Teenagers are getting committed every day. And for some—especially those who don’t really need hospitalization, or need only limited care—they must fight their own lonely, and sometimes desperate, battles.
“I don’t know what the answer is,” said Howard Kelner, Assistant Deputy, psychiatric section of the L.A. District Attorney’s Office. “[But] I don’t think the answer is locking them up in psychiatric hospitals.”
From “The nightmare of teen patients’ rights” by Joy Shioshita, October 1988
I talked to two school board members, my principal, one of my teachers and Mr. Collins and at the end one thing became clear: everyone is pointing fingers and no one seems to want to take responsibility. The teachers and administrators say the students are responsible for getting a good education. The administrators and students say some of the teachers aren’t doing a good job. The teachers and students don’t think the administrators care. Everyone thinks that the system is falling apart. Amidst all this clamor one thing seems to get lost: a good public education.
From “My school deserves better and so do I” by Gohar Galyan, 17, Marshall HS, November-December 1998
Despite gang members being violent, I had always figured that they were normal people with feelings just like you and me. [Officer Chuck] Drylie, however, viewed violent teens and gang members as heartless, completely cold to others’ suffering. He blamed some of these teens’ behavior on their parents. He said some parents do not know how their kids spend their time; they don’t even know what their child’s bedroom looks like. “Gangs commit destruction … they don’t do charity work,” he said. Maybe Drylie’s point of view is correct. He sees violence on a daily basis, while I do not.
From “Another day, another death” by Jennifer Clark, March-April 1999
It’s a shame people living no more than two miles apart can live in two totally different worlds. I think kids who commit crimes have to answer for themselves. But at the same time, the way our society deals with this problem is not right. As I look at the criminal justice system, I see that it’s set up only to put more people in jail. They set rules to make sure that if you mess up once, you mess up for life. It bothers me that the way we deal with crime is hurting youth, especially in minority communities. Youth don’t have enough education or opportunities, and when they mess up, they’re not given a second chance.
From “Is there justice for juveniles?” By Nicholas Williams, 17, Daniel Murphy HS, January-February 2000
The teens in juvenile court were like any other group of kids—all different. Some shot daring looks at the judge or slouched, but there were also teens dressed in ties and button-up shirts, sitting up straight with nervous respect, addressing the judge as “ma’am.” Even though the teens seemed less violent than I had expected, their charges surprised me. I couldn’t believe that a 12-year-old could be charged with a sex offense, or that a gang member would tattoo his gang symbol on the back of his head.
From “A day in court” by Selina MacLaren, 17, West Valley Christian Jr./Sr. HS, November-December 2006
These photos were taken during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The riots broke out after white police officers were acquitted of beating Rodney King during a traffic stop. The beating was recorded on video. One of our teen photographers captured three young people getting arrested after they broke the windows of a department store at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue near our old office. They had come with about 30 other young people, carrying baseball bats, steel rods, axes, beer bottles and bottles filled with gasoline. The others fled when police arrived; these three were caught and required to lay on the asphalt while they were handcuffed. Then they leaned across an unmarked police car while police questioned them. Their car was confiscated and they were taken away in a police car. According to the L.A. Times, the riots left 58 people dead and caused millions of dollars in damage from looting and fires.
From “Wreaking havoc,” a photo essay by Prisco Serrano, June-July 1992
Sometimes, things like the lack of resources at schools (“My school deserves better and so do I”) and the juvenile court system (“A day in court”) are brought up in big newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, but many teens don’t read them, so having these stories in L.A. Youth is important. These stories also included the thoughts of the writers, which made reading them a lot more interesting and relatable than something you’d read in the L.A. Times. To anyone who hasn’t experienced police brutality or been forced to go to a mental hospital, those issues are much easier to understand if you’re able to hear the voice of another teen.
The story that I related to the most was Gohar Galyan’s story about her school. I go to a public school and I face the same problems that she talked about, like how my classes have way too many people and sometimes people have to sit on counters or stand against the wall. Hearing her thoughts and her conversations with teachers and administrators was interesting because a lot of the time, I get the same responses from the people at my school. It can be discouraging, so it was nice to hear from another teen who has experienced the same thing. It was sad that 15 years later, everyone still gives the same “It’s not my fault” response and nothing ever gets done.