Skip to content Skip to footer

Incarcerated people from across Washington State wrote in to share their stories. Taken together, these excerpts give insight into how experiences with the juvenile criminal legal system, poverty, interpersonal violence, and systematic failures contribute to the likelihood that someone will be incarcerated as an adult. Despite these challenges, these authors have demonstrated remarkable change and accountability in the years they’ve been incarcerated.

Incarcerated Children Experience Violence, Isolation, and Sexual Victimization in the Juvenile Criminal Legal System Which Makes Them Vulnerable to the Adult System

  • I was 16 when I experienced the justice system and incarceration and isolation. I was imprisoned at Remann Hall, Tacoma. We were behind closed doors lock and key for 22 hours a day with 2 hours out for showers and day room. The two times I was imprisoned in juvenile destroyed all my childhood dreams and aspirations to be a culinary Master Chef, as well as disrupted my educational and social experience. During my imprisonment as a child, my heart was broken, because I believed my family abandoned me, which caused a degree of separation within my familial bonds I shared with my mother and siblings, pulling me closer towards my relationship with my peers who faced similar experiences. It was through these newly forged friendships, I was affirmed and appreciated for my street smarts – a new value system that gave me an identity and status in a structural gang culture hierarchy. This was my intervention, reform, and education.

    Vincent
  • The juvenile justice system had a litany of effects to me. It allowed me to develop a sense of distrust for authority and law enforcement. It taught me to think in a dog eat dog type of way where only I mattered, and others were expendable. That violence wasn’t only necessary, but required to survive, unless I wanted to become a victim. And most importantly that people in a position of authority were frequently the victimizers I had to be aware of. During my incarceration at the juvenile institution in Maple Lane School, I was the victim of a sexual assault by a male staff member, which helped cement by complete distrust of the system and anyone in a position of authority within it.

    Augustus
  • Green Hill (youth prison) was an environment that fostered racism and division. The staff encouraged it because it caused fights which many liked to watch. I went in at 15 and was surprised to see groups divided not only by fighters and non-fighters, but also by race. I tried to make friends with everyone, especially the Mexicans as I spoke quite a bit of Spanish, and wanted to be from a Mexican gang, but it wasn’t happening. I made it 7 months before I joined a white gang that was made up in Green Hill. I was scared and alone and got acceptance from my older peers because of my willingness to fight. It was all BS, but it set the course to destruction that came in a few short years.

    David
  • I was sentenced to 28 to 48 months and sent to Green Hill School (Youth Prison). During my stay it was so tumultuous and hectic. It felt like I was sent to a camp for bad kids who were just housed there until it was time to leave. I arrived with all my baggage and rarely was I provided the opportunity to unpack the pain I felt inside or even why I did what I did. I can only recall constantly hearing that I needed to change but was never given the right tools to do so. I arrived as a kid and eventually, days after my 18th birthday, was released. I was still stuck in a kid’s head with no clue how the real world would smack me in the face. I didn't even understand the importance of something like a resume.

    Jarrod
  • I was 13 years old when I first experienced incarceration. I was in the juvenile system at Pierce County, Ramen Hall for breaking a window. I was immediately named and treated as a "Youth At Risk," which caused more insecurities and led to more rebellious behavior because I eventually adopted that identity. It’s like when you tell a child that they are stupid constantly and they begin to believe it for themselves. The Juvenile system did not meet any of the needs or address any of the issues I had as a youth, nor did it prevent me from getting into trouble.

    Billy
  • First time I was arrested was for bringing a pistol to my elementary school. From that day on, my life played out in the criminal legal system. Foster care attempted to play a part in my life, but I found the first window to jump out and never looked back. In the system I learned how to adjust my hustle and learn how to play the game so that when I was free my struggle wouldn’t be so hard. No part of juvenile or adult institutions or prisons had any positive results for me. If anything, it was simply reinforced that I had nowhere else to go.

    Nathan
  • I was given 45 weeks and sent to Echo Glen Children’s Center (youth prison). Up to that point I had never been involved in any gang activity and didn’t consider myself to be violent. But that changed in juvenile prison. Even more than in the adult system violence is respected in juvenile joints. You either fight, pretend you can by your size, or you are a victim. The truth is, up until I was done with my first 45 weeks I had always been scared to fight.

    David
  • The system never raised me to be a productive member of society. I was simply a dollar sign to people, with more foster home and group home placements than anyone I know. 18 years, guess what the foster system did to help me prepare to be an adult? Nothing, still child-like mentality of feeling like everything will be handed to me, I received nothing. No DMV help, no I.D. I was supposed to be a productive member of society, no personal finance training, no help with a job, no help period. The day I turned 18 I heard the same “systematic” phrase I hear in prison: ‘Unique, pack your shit. You got to go.

    Tarryn
  • Since I was young, about 8 or 9, I've been getting into trouble with the law, sure it was nothing, little stuff, but in "96" I was arrested for assault 2. This was my first experience with incarceration. I was in and out of the juvenile system until I was 17 when I was charged as an adult. Doing all that juvenile time only gave me an education in the criminal lifestyle that continued until I received all this time. Juvenile was my school, it prepared me for my adult life in crime.

