The Digital Journalist
© Steve Liss
"No Place for Children: Voices From Juvenile Detention"


Portrait of Ivan in his cell, a 16-year-old inmate at Webb County Juvenile Detention Center.

"I'm 16 years old and I have nothing to be proud of. I have all this pride inside of me, yet I look back and I have nothing to be proud of."

That was back then, back when drugs and crime held Ivan tight in their grip. Back then, he made 15 trips in and out of Juvenile, each time falling further behind in school. Back then, Ivan had written himself off. "What would help me? If I knew, I probably would have changed by now."

He learned a lot from his mother. As an eight-year-old, Ivan learned that crime could pay. And he learned that it would be "stupid" to let doing the right thing get in the way of making a quick buck. Now, he's paying for his upbringing.

"I had stolen about two hundred bucks in third grade from some kindergartners' field trip money. I kind of felt guilty, so I told my mom, 'Well look, Mom, here it is. Should I go turn it in?' She said, 'Naw, don't be stupid. Come on, let's go.' So she took me, and I kept the two hundred. Yeah, I've stolen a lot of stuff, but my mom's helped me sell it all off. She'll take it across to Mexico and she'll sell it for me. And she only takes like 10 percent of whatever we make."

At the same time, Ivan filled a void at home. "My father had a stroke so the left side of his body is completely numb, so I had to take care of him once my mother left us. Actually, I haven't seen my mother for about seven, eight months now. She left and took my little sister with her, but my little sister actually wised up and said, 'Hey, I can have a better life than my father and my brother.'"

The repeated stays in Juvenile have set Ivan back, and he knows it. But he's not solely to blame.

"I lost about two years of high school just being locked up, in and out. I was never allowed to make up my work, so I lost a lot of credit. All they'd do here is give you a little handout and have you copy it. There's one teacher, and he gives you the same work whether you're 10 or 16."

Ivan's story looked sadly familiar - until June 17, 2002. That Monday, in his cell in Juvenile, Ivan says he "finally grew up."

"I looked at myself and I said, 'What the hell am I doing here? Why am I so stupid? Why can't I learn? I keep committing the same mistakes again and again.' So I made up my mind and said, 'Fuck it. Wherever they send me, if I get out I'm going to change.'"

And change Ivan did. He got his GED and then a new family: "From the minute I met my beautiful girlfriend I cut everybody loose. I didn't go out. I didn't go to parties. I've been sober for a year - no drinking, no drugs. I don't have the same friends that I used to. The next thing you know, my girlfriend's pregnant and I have a beautiful baby now."