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


Fourteen-year-old twins Jose Luis and Jose Eduardo, shown listening to a playback of their recorder interview, lost their dad when he was arrested for selling drugs. They haven't seen him since he was sent to an out-of-town jail. That's when the trouble began. The brothers have made more than a dozen trips to Juvenile since first being sent for fighting with one of their classmates in the elementary school lunchroom.

The twins are living this tired cliche. First, they lost their dad. Now, they're losing their battle to break what's become an endless cycle of crime and incarceration.

After losing their dad to prison, the brothers filled the void with a steady string of assaults, drug use, and auto theft. Dad was no role model, but he earned his sons' respect. "When my dad was around we used to not do anything bad 'cause he would talk to us and everything," says Jose Luis. "But when they took him to jail we started to do all this stuff. It's 'cause my mom doesn't do anything to us. She doesn't like to hit us. My dad would spank us, or scream at us, and tell us not to do bad things. My mom tells us, too, but, ah, we blow her off."

The brothers' story sounds familiar to Case Management Director Pat Campos: "You have to work with the entire family or it's not gonna work. We'll send a kid out of town to a rehab, and the kid will do excellently. But once they come back home, if we have not worked with that family, it made no sense to send him out of town. The family is the same way they were when that child left. In order to help a child you have to help the entire family. And we have a lot of very young parents. They don't have any idea how to take care of a child."

Neither does the justice system, at least in the twins' case. One of the brothers describes his trips to court: "I was always telling the judge I needed help on drugs. They wouldn't listen to me. My PO doesn't want to risk it. He says that I'm going to run away from there. I've never been to rehab even once."

But Jose Luis finds a sad silver lining to his travails:
"It sucks to be here, but it's keeping me safer than out there on the streets. 'Cause out there on the streets, I was doing all these bad things and in here I'm safe. Out there I can get shot and shit. . . ."