    Michael

Incarcerated Children Report Experiencing Violence, Solitary Confinement, Unnecessary use of Force, Sexual Victimization, and Fear of Attacks While Imprisoned

https://syrp.org/images/OJJDP%20Conditions%20of%20Confinement.pdf

“I was 13 years old when I first experienced incarceration. I was in the juvenile system at Pierce County, Ramen Hall for breaking a window. I was immediately named and treated as a “Youth At Risk,” which caused more insecurities and led to more rebellious behavior because I eventually adopted that identity. Its like when you tell a child that they are stupid constantly and they begin to believe it for themselves. The Juvenile system did not meet any of the needs or address any of the issues I had as a youth, nor did it prevent me from getting into trouble.” – Billy G

“I was sentenced to 28 to 48 months and sent to Green Hill School. During my stay it was so tumultuous and hectic. It felt like I was sent to a camp for bad kids who were just housed there until it was time to leave. I arrived with all my baggage and rarely was I provided the opportunity to unpack the pain I felt inside or even why I did what I did. I can only recall constantly hearing that I needed to change but was never given the right tools to do so. I arrived as a kid and eventually, days after my 18th birthday, was released. I was still stuck in a kid’s head with no clue how the real world would smack me in the face. I didn’t even understand the importance of something like a resume.”  – Jarrod M

“Since I was young, about 8 or 9, I’ve been getting into trouble with the law, sure it was nothing, little stuff, but in “96” I was arrested for assault 2. This was my first experience with incarceration. I was in and out of the juvenile system until I was 17 when I was charged as an adult. Doing all that juvenile time only gave me an education in the criminal lifestyle that continued until I received all this time. Juvenile was my school, it prepared me for my adult life in crime.” – Michael E

“While in Juvenile Hall I adapted to all my peers and surrounds, as humans do, we adapt. For me my first time in Juvenile Hall was probably the biggest fork in my life’s path, and the true beginning of my criminal education. From there I went down the wrong pathways, 5 days after getting out, I was back in juvenile for the next 2 years of my life, with around 13 felony charges.” – Thomas D

Rates of Childhood and Adult Trauma are Exceptionally High Among Those who are Incarcerated.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3386595/#:~:text=Rates%20of%20childhood%20and%20adult%20trauma%20are%20high%20among%20incarcerated%20persons.&text=Rates%20of%20physical%2C%20sexual%2C%20and,(sexual%20trauma%20in%20adulthood).

“Domestic violence was an often occurrence and reality within my home. Arguments always turned into violence, discipline and beatings that were out of anger and over the top but justified and cloaked in “tough love.” It seemed that violence was always the first resort. Discipline usually resulted in belts, slaps, chokes, paddles, broom sticks, punches, kicks or anything that was close enough to hit me with. When I got older, discipline measures were a bit more intense. One of which is seared into my memory of my dad locking me in the laundry room with the locks outside the door, In his attempts to simulate a prison or jail cell. Eventually they resorted to kicking me out the house..” – Billy G

“Starting out we moved around a lot because of low income, Shalishan in Eastside Tacoma, Tillicum and Chocolate city in Lakewood, Hilltop in Tacoma. What this did was begin to shift my security and understanding what lack of stability we had. As the months pass signs of alcoholic abuse and verbal abuse begin to surface in my mother’s relationship. As a child it was terrifying to see such violence and abuse on a daily basis. This caused me to suppress all of my emotions and feelings because I didn’t want to add to my mother’s stress and have her turn against me. At times I even contemplated ways on how to rid myself of the world to never feel again. Everything wrong felt like my fault and as I grew up” – Jarrod M

“My dad beat my mom and I, and when they got divorced, he started sending me to the coast to buy drugs for him that he would then sell or have me sell for him. He would entice me by letting me use his brand-new truck. Thinking back, that was a great motivator, a 16/17 year old being offered a new truck to drive around if he only ran a few errands. My stepdad berated my mother and I and would lay hands on both of us. My mom was an alcoholic and would disappear for weeks or more at a time. I didn’t know it at the time, but my stepdad used the threat of my mom losing me to him as a way to keep her in a relationship with him.” – Thomas D

Poverty (Stat re poverty and incarceration)

https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/income.html

“Growing up, I remember having to live in a studio apartment with my parents and 5 kids, sleeping in the living room on the couch or the floor….. I use to get excited when my mom and I would go to the food bank because they would give the kids a bag of treats.” – Billy G

Peer Influence/Environment (Statistic Regarding Susceptibility of Children to Environment/Peer Influence)

“The pressure that my peer group had on me was to keep up and uphold the image or identity of being this person who would be ready and down to do anything, whether it’s stealing a car, burglarizing a house, selling drugs, partying, fighting, etc. Also I had the added pressure of surviving by any means possible, because I did not have any legitimate means of income or a place to live, so crime was what I resorted to.” – Billy G

