. Half are violent offenders, but half are nonviolent —people who were addicts and got caught with drugs, or were poor and got caught stealing.
And due to sweeping legislation, many nonviolent offenders get the same treatment as those who pose a more serious danger to society. Felons are, arguably, the last group that can be legally discriminated against in terms of housing, employment and voting rights.
In November we reported on the massive setbacks — “collateral consequences” —that felons run into. We introduced grandmothers, single mothers and poor farmers who messed up and changed their lives, but who couldn’t seem to escape being branded for life as a felon, despite great effort and reform.
Jerry Sumner was just a guy driving with a suspended license so he could get to work. Carrie Collette was a juvenile offender who was bullied into doing something stupid and took a bad deal to get out early. And years — in some cases, decades — later, they’re still paying the price.
Spokane has now taken steps toward minimizing penalties for some driving offenses since our November story. A driver’s license, we found, is often a stumbling block that keeps a felon from getting better housing and employment. Many felons don’t have a license because they have “legal financial obligations” that swell, with interest, out of reach.
Within the last month, Spokane Municipal Court Judge Mary Logan focused in on one type of infraction: driving without a license in the third degree. It’s the type of crime someone would be charged with if they were pulled over for a broken taillight and didn’t pay the ticket. For a felon, though, it’s a crime that could significantly compound their problems.
“If they don’t properly address that infraction, then it will eventually go out to collections, and then their license will be suspended, thereby criminalizing themselves if they continue to drive,” Logan says.
Logan found that she was seeing thousands of cases for that kind of offense and knew something needed to change.
“We looked at the caseload, we looked a resources and we looked at what it would make sense to apply criminal justice services to,” she says. “[We’re] not decriminalizing them, but if after they are screened by the prosecutors … if they are stand-alone cases, they would qualify for it being diverted and reduced to an infraction.”
Logan also says that plans are underway to launch a “community court” modeled after the Seattle Municipal Court. It would handle the cases of low-level offenders or people who have committed minor crimes of poverty. The community court would connect them with services they need to better themselves: financial management, housing and employment.
“The hope is to break that cycle, even if it’s just a point of contact,” Logan says. “We may not be able to save them all, but we can start.”
Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents - Our Mission is to do better!

Kid Crime, Adult Time By Kevin Taylor When the Legislature convenes next month, it will hear pleas to reform laws that sentence some juvenile offenders as adults ... pleas coming, for a change, from prosecutors. The Washington Attorney General’s office, in conjunction with county prosecutors, is seeking longer sentences for some teens if crimes involve gang ties or guns. Defenders and others who say it is wrong to send youths through adult court say they will continue to fight for reform, but have no specific bills to propose yet. In our report in September, The Inlander explored the issue of so-called “auto-declines,” where 16- and 17-year-olds who commit certain crimes are automatically charged as adults. The concept swept the nation in the 1990s amid headlines about school shooters and violent youth gangs, designed to create longer sentences in adult prisons for young monsters who committed violent acts. In recent years, compelling evidence into brain development has begun to reverse this trend, showing adult punishments are not suited for youths, and often do not work. Our story also found a sort of mission-drift, with the state’s list of auto-decline crimes growing longer over the years, teens being pressured to take plea deals that leave them with indelible adult felony records and an unknown number of juveniles serving adult time in county jails, where the sentences are typically less than a year. “It has become abundantly clear that there is a lack of information about how many kids have been auto-declined to both jails and the [Department of Corrections],” says Sandy Mullins, the new director of the state Sentencing Guidelines Commission. Her agency is looking at tweaking the standard judgment and sentencing form to be able to better track how many juveniles are serving adult time, or how many are charged as adults but then remanded to juvenile detention, she says. Chris Johnson, policy director for the AG’s office, says he’s been working on gang enhancements to auto-decline sentencing since 2006, when it was identified as a priority for local law enforcement and prosecutors around the state. If, for example, a felony assault is gang-related, it could bring the young offender an extra five years in prison. “It is very important to point out that in the state of Washington, it is not a criminal act to be a member of a gang, unlike California,” Johnson says. Johnson says the proposed bill, which got an airing with some legislators Dec. 10, must walk a fine line to avoid targeting people solely by association or race. He sees harsh early penalties acting as a deterrent along the lines of “scared straight.” And, Johnson notes, the bill comes with provisions for diversion and deterrence programs — which, he admits, could be vulnerable in a Legislature facing about $4 billion funding shortfall. Youth advocacy groups such as Team Child and the Columbia Legal Foundation continue to highlight national research into brain development that shows adult punishment for juveniles can actually backfire and create more crimes. Efforts to prune back the list of auto-decline crimes —and to have the adult-charging decisions made by judges instead of prosecutors — are expected to continue.


