By Irina Bagdasarian, 17, Van Nuys HS
Print This Post

Illustration by Emma Guerard, 15, Venice HS

There’s a guy I met in math class, a smart guy who used to help me with math problems sometimes. One day I forgot my book, so I asked him if we could share. He said it was cool, so we started on our assignment. As we were working, he mentioned something about his P.O. (probation officer) checking up on him. I asked him why he was gonna be checked on, and he told me how he had been in juvenile hall three times, starting when he was 12. I was really interested in his life. He agreed to do an interview on what it’s really like to be locked up, as long as I don’t publish his name.

Why did you first get put in juvenile hall?

I was accused of assault and battery. I was at a gas station with my cousin, minding my own business, and this one older guy, he was like 21, he came up to me and asked where I was from. He threw a hit and I hit him back. I hit his skull open. When the cops came, they thought I had something on me that caused that. So they said it was assault and battery. I was in for six months.

What were your thoughts and feelings?

The first three days I was crying. I hated it. I wanted to go home. But I got used to it eventually. It was like five years ago, I don’t remember much. I was still a kid.

How did your family react?

Sh** my parents never visited me. They didn’t talk to me at all or come to see me in there. They were really upset. Only my brother would come visit me and sh**.
My parents don’t trust me anymore. They call me on the phone every minute when I’m not with them. When I got out, I got beat up by my dad. He was really upset with me.

What was it like in there?

The first thing that happened was I got socked in the face. That was like the very first thing, and it was all of a sudden. The guy came up to me and was like, "Aw man, where you from?" And then he just threw a hit.

The food was really nasty. I’d rather eat school food than the food over there. It smelled nasty and tasted nasty, too.

It got pretty boring in there. There was nothing you could do in the cells. All you can do was play cards alone, or draw—that is if you could get a pencil—or read. If it wasn’t really crowded in there, then you would get your own cell, but if it got crowded, then you would have to share.

What did your friends do?

My friends came to visit me. Most of them did. They were asking me how it felt to be locked up, how it was in there, how I was doing or what I was gonna do.

What were your privileges, or choices you got to make?

(He laughed.) Privileges? You don’t get no privileges or get to make choices. You wish you did. When you behaved, you could use the phone, for like 10 minutes. Or you were allowed to get visitors. But most of the time you were in your cell, so you really didn’t have too many privileges. If you were locked up from six months to a year or more, you had a choice of going to school. If you’re 15 and under, you had to take those classes, but if you’re 16 and over, then you had a choice. You could also exercise there too, if you wanted.

If you could change one thing about the day you got into trouble, what would you change?

I would never go to the gas station with my cousin in the first place because that’s when they started talking sh** to us and started the fight and hit us.

What advice would you give to other teens your age?

Don’t f*** around. If you know how it is in there, you won’t get in trouble. You get on probation when you get out, and you have no freedom at all anymore. Your freedom is taken away. You can’t do anything, because you’ll get locked up again for every little thing you do. You become paranoid, like "If I do this, will I get locked up for it?" A simple thing like ditching class can get you locked up again.

What were your concerns when you were in there?

My concerns were just to try and get through the six months. Suffering, eating the nasty food, and trying to behave so I would get allowed phone calls or visitors.

Did you somewhat learn your lesson?

Yeah, I did. Now when I do something, I think about it three times. Not twice, but three times, to see if I’m going to end up there again, or not.

What were you thinking when you got in the fight that got you locked up?
Well, all I felt was anger. I was just angry at the person, and he was like 21 years old, and I was only a kid. And he just came at me. So I was really mad at the time. I didn’t care.

Do you agree with the juvenile justice system?

I don’t think that’s right to send someone in there, especially a kid who did a minor thing like fighting. Instead they should have like rehabilitation programs that they can send us to. Being sent to Juvie messes you up even more. It gets you more gang-related. Most of the people who go in there, end up in there again.

When you’re in there, your whole surrounding is gang-related, you learn all these gang-related things. When you get out you use them. They don’t teach you to stop that, or teach you what’s good and bad. When you get out, you become even more aggressive, and do things you never got a chance to do when you were in there.

But you said that you learned your lesson, and that you became paranoid, and you think three times before you do something. So you didn’t become more gang-related, right?

Well, I learned my lesson, but most people don’t. They get into more deep sh**, when they get out. And sometimes they end up there again. Even though I think three times now, before doing something, I still ended up there twice, after coming out. But it was minor stuff and I was in there for days, not as long as six months.
Sometimes, people end up longer in there. I’ve seen people as young as little kids get life. I thought to myself, These are little kids in here. What’s up with that?