Names were changed to protect the identity of the parties involved.
Imagine being “locked up” for a crime in the juvenile jail system. Imagine being away from your family at the tender age of 16 for a crime against the ones you love. Imagine being in juvenile jail with no contact with the outside world or your family for days, weeks, even months. Imagine sleeping on a board covered by a sheet and having to call it your bed. What is life really like for the youth incarcerated in the juvenile jail system of the United States of America? Allow Andrei, a former juvenile jail inmate, to take you through his three days and nights he spent in the juvenile jail system in southeast Michigan.
Andrei, a 16-year-old male from the suburbs of southeastern Michigan, was sent to the Macomb County Juvenile Justice Center, commonly referred to as juvy, on September 8th, 2006 for three counts of domestic violence: one count against his 52 year old mother, another against his 50 year old father, and the third against his18 year old sister. Andrei was involved in what he referred to as a “day in hell” as he was taken on a roller coaster ride of emotions leading up to the time the police arrived at his door, in what would result in Andrei being sentenced to 3 days in the juvenile justice system.
6:00AM – 2:30PM: It all started as a simple day in suburbia. Andrei attended his high school with the goal of finishing his junior year with a 2.8 GPA. The day ended and Andrei went to meet his girlfriend of nearly 6 months at the time as he did each day before leaving school. Andrei’s school had a recent parking lot rendition and the buses were scattered throughout the new parking lot. Andrei’s girlfriend was unable to find her bus and he offered her a ride. The plan was Lynn, his girlfriend, would ride his bus home and he would drive Lynn to her house. Seems harmless, no? One problem – Andrei does not have his license or his own car. Therefore, he took his father’s car only to be reported to his parents by his 18-year-old sister.
Lets fast-forward nine hours to 11:30PM. Both Andrei’s parents are home and are ignoring him. Andrei becomes angered by this and lashes out. He strikes his parents alarm clock with the fury of a hurricane and sends it crashing onto their carpeted floor. He proceeds to cause damage to his parents’ house, against his parents’ wishes. His father, a 300-pound man, comes in to stop Andrei. Andrei hits his father and sends his father into a rage. His father throws Andrei onto the bed. Andrei gets up and is being handled by his sister who is trying to control him. He pulls her hair and whips her around like a rag doll. Andrei proceeds to follow his mother, who is trying to find the police departments phone number and attacks her with his hands. He is sent into a panic as he picks up the phone after settling down and hears the end of the conversation between his mother and the police. “…we will be there soon. Please keep everybody calm.”
Andrei later tells he called his girlfriend in tears of anger underlined with fear.
11:45PM – Andrei is still on the phone with Lynn, recalling the events of that night.
“I had to tell her everything,” Andrei said. “She deserved to know why I wouldn’t be home and she helped me stay calm when I couldn’t do it myself. I was in the middle of my conversation with her about that night and my dad picks up the other phone to tell me the police are at the door and want to speak with me.”
Andrei panicked and refused to cooperate with the authorities request to hang up the phone and talk with them.
“All I felt was panic,” said Andrei. “I had no clue what would happen. I was just getting off the phone and opened the door to see the police officer coming down the stairs with his hand on his gun.”
Andrei talked to the two police officers sent to his home.
“I told him everything that happened and he asked my parents to leave the basement. As my parents were heading up the stairs he asked me if I’ve ever been locked up before. I said ‘no’ and he said ‘well, tonight you will be.
Andrei put his hands behind his back and was pushed up the stairs with force.
“I looked at my mom and dad for one last time, the cop called me a punk in front of my parents, and I was loaded in the cop car and didn’t talk to my parents again for three days,” said Andrei.
12:15AM: Andrei was brought to the police station and was interviewed by the police officer sent to his house.
“He was asking for details about the night. I told him everything he wanted to know. I was completely honest because I was so afraid,” said Andrei. “Then he [the police officer] left the room and returned about an hour later, took me to the car, and drove me to juvy,” continued Andrei.