“n 1997, at the age of 12, I got jumped into my gang. I didn’t know any better. All I knew was the few square blocks of my neighborhood. So what I saw and learned in my own living room was totally different from how people acted on the block. I would see my dad wake up every day at 4am for work. But my older homies wouldn’t wake up until 2pm in the afternoon, yet they had all the stuff I wanted. My parents struggled to buy us school clothes from Kmart and thrift stores while my big homies put guns, drugs, and money in the brand-new clothes that they bought (or maybe stole) for us from Macy’s. My parents didn’t raise me like that, so I knew that that lifestyle was wrong. But it didn’t matter. I was a young and ignorant kid that had my mind made up. I was going to be just like my big homies. So it should come at no surprise that I caught my first case at the age of 15. Three felonies stemming from a robbery that would follow and haunt me for the rest of my life.” – Felix S

“Constant calls from the principal kept piling up and attempts at counseling failed to understand my situation. After all, someone who went to college with no experience or someone who didn’t even look like me could never understand my pain. After realizing that those adult figures didn’t have time to hone in on me and empathize with me, I figured I would be better off seeking what I was looking for. I went to the streets to see if I could find a sense of belonging. Mind you I had no proper understanding of the importance of family, morals or values, what’s socially acceptable behavior. I was gullible, easily influenced because I wanted to feel accepted. I hung around the people who society would label delinquents. They understood my feelings of abandonment, hunger, and despair or so I thought. Eventually small things added up to bigger things. As much trouble I was into I was fortunate enough to never be caught into the system. Until my first charge in my life happened. I committed a Robbery 1 at the age of 15 and was tried as an adult. It shattered my world and would be the most impactful thing to happen to my life. This period after my stay in Green Hill Facility life was so depressing and hard to fathom the hand I was dealt, I had no self-worth, never valued others, and all the while was lost looking for love in all the wrong places. The things I did back then were signs of a kid looking for help or guidance but, home would never be my refuge.” – Jarrod M

Sentencing (Stat from Katherine’s report on life and long sentences)

“I remember vividly when I was in the hole (solitary confinement) in the county jail, and I was tapping my head repeatedly on the wall, closing my eyes and opening them quickly, hoping to wake up from a nightmare but, realizing that it was real. I found myself thinking to myself constantly, while looking up at the ceiling, that this will be my life for a long time. I ended up taking a deal because I was honestly afraid of being sentenced to more time if I were to take it to trial. I didn’t understand law. I only saw my lawyer a few times, and all he would tell me is the different deals that were on the table. The first deal was 50 years, then 40, then 30, but he eventually landed a 35-year sentence as the final deal and I took it.” – Billy G

“My attorney was typical pro bono who didn’t have experience. He told me he was a beginner criminal lawyer and prior to that was a corporate lawyer. The justice system had assigned me an attorney who had no prior criminal trial experiences and my freedom would be left in his hands. Right before jury deliberations I requested a plea agreement and those 35 years were the best I was offered. I signed because I was scared of the maximum penalty, 75 years! The math was simple for me. I felt compelled just for my sanity and family’s ability to mentally withstand doing time with me, that 35 years would be the lesser of two evils. Now I’m 30 years old and reflecting on it now I could have never known how to fight for my freedom.” – Jarrod M (19 when sentenced)

Rehabilitation/Accountability (Something about how difficult it is to rehabilitate with the current system)

“My imprisonment became unnecessary when I got sentenced to more years than I had been alive for. With no opportunity to redeem myself or right my wrongs, this only left me with a sense of despair and hopelessness. However, even with no opportunity of a second chance or to get an early release, I still made the effort to improve myself and others around me, while taking full responsibility over my own life. I eventually chose and found a path that is centered on rehabilitation, healing and redemption. However, I’ve learned that the journey to do that is a life-long process. As I became older in prison, my mind matured, the way I thought about my life changed. I realized I was just existing within prison, being institutionalized in many areas of my development. However, I could no longer accept a meaningless life, so I found myself wanting better for myself, searching for meaning and purpose for my life, even while incarcerated. That is when I began to take on personal responsibility over myself.” – Bill G

“I’d be a liar if I said I was totally proud of the man that I am today. I was gang banging for over 20 years and all I have to show for it is a 65 year prison sentence– a sentence increased by the points garnered by my juvenile felonies when I was a 15 year old teenager. It’s an uphill battle every day to get up and do what I know is right. But every student I help to pass their GED test, and every time I graduate another group of my peers from a class that I helped to design is another hard-fought battle won. Nobody said that life is easy, and nobody owes me anything. If somebody does owe though, it’s me. I owe it to my dad to start being a real man and start doing what is right for me and my kids just like he did. He deserves to know that his son isn’t always going to be that ignorant gangbanger who speaks a foreign language with an urban accent. The Laotian man that I strive to become is the man that my dad has been my whole life: a man who not only loves his kids unconditionally, but shows it by working hard to provide for his family. I’m confident that I’ll eventually get there in the meantime I have designed an Asian American Studies course, helped to found an Anti-Domestic Violence program, and organized multiple immigration, social justice, and youth outreach forums all available through the Asian Pacific Islanders Cultural Awareness Group” – Felix S

