The Case Profile Project gathers personal stories from families and individuals that have been impacted by being charged, jailed, or prosecuted under the age of 18. The purpose of collecting your stories is to expose the human side of the issue in ways that our extensive research simply cannot. Those unfamiliar with the issue are always shocked at the brutality and insensitivity that often accompanies the process of trying juveniles as adults. We encourage you to submit your story by clicking the “Tell Us Your Story” link on the left. We would like to invite you to take a look at some of the profiles below as well as other stories in “Youth Testimony” and “Parent Testimony” sections.
› North Carolina
› South Carolina
› Washington, D.C.
The focus of a long and bitter custody battle between his parents, Brian developed a bad attitude and found a sense of belonging through the neighborhood gang. Being sent to juvenile hall numerous times did little to reform him, and at 16 years old he participated in a gang shooting and was sentenced as an adult to 16-years-to-life. While in prison, he embraced religion and tried to turn his life around. He completed trade classes and even completed coursework toward a college degree. Regardless of his attempts at reform, the parole board’s decision to release him on parole was overturned three times by Governor Davis and once by Governor Schwarzenegger.
Colorado [return to top]
Jeff, prosecuted as an adult at age 17 and currently incarcerated in Colorado, writes:
“I was 17 years old when I was charged as an adult…that was in 1994 and here I sit today…I feel like the system has forgotten about me. Yet, I still believe in the system and hope that we can change and fix its problems - the biggest of which is sentencing children as adults. [Children] can’t join the military, vote, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or live on their own…because they are not responsible enough. [However], when it comes to dealing with the system, there is an exception for some reason…We have a juvenile system for a reason, why do we pick and choose who we use it for?”
Connecticut [return to top]
Chris was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder early in life, and his hyperactivity necessitated the help of a tutor to help build his remedial skills. At 13 years old, Chris was a troublesome youth who would regularly sneak out of his house in the middle of the night to ride his bike. A policeman’s advice to Chris’s mother was simply to have her son arrested. Not knowing the potential consequences, Chris’s mother had Chris arrested for assault during a family altercation. Soon after becoming involved with the juvenile justice system, Chris’s mental health conditions worsened, and he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He was not treated for this condition. After being released, Chris’s mental illness caused him to get into even more trouble with the law, and rather than provide an opportunity for treatment, his repeated incarcerations only caused Chris’s illness to become more of a problem.
David grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father in Bristol, CT. Soon after his parents divorced, he was placed at age 10 under DCF guardianship as a result of a neglect case. Though initially diagnosed with and successfully treated for bipolar disorder, David was bounced between different group homes when his treatment program was judged too expensive. In group homes he was constantly abused and threatened until he ran away. Soon after, he was arrested and tried as an adult for stealing. Though he was released on probation, when he tried to remove himself from DCF services, he prompted probation violation proceedings. While awaiting a revocation hearing, David experienced extreme depression and was detained for four months without mental health intervention. Overwhelmed and depressed, David took his own life while in custody.
North Carolina [return to top]
Jeff was a normal 17-year-old kid who made one mistake that would haunt him for the rest of his life. In an attempt to impress a girl he liked, he purchased marijuana for her on three separate occasions, and she paid him back for it. He did not profit from the deal, and it was more a friendly exchange than a sale. When she revealed that she was an undercover police officer, Jeff found himself being tried as an adult for a felony. Taking pity on him, the judge allowed Jeff to get away with a reduced sentence. Still, the felony conviction prevented Jeff from receiving financial aid for college and from joining the Air Force, as he had planned. He currently works full time while attending community college in order to one day own his own IT business.
James came from a good family but struggled in school. When he faced failing grades in his fresman year, his parents found him a tutor for home-schooling. This tutor, a 38 year-old woman, initiated a sexual relationship with James and promoted him from the ninth grade without making him do any work. James then became addicted to drugs when he used them after a knee surgery. He turned to crime to pay for his habit, committing burglaries and robberies. In 2001, an accomplice for one robbery shot and killed two teenagers. James was convicted of felony murder and is now serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole. While he believes he should be held accountable for his actions, James feels the punishment is too heavy for a child.
