Editor's Note: A young man who was sent to the troubled California Youth Authority corrections system at age 10 tells his story.
My father has been in and out of prison the 17 years I've been alive, so, I really didn't have a father. My mother was a mother, but at the same time she didn't have the time to give me the time I needed. There are seven all together. My twin brother and me are the youngest. She was raising us and she was working, so she really didn't have the time.
She would come home and be exhausted, she would cook for us, but she really didn't have the time.
When I was sentenced [to the California Youth Authority] at the age of 10, I was gang banging and I was fighting. I had a lot of anger, a lot of rage, a lot of pain. I didn't know how to deal with it, so I expressed it through acting out violently, by fighting, by just doing stupid things. I went into the Youth Authority with a year to two years, and I ended up catching five years because of getting in fights and rebelling against the staff.
When they put me in YA, they didn't sit down with me and say, 'We're feeling what you're going through, we want to help you.' It wasn't like that. What they did was lock me up, throw me in the cage, take me to the psychologist, he diagnosed me as crazy, and they gave me drugs. That was the solution.
I was a little kid. I didn't know anything, and there wasn't anybody there that cared for me enough to look beyond my faults and see my needs, and guide me and lead me in the right direction.
The purpose of YA is to rehabilitate you. But they didn't rehabilitate me, and they don't rehabilitate other people. There are people who work for YA that are more criminally minded than the young people in there. You've got staff sleeping with wards, you've got staff secretively bringing drugs for wards. Some staff would beat up wards.
When you are in that predicament it seems hopeless. There was a sense of hopelessness in everybody. Everybody was gang banging. You're in an atmosphere where you have to protect yourself, where you had to become somebody that you weren't.
It was only through the grace of God that I survived. It was God that was protecting me while I was in there, because I've seen people get raped in there, I know people that died in there, I know people that got shanked (cut or stabbed) in there. I got shanked, too.
You know why a lot of young people commit crimes? Because they're seeking attention. They want somebody to recognize them. If they have nobody recognizing them for the good things they do, then they'll do negative stuff.
I changed, not because they helped me to change, but because I took it upon myself to change. The environment I lived in was a hindrance to me changing. It was an environment to keep me in bondage.
I should have never gone to YA in the first place. I was supposed to go to the Nevada Boys Ranch, and they turned around and said it cost more to send me there than to the California Youth Authority. My mother didn't understand law, didn't understand the court system. I had a public defender, but most public defenders work with the DA. They're wolves in sheep's clothing.
I'm in school right now. After I graduate from high school, I have some scholarships to go to Morehouse College or Howard University or another college. I want to get a degree in the ministry, in theology. I want to get a degree in business, entrepreneurship, psychology and a few other fields. I'm going to become a preacher, and I'm going to create businesses. I'm going to write books. I'm going to be speaking, I know that.
I have plans to create a faith-based organization that works with young people in prison and with people in prison in general. When a young person has faith, he begins to have value and worth and self-dignity. He gets to believe in himself. I don't believe a person can be whole without being connected to God. God is the Source, God is the Creator, and if the creation doesn't have a relationship with the Creator than he can't be what he has got to be.
I had no positive men, men of character in my life, men to lead by example, responsible men. If I had had men in my life to give me that discipline, to just be there, I think I would not have done the things that I did. The only reason I did the things that I did was because I wanted to be loved, I wanted to be accepted.
What would have helped me would have been for people to really express their concern, to care about me, to sit down and talk to me to really befriend me, show me that I'm not just a criminal. I made a mistake, but I can change. I can have another chance. I can be a better person. Released almost two years ago, J.T. is involved in a local ministry and lives with the pastor and deacon of his church in Stockton, Calif. He told his story to Brahmani Houston (firstname.lastname@example.org), a contributing writer and employee of Pacific News Service.