“Eventually after doing a 1 year long solitary confinement sentence I was tired of the same thing and promised myself that if no one would help me, I would do it myself. My time structure and DOC’S discriminatory practices towards people with long term sentences further reinforced the idea that rehabilitation for me was never in their plans. I began to study cultural identity and self worth on my own which felt like a breath of fresh air. It led me to pursue education which in turn would lead me to take be a stakeholder in a prisoner led program created at Clallam Bay Corrections center by the Black Prisoners Caucus called T.E.A.C.H. (Taking Education And Creating History). What gravitated me to this transformational education platform was that all prisoners were valued, especially the ones who weren’t offered the educational opportunities DOC would offer to people with shorter sentences. I started as a student and now have been facilitating classes for about 4 years and earned my Associates Degree. I realized that my life did have value.” – Jarrod M

Impact on Family (Statistic about collateral consequences)

“The reality of listening to my mom cry for 15 minutes while in the hole (solitary confinement) was the tipping point that led to real self reflection and pushed me to take a hard look at myself. This event in my life revealed two things to me. First, I realized that my family is doing this time with me, they are essentially incarcerated with me. Second, my actions and my poor choices not only just affect me, but my loved ones and others around me. This was when I genuinely made that conscious decision within myself to turn my life around and take on the responsibility to begin to take the necessary steps to improve myself and be a better man, brother, uncle, and son that my mom can be proud of.” – Billy G

“When we do these long sentences, it is our family and loved ones that get hurt the most, this is time we can NEVER get back, moments we could have had fun and did things together. Last week while transferring through Shelton to Stafford Creek they put me in a cell with one of my brothers. He was getting out on this CPA program, this is the first time in 6 years that I’ve seen any of my family and the first time I’ve talked to him in over 5 years. Our families hurt more than we can ever imagine.” – Michael E

Fears (Something about losing hope when you have a long sentence)

I fear many things, Not being able to be free and live my life at its fullest and experiencing everything life has to offer. Not having kids and raising them. I’m afraid of dying in prison, being institutionalized and losing my sanity (being mentally messed up from long term incarceration). I’m afraid of my parents passing away before I get out of prison and not being able to give back and take care of them. I’m afraid of being forgotten and alone in prison. I’m afraid of not having a meaningful and purposeful life outside these walls. – Billy G

Incarcerated People Are Often Victims of Violence and Abuse Themselves

  • Domestic violence was an often occurrence and reality within my home. Arguments always turned into violence, discipline and beatings that were out of anger and over the top but justified and cloaked in "tough love." It seemed that violence was always the first resort. Discipline usually resulted in belts, slaps, chokes, paddles, broom sticks, punches, kicks or anything that was close enough to hit me with. When I got older, discipline measures were a bit more intense. One of which is seared into my memory of my dad locking me in the laundry room with the locks outside the door in his attempts to simulate a prison or jail cell. Eventually they resorted to kicking me out the house.

    Billy
  • I was about 10 years old and my dad was picking on my little brother, calling him a homosexual and pussy because he was sick, and when we were little and sick, we would often sleep in my mom’s bed. I stood up for my brother, and told my dad to stop picking on him, and he started in on me. He grabbed me by my shirt and yanked me off my feet, slapping me and punching me. He was extremely drunk, or otherwise I’m sure that his slaps and punches would have had a much more devastating effect on my little body. As we scuffled, we ended up against the stove. There was a cast iron skillet on the stove. I grabbed the cast iron skillet and with as much strength as I could muster, I hit my dad with the skillet. Surprisingly he stumbled, though he regained his composure quickly and immediately grabbed a butcher’s knife. Chasing me through our home, screaming that he was going to kill me, I ran into the bathroom and tried closing the door. He forced his way in, and tried to stab me. I dexterously dodged the knife, which missed me by mere inches. The situation ended with me being arrested for assault 4th degree (domestic violence), and my dad being asked to leave for the night.

    Augustus
  • The abuse was constant and severe. We were starved, beat, molested. Forced to eat cat feces for failing to clean the litter box correctly. And was frequently in foster care which was almost as bad. I reported my sister being molested at one home and we were kicked out for lying, but at least we weren’t being beat. After that we never reported sexual abuse again. And I ran away from so many homes that they started separating my sister and I putting me in boy’s homes.

    David
  • My first experience with violence was in the home, witnessing helplessly my father physically beat my mother. The thought of that time causes anger and anxiety, as well as resentment, even years later after his death. But my first personal experience with violence came as a result of my father’s murder.

    Vincent
  • Starting out we moved around a lot because of low income, Salishan in Eastside Tacoma, Tillicum and Chocolate City in Lakewood, Hilltop in Tacoma. What this did was begin to shift my security and understanding what lack of stability we had. As the months pass signs of alcoholic abuse and verbal abuse begin to surface in my mother’s relationship. As a child it was terrifying to see such violence and abuse on a daily basis. This caused me to suppress all of my emotions and feelings because I didn't want to add to my mother’s stress and have her turn against me. At times I even contemplated ways on how to rid myself of the world to never feel again. Everything wrong felt like my fault and as I grew up

    Jarrod
  • My dad beat my mom and I, and when they got divorced, he started sending me to the coast to buy drugs for him that he would then sell or have me sell for him. He would entice me by letting me use his brand-new truck. Thinking back, that was a great motivator, a 16-17-year-old being offered a new truck to drive around if he only ran a few errands. My stepdad berated my mother and I and would lay hands on both of us. My mom was an alcoholic and would disappear for weeks or more at a time. I didn’t know it at the time, but my stepdad used the threat of my mom losing me to him as a way to keep her in a relationship with him.