Ohio [return to top]
Heather, prosecuted as an adult at 17 years old, is incarcerated in Ohio. She writes:
“[My brother and I were] raised by 2 wonderful parents…. We were a church going family and I did fairly well in school. A few years after my father died…when I was 15, I met a man who was 26-years-old…. I started drinking and [was] abused and controlled by him. I didn’t know how to leave. I lost my hopes and dreams to him, [and]… in the end, I lost myself and control, [because] now I’m serving a 23-years-to-life sentence.
“My life here in prison has been an uphill battle. [In the beginning,] I had to have ‘protectors’ go to the bathroom with me [because] I was scared. [Although] I was housed with ‘juveniles,’ … we were still ‘prey’ to adults…. I know I did a horrible thing and made a lot of mistakes, but I…believe I could [have] gotten the help I needed in a youth facility… Kids shouldn’t just be thrown away to the adult system over bad choices when there’s almost always hope in saving them.”
South Carolina [return to top]
Andrew shares his experiences as youth in an adult jail in South Carolina in a series of letters:
“I grew up in a nice family, in a nice neighborhood except that I was the bad kid who no one wanted their kids to play with…. I got picked on a lot for stupid things like my family not going to church. So, I started hanging out with kids [outside of] my neighborhood, stealing, and smoking. I went to juvenile detention for a burglary charge and was on and off probation…. [Eventually], I was arrested for another burglary and placed in an adult jail. One of my charges allowed me to be placed in a pod at the jail that housed violent criminals. So, I lived next-door to a man who tortured a mentally disabled guy for 40 hours before he died.
“I got out after two months and swore I’d never come back, but six months later I did for five more burglaries…I was very sad. I was in a cell by myself…crying. I found a razor blade [in my cell] and cut my wrists very badly. I was standing with blood pouring out my arms and down my fingers and onto the floor when I started to get dizzy. I [lay] down and closed my eyes, hoping I would soon be dead. Someone looked in [my cell], saw all the blood, and alerted the guards. They came in with a nurse who I told to leave me alone and let me die. They wouldn’t. They called the paramedics and took me to the hospital where I was stitched and stapled up. I went back to jail and was laughed at while I cried in a suicide cell…. After about another month I hung myself with a sheet from a ceiling vent. I blacked out and woke up to find guards surrounding me, most laughing and one asking me why. “Why?” I said crying. “I just want someone to talk to!”… None of the staff would talk to me: not the counselor, not the shrink, not anyone… They just laughed at me, called me names, or ignored me.
“If you only knew what I’ve been through…they didn’t let me get showers for my first month…they took away my toothbrush and toothpaste…they took my boxers for about two months and said they lost them…All my requests for substance abuse treatment and other support groups were ignored…my mail was withheld, my visits turned away…I wasn’t allowed to go outside for two months. I was strip-searched in front of other inmates… [When I cried] the guards and inmates would laugh at me and call me a “crybaby.” I was strapped down to a chair for a whole night and forced to urinate all over myself. I was refused medical treatment by a nurse for my busted up lip when a guard tried to smother me while I was strapped down. Sometimes they forgot to feed me, and I was denied access to the library.
“I’m not a violent person. I never have been. However, [in here] I feel I have plenty of justifications to be…. If things don’t change, many more kids are going to keep dying [in] the very places they are sent to get help… Juveniles should have access to people that care…mentors and counselors.”
After 7 months in jail, Andrew was transferred to an adult prison where he is currently serving a 3 year sentence.
Cecile, mother of Andrew, tells us about her son’s suicide attempt while awaiting trial in an adult jail. Here are excerpts from Cecile’s letter:
Upon incarceration at the jail, officers asked if Andrew might try and hurt himself. We explained the severity of that possibility and they responded by taking away his belt and assuring us that they would alert the jail staff. However, the jail staff ‘didn’t see the need for concern’ so he was placed in the general population. The following day I took Andrew’s medications to the jail but two days later, after not receiving the medication, Andrew cut his arms and neck…While in jail, Andrew called me ‘to say good-bye. I’m going to do it right this time. I tried it. I can hang myself with the sheet.’ After being forced off the phone with Andrew, I immediately called the jail and warned them to watch him but the jail staff insisted that he seemed fine. I begged them to “at least take away the sheet” and I asked that they have Andrew and/or the nurse call me. However, no one called me. When I called back I was informed that Andrew had tried to hang himself but there were no details. The next day at my visit I saw that Andrew’s neck was badly bruised and the blood vessels on his face and eyes were burst.