Kid Crime, Adult Time

By Kevin Taylor
When the Legislature convenes next month, it will hear pleas to reform laws that sentence some juvenile offenders as adults ... pleas coming, for a change, from prosecutors.
The Washington Attorney General’s office, in conjunction with county prosecutors, is seeking longer sentences for some teens if crimes involve gang ties or guns.
Defenders and others who say it is wrong to send youths through adult court say they will continue to fight for reform, but have no specific bills to propose yet.
In our report in September, The Inlander explored the issue of so-called “auto-declines,” where 16- and 17-year-olds who commit certain crimes are automatically charged as adults.
The concept swept the nation in the 1990s amid headlines about school shooters and violent youth gangs, designed to create longer sentences in adult prisons for young monsters who committed violent acts. In recent years, compelling evidence into brain development has begun to reverse this trend, showing adult punishments are not suited for youths, and often do not work.
Our story also found a sort of mission-drift, with the state’s list of auto-decline crimes growing longer over the years, teens being pressured to take plea deals that leave them with indelible adult felony records and an unknown number of juveniles serving adult time in county jails, where the sentences are typically less than a year.
“It has become abundantly clear that there is a lack of information about how many kids have been auto-declined to both jails and the [Department of Corrections],” says Sandy Mullins, the new director of the state Sentencing Guidelines Commission. Her agency is looking at tweaking the standard judgment and sentencing form to be able to better track how many juveniles are serving adult time, or how many are charged as adults but then remanded to juvenile detention, she says.
Chris Johnson, policy director for the AG’s office, says he’s been working on gang enhancements to auto-decline sentencing since 2006, when it was identified as a priority for local law enforcement and prosecutors around the state. If, for example, a felony assault is gang-related, it could bring the young offender an extra five years in prison.
“It is very important to point out that in the state of Washington, it is not a criminal act to be a member of a gang, unlike California,” Johnson says.
Johnson says the proposed bill, which got an airing with some legislators Dec. 10, must walk a fine line to avoid targeting people solely by association or race. He sees harsh early penalties acting as a deterrent along the lines of “scared straight.” And, Johnson notes, the bill comes with provisions for diversion and deterrence programs — which, he admits, could be vulnerable in a Legislature facing about $4 billion funding shortfall.
Youth advocacy groups such as Team Child and the Columbia Legal Foundation continue to highlight national research into brain development that shows adult punishment for juveniles can actually backfire and create more crimes.
Efforts to prune back the list of auto-decline crimes —and to have the adult-charging decisions made by judges instead of prosecutors — are expected to continue.
Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents - Our Mission is to do better!