    Thomas
  • Violence was my punishment for my actions as a kid, and I would get punished with a wooden paddle that was about a half inch thick. I remember that paddle all too well, it was how I learned to deal with pain and consequence. It also taught me to use violence as a way to solve all my problems. So fighting and other activities of violence became a consistent part of life.

    Ralph
  • About the time I was four, my mom joined the Mormon Church and married a church member. I have fragmented memories beyond this point due to trauma. My stepdad molested my sisters, beat me, and used the Bible to justify his actions. For some reason he despised me … I’m five or so; he has called a family meeting. To this day I don’t remember what I did that was so bad. I just remember the meeting was about my bad behavior, but it mostly felt like it was about my innate wrongness. At the end of the meeting, I was exiled to the attic where I waited solemnly for the looming consequence. I don’t remember a lot beyond that point, just that I spent a better part of that year isolated in that smoldering attic where I was supposed to be learning some significant religious lesson, and healing from bruises.

    Brandon
  • I have also been very aware and fortunate not to have become a drug addict as my childhood was forced to see the bad outcome of abuse. That’s not saying I never had to feel the physical abuse of the individuals who saw me as their “human ashtray” amongst other physical assault. I am ashamed to mention that I can’t even begin to tell you of the disciplines. See, there’s two forms” you are only disciplined in front of the masses, in the form of a dry notice of “you are going to write sentences when you get home”; then you have an ass whooping which can consist of any item that can be thrown on a tree branch of a hernia-sized belt and you pull your pants down and get whooped until there’s blood. Was I ever wrong for getting in trouble at school? Yes, but no one should have to endure assault that has traumatized me, which is now the reason I run with no direction. If you want to see the truth, I’m afraid of abuse.

    Tarryn
  • My experience of my Mom was that she was hot and cold. When she felt like a mom, she acted like what she must have thought a mom should be. The rest of the time, she blamed me for her miserable life and wished I had never been born. She had regular fits of anger in which she would hit me with a belt buckle, horse whip, bullwhip, or random household items that she could hit me with. That all happened until I was about eight and able to take the weapon away from her. Then she never hit me again.

    Brandon
  • My parents tried to do the best to raise us, although they had a violent relationship. I think it had to do with our socio-economic conditions. When I was 6 years old a man tried to kill my mother with a machete, the police got to the scene hours later even though they were 15 blocks away. The police never did anything to that man, Justice had to be done differently, nothing new down there, this is why the community do lynchings every time they get their hands on an “offender.” Self-Defense Groups are part of the community and participation is expected

    Marco
  • Adjusting to this new environment-- rife with crime, violence, and poverty-- we were soon introduced to a man my mom called her boyfriend, I was seven. He moved in and I noticed that he drank a lot. He was also an abuser. The beatings started with my mom and soon graduated to my bro and I. I was afraid of him, and while at seven I cannot name all of the emotions I felt, I recognize them as anger, fear, shame, and guilt now due to the beatings I received and for witnessing my bro and mom going through the same experiences. You see, I could not do a damn thing about it.

    James

Incarcerated People are More Likely to Have Grown up in Poverty

  • As a child I didn’t recognize or you can say, I was oblivious to our financial disposition. It wasn’t until I had my first brush with the juvenile system, and my father’s death, that my innocence and naivete was removed from my eyes when I started to recognize and appreciate the struggle my mother endured without showing her kids any weakness. My mother worked three jobs, after my parents’ separation; she was a teacher’s assistant, teacher, and hotel maid. I can recall helping my mom clean hotel rooms as a child (this was her solution for childcare). She worked hard to make sure her kids never went without.

    Vincent
  • Growing up, I remember having to live in a studio apartment with my parents and 5 kids, sleeping in the living room on the couch or the floor. I used to get excited when my mom and I would go to the food bank because they would give the kids a bag of treats.

    Billy
  • Well the bills and bounced checks began to add up again, so it was time to move. This time we moved to San Diego, California. We moved into a run-down abandoned office building. The only furniture we had was a dining room table and a couple of rickety old chairs. We all slept on the floor with roaches, crawling all over us as we slept … Most days Mom would take me and my sister Carrie to the store, lead us to the bulk weight bins and tell us to fill a bag of whatever we liked. She instructed us to finish it before we got to the check-out counter. Walking through grocery stores eating became my best new strategy to ward off a growl in my stomach.

    Brandon
  • 18 was a fresh reality check; I was on my own. I relied on daily showers in an abandoned home, and means from people’s homes who weren’t there, unknowingly the entire time it was a crime – it was all I knew! It soon became daily! Going in homes, eating, then leaving letters of an apology for their food; in turn started to become curious and taking things and pawning them for money to survive daily. I wasn’t even out in the world a year, when I was back into the system looking at the death penalty, I would never see or get the chance to be a productive citizen.