Texas [return to top]
Nanon was born in a Los Angeles ghetto. When Nanon was 12, his father died during a drug deal; as a result, Nanon was raised by his mother and stepmother. As a teenager, Nanon veered off the right track as a star football player and student to become involved in selling drugs. During a drug deal in Harris County, Texas, when he was 17 years old, two people were shot, one died, and Nanon was blamed for the murder. Still a teenager, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Overwhelming ballistic evidence and the confession of another individual brought Nanon’s guilt into question, but no appeal was granted. In 2005, a U.S. Supreme Court decision forbidding the execution of minors changed his sentence to life in prison. Nanon has spent the past 15 years in prison devoting his time to reading and writing. His published books include Still Surviving, an account of his experience on death row, and The Ties That Bind U, a collection of poetry. As a result of his advocacy work behind bars, Nanon has received a Youth Activism Award from the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. He currently spends his days writing, studying, and assisting other wrongly convicted prisoners with their cases in the hopes that some day his appeal will be heard and the injustice against him overturned.
Nikon grew up in Longview, Texas, in a loving family with seven siblings, but all that came to an end when he was arrested for his first and only offense. At only 16 years old, Nikon was tried as an adult and sentenced to 50 years in prison for one count of armed robbery. He was forced to grow up in prison, fighting for survival amid brutal violence and harsh living conditions. Through all this, Nikon has developed a passion for reading, writing, and sports. Now 27 years old, he is eligible for parole in 16 years. Despite his callous treatment by the criminal justice system, Nikon has not given up hope that caring people will learn about his case and help him gain release through the courts.
Virginia [return to top]
Barry is currently serving time in an adult prison, which he entered at the age of 17. In a series of letters he discusses his experiences and thoughts regarding the incarceration of young offenders. He writes:
“I had to learn fast in an adult system…[there was] no mercy because of my age. I’ve seen it all. I know what hard time is like, but I don’t know what life is like beyond these walls. I’ve never had a real job. I don’t even know how to drive a car. I hear guys talk of marriage, being in love…I can’t relate to this. I’m almost 31 years old and I’ve never been in a relationship. All I know, all I’ve experienced was prison, is prison.
“I went up for parole after serving about 12 years [of my] sentence as a youthful offender. I was denied [then and in three subsequent years] solely because of the “serious nature and circumstances of youthful offenses.” My institutional record is commended every year, [with] no violent history…. My release plans are solid. [I have] a place to go [in a] viable environment. I have strong family support [and] a job lined up…. I am worthy of early release but the parole board can’t get past my youthful offenses…. [This] is about a second chance at life, to experience all the things I dream about. I have earned this. I am not asking the State for a handout.
“If there has ever been a need for juvenile justice reform [and a] change in how our youth [are treated in] the system, it is now…. We want the words ‘Juveniles have much great potential for rehabilitation’ to be realized across this land. The media, the public, and policy makers must understand this. It shows a lack of compassion towards our youth when the State unfairly holds them accountable for wrong choices – youthful mistakes – made at such young ages for the rest of their lives.
“Rather, youth are better served by the juvenile justice system, where a greater emphasis is placed on developmentally appropriate rehabilitative and educational services. The adult system, where youthful offenders are basically warehoused, lacks this…. [We need to be] smart on crime [as] opposed to tough on crime. In respects to youthful offenders, once earned, we should be afforded second chances.”
Judy describes her experience as a parent of a child incarcerated as an adult in several letters:
“My son is not a hardened criminal. He made a bad decision, did not use good judgment, and needs to be [held] accountable for his actions…. [However], being sentenced as an adult to five years in a state penitentiary with people much older than [he] is too harsh…. [My son] is a small boy currently in a facility that holds 98 inmates with only 5 bathrooms without doors. He cries during my visits and refuses to say why. I am terrified for his safety…. The prison system is not set up properly to handle the emotional, mental, and physical needs that children have…. I have tried everything I can to help my child, who really is a child, with no success…. The prison system does not care that I am his mother. I feel helpless, hopeless, devastated, and heartbroken that I cannot get him the help he so desperately needs.”