1:00AM – 3:30AM: Andrei was brought to the Macomb County Justice Center and was processed through the system.
“Once my mug shot was taken it felt official. When I had to go through a strip search I knew it was official… reality had finally set in,” said Andrei.
Andrei was given his pajamas and was taken to his cell. He told me everybody was very kind to him as he was being processed.
“I was shocked at how kind they [the juvenile center staff] were. They weren’t out to get me. They wanted to help me,” noted Andrei.
Andrei was brought to his cell, rested for 3 hours, and awoke at 6AM the next day. Andrei had mentioned to me how many people he met in what he referred to as “juvy” and how different they all were.
“They were all people who just needed help. I never thought I’d be one of them but now I was and I just had to get to know them. They were my family for the next three days,” said Andrei.
Andrei mentioned the ages of those who were in the same unit as him and I was shocked. He recalled how he met a fourteen-year-old male who was in juvenile jail for sexual assault against a fellow classmate.
“Man, some people really wanted to be there. I think they got used to it or something,” said Andrei.
When asked why he felt that way, Andrei said, “because they were so used to living in the system. They never went home and just got used to it. They didn’t care they were in there for sexual assault, domestic violence, or vandalism. All that mattered is that they were finally in their comfort zone.”
I was pleased to hear all the images the movies try to paint out a juvenile jail to be are false.
“I wasn’t raped and I didn’t have to take a shower with everybody. I had three meals every day for the next 3 days and a snack before bedtime at 8PM. On the weekends we’d watch a movie. It wasn’t some old movie either. I remember watching ones that just came out on DVD,” said Andrei.
Upon hearing of the above, I questioned whether the juvenile system is an actual punishment.
“It definitely is a punishment,” said Andrei. “I wanted to go home more than anything. I was literally counting down the hours. I had nothing to do. I carved my name into my soap. I was going crazy. It was a punishment in all aspects of the word.”
Andrei mentioned that watching movies even brought back painful memories of “the outside”.
“Most of us [fellow inmates] in there would be saddened by how those movies are available to everybody on the outside but here we are watching them as a luxury on our tiny television we have no control over. My life felt like it was only going downhill each moment that passed,” Andrei said.
A typical day in juvy differs depending on the day. On the weekends the inmates watched a movie and congregated in the unit they were held in. On weekdays the inmates attended school most of the day and returned to their housing unit after each class.
“We followed a strict schedule and would be reprimanded each time we went against it,” stated Andrei.
Andrei followed the same routine each day and played an occasional card game or two in the meantime.
Allow me to fast forward two days to the time Andrei was released.
September 11th, 2006
Andrei was told his court date would be on September 11th at 1:00PM. However, when the inmates were told his/her court date, he/she had no clue if he/she would be going home or staying.
“It was all up in the air,” said Andrei. “I talked to one of the guards before and he said it depended on my behavior, the crime, and prior run-ins with the law. He obviously couldn’t make any promises.”
1:00PM slowly approached and Andrei was summoned to court in handcuffs.
“I saw my mom and dad in the court and they saw me… in handcuffs again. It was so hard for me to look at my mom and see her tears. I could feel her pain and the guilt I felt was overwhelming.”
Andrei was ultimately released and was put on house arrest until two months later when he had his second court date, in which his house arrest was lifted and he was sentenced to 30 hours of community service.
“I am extremely lucky. I was changed by this whole experience,” said Andrei. “Now I have to wait until April 20th, 2007, which is the date I go back to court and find out if this whole experience has been wiped off my record, which is dependent on my behavior prior to the court date.”
Through speaking with Andrei, I could tell he was moved and changed by this experience. He went in there with a shell on and came out broken. He is forever changed and promises he will always remember this life changing experience.
Freedom is not free.
NOTE: Andrei’s parents were billed $1,020 for his run in with the law. This covers the stay in the juvenile justice center and his lawyer fees.