    Tarynn
  • I grew up in a family of 6, and the only person that worked was my mom. Until the age of 7, my mom took care of all of us with only state assistance. We lived in low-income housing, although the neighborhood I lived in would have been considered working class. Once my mom went back to work, she worked as a data-entry person earning a low wage. My siblings and I would rotate clothes and any new clothes were bought on credit. As a young child we had food stamps, and my mom made sure we had enough food as she went to food banks.

    Augustus
  • Growing up in a single parent home for me was a dream come true. I was able to do what I wanted, when I wanted. With my mother working three jobs she would only come home to rest and sometimes eat. She worked hard just to put a roof over our heads.

    Ralph

Children and Young Adults are Extremely Susceptible to Their Environments and Peer-Influence

  • Constant calls from the principal kept piling up and attempts at counseling failed to understand my situation. After all, someone who went to college with no experience or someone who didn't even look like me could never understand my pain. After realizing that those adult figures didn't have time to focus on me and empathize with me, I figured I would be better off seeking what I was looking for. I went to the streets to see if I could find a sense of belonging. Mind you I had no proper understanding of the importance of family, morals or values, what's socially acceptable behavior. I was gullible, easily influenced because I wanted to feel accepted. I hung around the people who society would label delinquents. They understood my feelings of abandonment, hunger, and despair or so I thought. Eventually small things added up to bigger things. As much trouble I was into I was fortunate enough to never be caught into the system. Until my first charge in my life happened. I committed a Robbery 1 at the age of 15 and was tried as an adult. It shattered my world and would be the most impactful thing to happen to my life. This period after my stay in Green Hill Facility life was so depressing and hard to fathom the hand I was dealt, I had no self-worth, never valued others, and all the while was lost looking for love in all the wrong places. The things I did back then were signs of a kid looking for help or guidance but, home would never be my refuge.

    Jarrod
  • The pressure that my peer group had on me was to keep up and uphold the image or identity of being this person who would be ready and down to do anything, whether it’s stealing a car, burglarizing a house, selling drugs, partying, fighting, etc. Also, I had the added pressure of surviving by any means possible, because I did not have any legitimate means of income or a place to live, so crime was what I resorted to.

    Billy
  • In 1997, at the age of 12, I got jumped into my gang. I didn't know any better. All I knew was the few square blocks of my neighborhood. So, what I saw and learned in my own living room was totally different from how people acted on the block. I would see my dad wake up every day at 4am for work. But my older homies wouldn't wake up until 2pm in the afternoon, yet they had all the stuff I wanted. My parents struggled to buy us school clothes from Kmart and thrift stores while my big homies put guns, drugs, and money in the brand-new clothes that they bought (or maybe stole) for us from Macy's. My parents didn't raise me like that, so I knew that that lifestyle was wrong. But it didn't matter. I was a young and ignorant kid that had my mind made up. I was going to be just like my big homies. So, it should come as no surprise that I caught my first case at the age of 15. Three felonies stemming from a robbery that would follow and haunt me for the rest of my life.

    Felix
  • One of my friends at the time had a sister whose boyfriend sold weed. My friend would get some and we’d smoke before going to school (5th & 6th grade). The boyfriend wanted us to find others at our school or their people who wanted to get some weed as part of giving us weed to smoke and we were eager to do so. Still in 6th grade, I met a 17-year-old girl who became my girlfriend. We would do what girlfriends and boyfriends would do sexually even though I had no clue what I was doing. Doing petty crimes, smoking weed, and having sex at my age created a false sense of a “bad ass” that I felt I had to maintain given my surroundings. This false image that was being developed was not helped when the police arrested twice at school (6th) in front of my classmates. It only applied more pressure to maintain the act.

    James
  • I didn’t know at the time, but as I got older, I realized that what I was being taught was for prison yard combat and prison style politics. It was these older individuals that had taught me how to “survive” through difficult and sometimes violent situations. In the moment, I believed that these learned habits were how life was supposed to be lived. For a huge part of my life I was led to believe that being a criminal was the only option I had.

    Ralph
  • [My mom’s boyfriend] and my mom took us to house parties. The people in those parties gave my sister and me alcohol and drugs. I have one specific memory. There we were at a house party. In the bedroom there is a sex party going on. The door is opening and closing, so we can see everything when the door opens. We are sitting on the couch with a man and a woman. The woman passes us each a shot of alcohol. They are laughing, kissing, and carrying on. The guy busts open a piece of paper, emptying the contents of white powder onto the table (cocaine). The woman chops it up with a poker card. She takes a sniff out of a rolled-up dollar bill. She pushes a little pile over to my sister, and then to me. So, my sister and I being between the ages of seven and nine, got all hopped up on cocaine and booze, I was smoking a cigar, the music was playing, her and I decide to dance like the others are doing. I have this big cigar hanging out of my mouth and I accidentally burned my sister just above her chest. I’m sure that she still has that scar.

    Brandon
  • The streets were the only place I was welcome other than in the system; growing up in the streets of Tacoma means that most people you know are criminals, there is no escaping one type of bad influence or another. After a time I found that the bad influence was me, but I’m not sure when I realized it.