Washington, D.C. [return to top]
The streets of Washington, DC raised “L” and helped to pay the bills necessary in taking care of his young siblings. One day, while he was out trying to make some money, L was arrested for illegal possession of a firearm. At age 16, he was classified as an adult and spent one year in the DC Jail before serving 36 months in adult prison in a neighboring state. In prison, L witnessed so much violence that he became used to it, he told reporters from a local newspaper. “I would see people get stabbed everyday and dudes getting raped every night…I just kept walking.” L never made a call, or wrote a letter, or even wanted a visit throughout his entire time in prison. “I was almost 200 miles away from home and there was no way I was going to let my family travel that far…I had to give some things up. Contact with my family was one of them. It was just me now. I had to fend for myself.” Upon his release, L brought some of this mindset home with him and found he had to adjust to life outside the walls of prison. “I was still in that state of mind…Just had to fend for me…I brought a little bit of jail with me and have had to find ways to bring myself out of that.”
Will tells us about his experience awaiting trial in an adult jail for a year. Here are excerpts from Will’s letter:
The sound of a door made of bars opening was the first thing I heard when I approached my cell in the jail. The toilet was dirty and covered with fruit flies and the floor stained red from what I later learned was the juice given to us at meals. I had never seen living conditions like this before and now they were mine. “Was I made for this lifestyle?” I asked myself. Looking into the eyes of a 30 year old man whose weight was triple mine I thought, “Do not show emotions like fear and power” and I questioned, “How am I going to defend myself?” This man, like every man around me, could easily do damage to my small body. Being surrounded with men triple my age I could only expect the worst. The stories I had heard about adult prison and the truth of “survival of the fittest” was my reality now. I spent a year as a sixteen year old in the jail. My struggle was hard, my life scarred, and my mindset crippled. Here, it was me against the world and out of necessity
I was transformed into a rough creature. There was no where to run and no where to hide and deep down inside I knew I was walking in hell.
Chris V. spent 15 months in the juvenile block of the DC Jail before being transferred into the federal prison system. Of his time in jail, Chris says:
“There wasn’t much to do. We had very little programming and virtually no classes…. We would watch TV or sleep most of the time…. At the jail, we were treated like adults even though we weren’t adults. When we went to the jail staff with our problems, their answers were to stop crying… [and] take care of our problems on our own. Our usual way of taking care of problems was fighting…. Being in that jail made me feel like I was nothing… because that is how we were treated, [like nothing]. We didn’t get any programs that would have helped us become better people. Nobody cared about what you had to say or what your problem was. It was like I was invisible. The way they treated us was horrible. The DC jail was the worst place I have ever been; it is no place for a juvenile.”
After his stay in jail, Chris traveled to federal prisons around the country because of the lack of local facilities for DC inmates, including youth tried as adults. He moved around a lot, being transferred between facilities in North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. For over a year, Chris rarely heard from his family and friends and never saw them because it was too far and too expensive to travel from DC to wherever he was.
Since his release, Chris has been working fulltime. “It’s been good. I’m kind of getting my life together, staying on the straight path. I left my neighborhood and don’t really call my friends or talk to them…. [I’m] trying to put myself around positive people.” He hopes to go to school in computers but is uncertain how he can afford college due to difficulties of obtaining a student loan with an adult criminal record.
While Chris is trying to move past his experiences in prison and jail, he does look back occasionally and believes that he would have benefited from staying in the juvenile system. “Our needs are better served [through] mental health and drug treatment, life skills classes, and job training [which can] help rehabilitate us and better ourselves.” Chris has experienced what it is like to be a young person in adult facilities and wants people to know that “No child should be [in the adult system]. It’s called the adult system for a reason…. What does youth/adult mean? It doesn’t exist.”
Wisconsin [return to top]
Sam describes his experience awaiting trial in an adult jail. Here are excerpts from Sam’s letter:
“During the 72 days I spent in jail as a 17-year-old I was treated like a criminal even though I hadn’t been convicted of anything. In jail I was called names and laughed at by the guards and inmates. I was bored everyday because we only had an hour in the exercise room twice per week…. “School,” if I went, which most of the time I didn’t because the guards forgot about me, wasn’t school at all. I was afraid I would be assaulted by the guards and inmates and at night I couldn’t sleep because I was so scared. I didn’t get the medications I needed so my paranoia grew worse and I got panic attacks when errors in visitation scheduling prevented me from seeing my family. My time in jail has left me depressed and ashamed of myself. I no longer have any friends because they are ashamed of me too. I feel like I don’t belong in public anymore and big, open places scare me because jail was so small. My future and my family will never be the same because of my time in jail. We are mistreated in jail and taken advantage of by the inmates and the system.”
