15, facing 'life.' by Dre

Part I.

I want to write about my experience as a 15 year old being put on trial as an adult & facing life in prison. I want to share my experience, not for sympathy – but just to share my experience and how it affected me, and to show how the process goes and what juveniles have to go through when they’re tried as an adult instead of being processed through the juvenile system. To kind of show what the difference is between the two. Although, I can’t speak for every juvenile charged & tried as an adult because everyone’s experience is different.

When I was told that I was being charged with murder and aggravated battery with a firearm, I was kind of in shock. It didn’t seem real, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew that I was a person of interest when this incident happened, but I figured that my name would be cleared eventually. I did think my name was cleared because someone else was charged before I was, and because I didn’t get charged until 4 months later.

About a week or 2 after the incident in my case happened, I was arrested for carrying a gun and sent to the juvenile center. I carried a gun because of threats that I was getting toward my family & I. I was sentenced to 3 months in the Dept. of Juvenile Justice – which is the prison for anyone 13-21 years old. I had almost finished my 3 month sentence, and I was due to be released the following week, but I was told that I wouldn’t be going home.

I kinda knew that something wasn’t right because the whole day the officers and the superintendent were acting weird towards me. Not in a bad way, but like they knew something that I didn’t & they were worried. But no one said anything, so I figured I was just tripping on something.

I remember everyone was going to their cells for shift change, and I was told to not go into my cell, but to go into the holding cell & change into a transfer jumpsuit. Then I was shackled at my waist & ankles. I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. The thought of being charged with murder didn’t cross my mind – not even once.

I kept asking everyone what was going on, but no one told me. Everyone acted like they didn’t know. They just kept giving me sad looks & telling me to “take care of yourself.”

I spoke to my counselor and she told me that I was not being released because I had a warrant out for my arrest & she told me what the charges were. She also told me that I was being transferred to a higher security facility because of my new charges.

I think some of the worst moments I’ve experienced throughout this 5 years of going through the justice system & Dept. of Correction would be the process of being taken to one facility or another. It’s hard to even put into words.

Throughout the whole process you feel completely humiliated, really bad anxiety and depression. And, when you’re all chained up it makes you feel like less of a human being. I think my transport coming to the adult DOC was by far the worst. It was a 7-8 hour drive, while sitting shackled & chained to your seat & ground.

I remember my transport after I was told that I wouldn’t be going home. I just spaced out the whole ride there. It didn’t really hit me, yet. It didn’t seem real, to be honest. I thought maybe it’s just a misunderstanding or something. The whole ride I felt depressed & vulnerable and just in shock. I felt depressed because I was really looking forward to coming home & starting over.

I think I really needed that time away. One of the staff at the Juvenile helped me find some good basketball programs that I could get into once I was out. That was my plan. I had just talked to my mom and she was telling me how she had cleaned & organized my room for me. So the whole ride I was thinking of my family & how I was going to tell them... if they didn’t already know.

I felt vulnerable because I didn’t know what was coming next & I didn’t know what to do because it was a situation that I wasn’t familiar with. And I was being transported to a facility that I knew was horrible compared to where I was coming from. It was a completely different environment, so I had to adjust to that while dealing with everything else going on.

I was real anxious & curious because I didn’t have much information. It was the beginning of a new process that I wasn’t familiar with.

The first night at the new facility I was put in isolation in a cell that was filthy & super cold. It was freezing. I didn’t sleep much, and the thoughts of my younger sister & my nephews actually made me cry.

They all were less than 7 months old, and they mean everything to me. All I was able to think about was not being in their life and missing that opportunity. I felt like I should have been at home with them, and I felt like I let them down by choosing to live the life that I was living. If I made better choices in life, I wouldn’t have ended up in that situation.

For about a week, I walked around & I felt lost & not in control of anything – not even my own life. I didn’t feel suicidal or anything like that, but I knew what a murder charge could mean for someone because I’ve seen other people go through it. Not only did I see what it meant for someone being charged, but I’ve seen what it can do to your family. A lot of times, the family will suffer more than the person in prison.

I didn’t hear anything new about my new charges, except that I would go see the Juvenile Parole Board & then I would be picked up by my county’s sheriff. Eventually, I did get paroled & I had to wait for the detectives to come pick me up. I think I asked my counselor a 100 questions any time I saw her walking around. I’m pretty sure she was ready for me to leave.

I was taken to the police station and processed – the detectives took my fingerprints and my photo. They also tried to interrogate me, but I chose not to speak to them.

I had the opportunity to see my mom again for the first time in 3 months. I can remember her trying to be strong for me & not break down in front of me, but I could see that she could barely hold it in. I knew the moment they separated us, she would break down. Just seeing that gave me the strength I needed to be strong for both of us. Now she tells me to send her some of my strength through the mail.

I went to Bond Court the same day, and the judge asked me questions like, “Do you have a job?” and other questions about my income & my family’s income. I told him that I didn’t have any money and that my mom wasn’t working at the time, and he still gave me a $3 million bond. You’re required to pay 10% of that.

I was taken to the juvenile center again. I was told that I would live there until the process was over, or unless I turned 17, I would be taken to the adult county jail (I was still 15 at the time).

I was familiar with the juvenile & the staff, because I had been there before. Being back in there versus where I had been the prior 3 months was a relief. I instantly felt safe & at peace for the first time in a minute. I could finally get some sleep, be able to talk to and see my family, and I was able to focus on everything that was going on in my life at the time. But, I still needed time to get myself together both mentally & emotionally. I also lost weight & wasn’t eating healthy food because of how bad the other facilities were.

I was still having a hard time accepting that I was being charged with murder. I felt like I had no one to turn to because my family was barely making it and I had to be the rock for all of us. But, I didn’t have no one to be there for me. I didn’t have a lawyer, yet and I really didn’t know what to do next. 

(Part II to follow)