Should juveniles be able to receive parole, or should they serve a life sentence if convicted? by Dave Kinchen

Henry Hill was convicted of homicide in 1980. He was 16 years old.  / ACLU.org
Slideshow
ACLU represents nine inmates serving life sentences
LANSING, SAGINAW -- Update: April 21st, 6:15 p.m.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office is not commenting on the lawsuit against several state officials, including Gov. Rick Snyder, protesting the state’s ban on parole eligibility for inmates serving life sentences following convictions received when they were minors.
However, NBC25 was able to obtain a brief filed by the AG’s office which is critical of the suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of nine inmates.   
The brief states, “Under Michigan law, the applicable limitations period is three years.  Plaintiffs’ claims, therefore, are barred by the statute of limitation.”  It further states, “Each of the plaintiffs could have litigated the constitutional challenges raised in this case in their respective state court criminal cases and appeals.”
The ACLU argues that denial of parole based on juvenile convictions “constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.”
One of the plaintiffs is Henry Hill.  Now 45, Hill was convicted of first degree murder in a July, 1980 shooting death in Saginaw’s Wickes Park.  On its website, the ACLU says Hill and a group of friends went to confront another group they had been feuding when the shooting happened. 
The actual shots that resulted in death came from a friend of Hill’s, but Hill was charged with first degree murder and aiding and abetting for firing a different gun into the air, in an attempt to scare other people out of the park at the time of the altercation. 
NBC25 was unable to reach attorneys for Hill, or the ACLU directly for comment.  Federal Judge John O’Meara is hearing the case and indicated he will rule within a few weeks.
Update: April 21st, 4:15 p.m.
By Allison Hillaker
The Associated Press is reporting that Judge John Corbett O'Meara will rule in several weeks on this controversy.

Original Post: April 21st, 10:50 a.m.
By Allison Hillaker
A battle is going on in Michigan’s federal court Thursday on whether juveniles, sentenced to life, should be able to get parole.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is arguing on behalf of nine Michigan inmates who were sentenced to life without parole when they were minors.  The ACLU states that, “denying the plaintiffs an opportunity for parole constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and violates their constitutional right to a fair hearing to demonstrate their maturity and rehabilitation, as well as customary international human rights law which prohibits the imposition of life sentences without the possibility of parole on anyone under the age of 18.”
The Associated Press reports one of the inmates is Henry Hill Junior of Saginaw.  Hill was sentenced in 1980 for homicide. He was 16 years old.
The AP reports that state lawmakers claim the plaintiffs waited too long challenge the life without parole sentence.
Read more about the ACLU's claims, and stories on the inmates here.Let us know what you think. Should juveniles be able to receive parole, or should they be forced to serve a life sentence if convicted of homicide? 

Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents - Our Mission is to do better!

Judge asks for more background information before sentencing 18-year-old

Christon Jeffries
Posted: Friday, October 7, 2011 1:15 am
The fate of a man who pleaded guilty to stealing a paralyzed woman’s wallet after being found not guilty of sexually assaulting her is now up to a judge.
Christon Jeffries, 18, faces up to two years in state jail for stealing the woman’s wallet April 13 after smoking marijuana with the woman, her teenage daughter and the daughter’s friend.
Prior to meeting the woman and her daughters, Jeffries testified he had never smoke marijuana and had started classes at Angelina College to be a computer technician.
After hearing a sentencing phase of Jeffries case, state district Judge Paul White determined that further review of Jeffries’ juvenile, medical and college records are needed before he can be sentenced.
“This case presents incredibly difficult issues for me. Dynamics occurred before this incident in question that I need to evaluate,” White said. “He’s now on my watch. I’m not going to take lightly the risk his conduct presents. It’s not just taking a purse.”
Testifying on his own behalf Thursday morning, Jeffries said he hoped to go into the Marines but understands he will become ineligible with a felony conviction on his record.
With this being Jeffries’ first offense as an adult, White could sentence him to probation, which is what the Kennard native hopes to receive. He told the judge spending the last six months in jail with people who have been to prison taught him a lesson.
“I’ve learned to keep my hands to myself and stay out of bad situations. I’ve learned from my mistakes,” Jeffries said. “All I can say is ‘Sorry.’”
While White reviews Jeffries’ records, he will be out of jail on $5,000 bond. He is to be under house arrest at his mother’s home under the supervision of an Angelina County probation officer until his sentencing date.
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