Lisa, Sam’s mother, describes her son’s experience in an adult jail. Here are excerpts from Lisa’s letter:
“…Sam was the youngest in all of his cell blocks in jail. He would cry on the phone to me and I lost many nights of sleep worrying that he might harm himself. I never cried so much in my life. I could not hug Sam for 72 days. All I could do was visit him through a glass window each week. Even now that Sam is out, my family, the most important thing in my life, is still broken…. I used to believe our children are our future but now I realize that this, sadly, isn’t the reality. Through laws that treat kids like adults, the government is throwing away the future of children in this country.”
Beth, mother of Paul, a youth sentenced to an adult jail, tells us about her son Paul, a teenager who is serving time in an adult jail. Here are excerpts from the interview with Beth:
“While in jail, Paul has felt unsafe, shared a cell with violent offenders, including an accused murderer, and been picked on, harassed, and physically attacked by adult inmates. Any kind of self-defense to physical attacks results in confinement for 30 days during which he is locked down for 23 hours per day…I’m scared I will get a call that my son has died in jail…He needs role models, mentors, and programs to help him find his way both in jail and out…With an adult criminal record and the inability to complete his education, who will hire Paul? His identity is gone and friends are gone. What will he do with the rest of his life?”
Vicky, mother of Kirk who committed suicide in an adult jail, tells us about her son Kirk, a teenager who committed suicide while awaiting trial in an adult jail. Here are excerpts from the interview with Vicky:
Kirk was accused by older men of being ‘immature;’ each day he had to teach himself during the one hour of ‘school’ because the teacher was frequently unavailable; the noise level in his block gave him headaches; a convicted sex offender exposed himself to Kirk; he was involved in a couple physical confrontations, his depression increased; and he was so bored that his thoughts consumed him….Our family, extended and immediate, and a community of supportive friends and neighbors, did our best to support Kirk while he was in jail. Together we never missed a phone call or a visit…Two days after Christmas in 2005, Kirk was placed in confinement, known as ‘the hole’… Kirk requested not to be alone because he was having anxiety. Despite his request for help and regulations requiring one-hour checks on inmates in confinement, Kirk was left alone for approximately two and a-half hours. When jail staff finally checked on Kirk, my son was found dead hanging by a blanket from the smoke detector in the cell.
Jane’s parents divorced when she was a toddler, so she was raised almost entirely by her single mother. Throughout elementary and most of middle school, Jane was a promising honor-roll student. In eighth grade, however, she began hanging with a bad crowd, using marijuana, and showing symptoms of depression. Her parents sent her to an outpatient drug program, where she met a controlling boyfriend who convinced her to experiment with a variety of drugs. After getting back, she took her mother’s car without permission. Her mother reported the car stolen, and when she was caught, Jane was tried as an adult and given probation. Jane realized that this was the time to turn her life around, so she began attending school regularly and even got a job. Her attempts at reform were in vain when one day, late for school, she borrowed a neighbor’s bicycle without permission. The neighbor reported the bike stolen, and the theft violated Jane’s probation. She was sent to jail for 75 days. The misdemeanor will remain on her record for the rest of her life.
John was sent to the juvenile justice system at the age of 12 for driving without a license. After spending some time in the juvenile justice system, John was unable to return home as his parents had split up while he was gone, and neither was able to care for him. The system bounced John around between different group homes for five years and then released him to fend for himself when he turned 17. Having nowhere to go, John broke into a car one cold winter evening and slept in it. For this offense, he was jailed for one night and sent to live with some relatives. He never received papers informing him of his court date, so he was arrested for not attending his hearing and sentenced to six months in adult jail. He spent those six months underfed and without any educational opportunities. John’s situation arose not out of his own mistakes, but rather the failure of the criminal justice system to give him the help he needed.