06/16/2012 10:10 am ET Updated Aug 16, 2012

A Father's Pain

I consider myself a hard worker. I started working at the young age of 12 and never stopped. Throughout my life, I've made sacrifices in order to work and support my wife and four children. I've done it gladly to support my family.

As a father, I try to keep an appearance of strength and perseverance. Yet almost daily, I find myself breaking down in tears and frustration, because all I can do is picture my oldest son sitting in a small, dirty prison cell of the DJJ. Because of that, my heart will be torn this Father's Day.

My son is a reflection of myself. We share the same pain. If I could, I would endure my son's punishment for him, because no child should have to go through what he's gone through. Hearing the distress and worry in his voice is painful. It's a kind of pain that drives me to my knees in powerless surrender, feeling sadness, anger and frustration.

Imagine straining to reach out and grab the hand of a loved one who needs you, but they are just a few inches out of your reach. I want to support my son in any way possible. It kills me when I ask my son what's going on, and he doesn't want to tell me anything because he's afraid I will worry or try to advocate for him (which too often means the guards target him in retribution).

Despite his attempts to hide what's going on, the signs of my son's mistreatment are there -- unexplained scars and bruises, fatigue from malnourishment, neglect from guards and being kept in solitary confinement. Making 14-hour family car trips to visit him are hard because I don't want my other three children to see the realities of this cruel and dirty environment.

I do a lot of work in my community, so a lot of people know me and ask me about my son. I can never find positive things to say about DJJ.

What will life be like for my son after he is released? He has done what he's been told and has even completed his high school education during his time, planning to graduate in June. But DJJ has done nothing to rehabilitate him. If anything, the hostile conditions of punishment have brought about new problems -- trauma and depression.

My son is still a boy inside. He doesn't like his facial hair, gets shy when talking about girls, and still asks for my permission to do things. DJJ doesn't treat him like a youth. Nor does DJJ provide the proper resources to empower youth to succeed.

As a man who works endless hours to support my family, I don't understand why it costs $200,000 for California to hold a youth in DJJ, or why we support this failure while slashing education and health services. We should follow states that successfully replaced their state youth prisons with local alternatives that work.

This Father's Day, I stand with all the fathers whose children are tied up in a system that locks them up and tells them they have no future. I'd like California to prove that its priorities are with children and fathers like me. We must close the DJJ once and for all and end the cycle of failed rehabilitation and ruined lives.