    Nathan
  • Most of my life, my peer influences were older kids from similar family circumstances. They had parents that suffered from poverty, addiction, and abuse. I admired the gang members, convicts, and drug dealers the most. These were the people that I wanted to be like and spent my time emulating. As a young teen I joined a native street gang. The older kids pressured me to put in work; this meant that I needed to be willing to commit violence against anyone at any time, that I needed to sell drugs to make money while participating in other criminal activity that would benefit them or our group.

    Augustus

Sentencing (Stat from Katherine’s report on life and long sentences)

  • I remember vividly when I was in the hole (solitary confinement) in the county jail, and I was tapping my head repeatedly on the wall, closing my eyes and opening them quickly, hoping to wake up from a nightmare but, realizing that it was real. I found myself thinking to myself constantly, while looking up at the ceiling, that this will be my life for a long time. I ended up taking a deal because I was honestly afraid of being sentenced to more time if I were to take it to trial. I didn't understand law. I only saw my lawyer a few times, and all he would tell me is the different deals that were on the table. The first deal was 50 years, then 40, then 30, but he eventually landed a 35-year sentence as the final deal and I took it.

    Billy G
  • My attorney was typical pro bono who didn’t have experience. He told me he was a beginner criminal lawyer and prior to that was a corporate lawyer. The justice system had assigned me an attorney who had no prior criminal trial experiences and my freedom would be left in his hands. Right before jury deliberations I requested a plea agreement and those 35 years were the best I was offered. I signed because I was scared of the maximum penalty, 75 years! The math was simple for me. I felt compelled just for my sanity and family’s ability to mentally withstand doing time with me, that 35 years would be the lesser of two evils. Now I’m 30 years old and reflecting on it now I could have never known how to fight for my freedom.

    Jarrod M

Washington’s Use of Exceptionally Long Sentences Means People Remain Incarcerated Long After They Have Demonstrated Remarkable Change and Accountability

  • I'd be a liar if I said I was totally proud of the man that I am today. I was gang banging for over 20 years and all I have to show for it is a 65 year prison sentence-- a sentence increased by the points garnered by my juvenile felonies when I was a 15 year old teenager. It's an uphill battle every day to get up and do what I know is right. But every student I help to pass their GED test, and every time I graduate another group of my peers from a class that I helped to design is another hard-fought battle won. Nobody said that life is easy, and nobody owes me anything. If somebody does owe though, it’s me. I owe it to my dad to start being a real man and start doing what is right for me and my kids just like he did. He deserves to know that his son isn't always going to be that ignorant gangbanger who speaks a foreign language with an urban accent. The Laotian man that I strive to become is the man that my dad has been my whole life: a man who not only loves his kids unconditionally, but shows it by working hard to provide for his family. I'm confident that I'll eventually get there in the meantime I have designed an Asian American Studies course, helped to found an Anti-Domestic Violence program, and organized multiple immigration, social justice, and youth outreach forums all available through the Asian Pacific Islanders Cultural Awareness Group

    Felix
  • My imprisonment became unnecessary when I got sentenced to more years than I had been alive for. With no opportunity to redeem myself or right my wrongs, this only left me with a sense of despair and hopelessness. However, even with no opportunity of a second chance or to get an early release, I still made the effort to improve myself and others around me, while taking full responsibility over my own life. I eventually chose and found a path that is centered on rehabilitation, healing and redemption. However, I've learned that the journey to do that is a life-long process. As I became older in prison, my mind matured, the way I thought about my life changed. I realized I was just existing within prison, being institutionalized in many areas of my development. However, I could no longer accept a meaningless life, so I found myself wanting better for myself, searching for meaning and purpose for my life, even while incarcerated. That is when I began to take on personal responsibility over myself.

    Bill
  • Eventually after doing a yearlong solitary confinement sentence I was tired of the same thing and promised myself that if no one would help me, I would do it myself. My time structure and DOC'S discriminatory practices towards people with long term sentences further reinforced the idea that rehabilitation for me was never in their plans. I began to study cultural identity and self-worth on my own which felt like a breath of fresh air. It led me to pursue education which in turn would lead me to take be a stakeholder in a prisoner led program created at Clallam Bay Corrections center by the Black Prisoners Caucus called T.E.A.C.H. (Taking Education And Creating History). What gravitated me to this transformational education platform was that all prisoners were valued, especially the ones who weren't offered the educational opportunities DOC would offer to people with shorter sentences. I started as a student and now have been facilitating classes for about 4 years and earned my Associates Degree. I realized that my life did have value.

    Jarrod
  • Today I’m focused on working on my AA degree through correspondence courses, because I want to be prepared for the life that is waiting for me back in Mexico. [It] has been almost 17 years since I got ‘locked up,’ and I know that I’m a different person. I was a kid, now I am a mature man, and all I want is a chance to start my life. I want a wife and kids, my family. I want to help in creating real social change, help my community, not destroy it. The question is, is it necessary for me to spend another 10 years in prison? All I want to do is use my skills to help and succeed.

