This is a teen-written article from our friends at Represent Magazine, a platform for and by young people in foster care. Represent is published by Youth Communication, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth develop their full potential through reading and writing. Some names have been changed in this young author's story.
My first juvenile charge was grand larceny, when I was 14. I was arrested again at 15, and again at 16. Each time I had a different type of punishment. Some of the programs I was sentenced to helped me grow from an impulsive, angry juvenile to an adult who can delay gratification. Some did not.
Standing on the subway platform when I was 14, I saw a younger boy with a white Play Station portable. My mother had died three years earlier; my father and I didn’t get along. Christmas was two weeks away, and I was not getting any presents. My head felt light; my chest suddenly filled with anger and envy. As the A train arrived, I made my way toward the young man, and snatched his game system. For a split second, I felt good.
Then a badge flashed. An undercover detective had seen the whole thing and arrested me. Remorse and guilt and fear seeped into my mind.
When I reached the precinct my arresting officer said, “You’re only 14, so you have to call a parent.” As I dialed my home number, I felt angry and disappointed in myself. The only thing I remember my father saying was, “I hope you learned your lesson.”
He came down to see me, and talked to the detectives. They told him, and he told me, that I was considered a juvenile delinquent, (under 16, first offense) rather than an adolescent (16 –18). That meant I’d go to family court, not criminal court, and the detectives said the judge would probably let me go.
My father went home, and I spent the night in the precinct’s holding area. It was a small, cold office full of chairs with metal rails next to their arms. The guard cuffed me to my chair’s rail, making it impossible to lie down. After four hours, I asked, “C.O., can I get my jacket? Yo, it’s freezing in here.”
He came into the confinement area looking very mad. “Keep talking and I’m going to get my tase gun.”
I shouted, “Forget you punk, where’s my arresting officer?”
I sat there chained to the chair until morning. The cold did not alleviate the room’s smell of feet and corn chips. Spending one night in the precinct made me want to avoid future incarceration.
However, in the morning, my arresting officer asked me “Do you like McDonald’s?”
I answered hungrily, “YES!”
She said she’d bring me food from there. At age 14, I thought, “If I can get free McDonald’s, I think I’m going to like being here.” The McDonald’s, along with hearing that I was going to go home, made me forget the miserable night I had just spent in the precinct. My advice to policymakers is not to give young detainees exactly what they want—consider taking away the McDonald’s.
After lunch, my arresting officer escorted me to see the judge; she drove me to the courthouse in a police car, handcuffed. The family court judge spoke directly to me. He said, “I am glad to see your father here with you. You are a smart young man. I do not see the need to penalize you fully. I am going to send you to a program known for aiding kids who are doing well in school.”