As an African American kid growing up in a high crime area like Newark, New Jersey, your chances of a positive life are slim to none each day you live there. I know, because I lived there. It was much easier to commit a crime and get away with it than to just walk to school each morning.
At a young age, I witnessed things that most people don’t ever experience in their entire lifetime. I made a mistake at a very young age in my life, and I take full responsibility for my actions. I only have myself to blame.
My mother, a single mom raising three kids, couldn’t work, because of the mental health issues that I was suffering from. She spent more time at home with me or at school meetings on my behalf. The only income our family received was from the state, whether it was disability or welfare benefits. We were desperate to feed and clothe ourselves. That’s when I started committing crimes to bring money into our home. That’s why, at the age of 13, I was running the streets robbing and carjacking: I was trying to help my mother raise us.
I was in a lot of pain and suffering heavily, so I’d started doing drugs. Eventually, I got caught. I was high when
it happened. I just walked out of the house one morning and the first person I saw, I decided to rob. He wasn’t doing anything, just an innocent person, probably on his way to work.
At 14 years old, I didn’t comprehend. When the judge told me that I would be spending the next nine years of my life behind walls in an adult prison, with people who had committed some very horrific crimes, I was numb. How it is that a 14-year-old who made a mistake can be sent to a place such as this?
Even now, at such a young age, I still can’t accept the fact that I am spending nine years of my life, supposedly for rehabilitation, in an environment that has only made me suffer more mental abuse. I wonder how this can help me, when the academic programs available here are either poorly run or outdated.
These are things that lawmakers don’t take into consideration; waiving youth up from juvenile court to adult court only sets us up for failure and doesn’t provide an opportunity for us to be rehabilitated. Why wasn’t I sent to a program run by the Juvenile Justice Commission, or to a New Jersey training School — a juvenile facility — instead of being waived up and sent to an adult facility? Where was my opportunity for substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation?
Despite the programs, I am still determined to avoid my previous lifestyle by reflecting back on the mistakes which have led me to my current incarceration. With the opportunities that are available to me, I am attempting to do everything in my power to turn my life around and ensure a positive future for myself. I have only my family and faith to guide me through these tough times, and I am blessed to have that, at least. My family is one of the many things that has motivated me to move forward to live an honest, hardworking, and meaningful life.
Aside from regular school, I have been studying for my construction drivers’ license and construction license to better myself and insure my success beyond my incarceration. Then I will be signing up for college classes to receive an associate’s degree in business management. I take my education very seriously so that I may achieve my goals. I also want to emulate the positive people in my community to achieve these goals.
I believe that when one goes through the trials and tribulations as I have, it is enough to change one’s view of what freedom and life are really worth. My faith has given me the strength and guidance to go through this experience. I am trying to be an advocate for those youth whose voices can’t be heard. By doing so, I hope to shine a light on a very dark situation and to bring awareness to an issue that must be addressed. I feel like it’s my job as a NJPC Youth Caucus member and my right to advocate for those who are unable to speak for themselves. I can relate because I was almost one of them.
Q.H., age 18. He is a member of the New Jersey Parents Caucus’s Youth Caucus , which, as part of the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Reform Coalition, is a member of the National Juvenile Justice Network. He was incarcerated in New Jersey’s adult prison system at the age of 14 and is a Solitary Confinement Survivor – 186 days.
Photo: Flickr user Ryan McGuire