    Marco
  • I will leave you with this, the future is in my hands and it’s my “choice” what I decide to do with it. I will be the voice and positive advocate I can be for the youth to come behind me. I have a goal and a plan. For our youth, all I ask is to be heard and we can come together as a society and noticed the abused hurt child who has been crying for a chance to be seen or heard. The year 2021 is my year for a call of action to change and dismantle the broken system for all people oppressed by injustice or some form of systematic oppression.

    Tarryn
  • Since entering the system (day one) and staring down the road of my redemption and healing, I’ve acquired my G.E.D. and multiple vocational certificates. I have also invested my entire being in aiding and assisting my imprisoned community in a lot of circles (self-help groups) that educates, restores, affirms, sees, hears, and heals. These processes I am most proud of with regards to measuring change. I am a member of the Black Prisoners Caucus (BPC) and collective leadership structure; whereby we work closely and collaboratively with other groups whose causes and missions aligns with ours – this is also how I measure education and change.

    Vincent
  • I am active in my prison community, and am using this time to give back. I have completed many of the classes here, including Non-Violent Communication, Bridges to Life (both as a student and as a small group leader), Redemption (as a facilitator on multiple occasions), Alternative to Violence Program, and have completed multiple AA degree level classes. I am one class away from graduating with my AA degree, while maintaining both Presidents and Deans Lists with an overall 3.87 GPA.

    Augustus
  • I happened to participate in the Bridges to Life Program, where I discovered the real impact of crime, and not just violent crime, but all types of crime. The Bridges to Life program helped me to really understand how crime impacted its victims on many different levels. I realized it was not only violent crime that created various degrees of hardship on people; even identity/financial crimes imposed tremendous difficulty on those who were victims of these crimes as well as their families. I was under the false assumption that identity theft or financial crimes would ultimately have the money replaced, so no harm no foul. The Bridges to Life program showed me that that was the furthest thing from the truth.

    Ralph
  • Every one of us have made mistakes in our lives. For some of us, the mistakes that we make can cause others to suffer. When I came to prison, I thought that I would do the suffering because of our separation from the community. But I quickly realized the victim’s and their family as well as my family and my loved ones are those that suffer the most. I feel that it is necessary to write this article to show the world that I am no longer the same person I was when I began my prison sentence. I hope that all who read this will gain a new perspective on those who are incarcerated and begin to understand our situation. With your help we can become productive members of society.

    Dung
  • But by the time I was 25 I was fully committed to not only nonviolence (I had not been in a fight since 2007) but to the rehabilitation and assistance of my peers in any way I can. Mostly through legal work and educational assistance via tutoring. And it is my dream to be released and go to law school so that I can assist the incarcerated, especially those from the most impoverished communities.

    David
  • I fear I won’t enjoy a full and normal relationship with a woman and build a legacy together. My liberation from my imprisonment, though it pales in comparison to my ancestors’ freedom from enslavement, isn’t less desired or imagined.

    Vincent
  • I fear many things, Not being able to be free and live my life at its fullest and experiencing everything life has to offer. Not having kids and raising them. I'm afraid of dying in prison, being institutionalized and losing my sanity (being mentally messed up from long term incarceration). I'm afraid of my parents passing away before I get out of prison and not being able to give back and take care of them. I'm afraid of being forgotten and alone in prison. I'm afraid of not having a meaningful and purposeful life outside these walls.

    Billy
  • The pro Prison Industrial Complex advocates would have the majority of society believe that their system works by highlighting successful cases such as mine. They would also have the majority believe that our nations under-developed communities are not that bad since a handful of individuals from these communities have found success in life. For me, the issue is not the few that have found their way from the bottom, but rather the many that continue to remain victimized by a system that needs the mass majority of these poverty-stricken communities right where they are.

    Ralph

Impact on Family (Statistic about collateral consequences)

  • The reality of listening to my mom cry for 15 minutes while in the hole (solitary confinement) was the tipping point that led to real self reflection and pushed me to take a hard look at myself. This event in my life revealed two things to me. First, I realized that my family is doing this time with me, they are essentially incarcerated with me. Second, my actions and my poor choices not only just affect me, but my loved ones and others around me. This was when I genuinely made that conscious decision within myself to turn my life around and take on the responsibility to begin to take the necessary steps to improve myself and be a better man, brother, uncle, and son that my mom can be proud of.

    Billy G
  • When we do these long sentences, it is our family and loved ones that get hurt the most, this is time we can NEVER get back, moments we could have had fun and did things together. Last week while transferring through Shelton to Stafford Creek they put me in a cell with one of my brothers. He was getting out on this CPA program, this is the first time in 6 years that I've seen any of my family and the first time I've talked to him in over 5 years. Our families hurt more than we can ever imagine.

    Michael E

Fears (Something about losing hope when you have a long sentence)

  • I fear many things, Not being able to be free and live my life at its fullest and experiencing everything life has to offer. Not having kids and raising them. I'm afraid of dying in prison, being institutionalized and losing my sanity (being mentally messed up from long term incarceration). I'm afraid of my parents passing away before I get out of prison and not being able to give back and take care of them. I’m afraid of being forgotten and alone in prison. I'm afraid of not having a meaningful and purposeful life outside these walls.

    Billy G
Look2Justice 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Website by Alice Wonder | Web Design Studio