Freedom Writers: My Journey to Juvie

“I made a decision that incarceration would not be my last destination. God is not done with me yet.” — Anonymous

I remember when I first met Alyssa, along with a dozen other students, in my class. As they were reading aloud, and under her breath, Alyssa politely corrected the girl reading in the chair next to her. She was shy, wise, and well-spoken.

At the end of class, I witnessed all of my students lined up, facing the walls, with their hands behind their backs, waiting to be dismissed back to their rooms. I paused and thought, as a parent, and my heart quickly broke as I thought of my own children. Hiding my own tears, I exited through the secured doors, got in my truck, and went home.

I think I hugged my kids tighter and kept them up a little longer that night. As an instructor at juvenile detention, my students were, without even perhaps realizing it, teaching me to appreciate my freedom and the beauty in my life. I realized that evening, after completing my first teaching session, that they have messages to share, lessons to teach, and voices that needed to be heard.

It is my goal, as an instructor of entrepreneurship and life skills, to give my students the opportunity to be entrepreneurs themselves; a chance to impact others, solve problems and change their world. They share a common vision: to prevent other kids from going down the same path.

The following is a true story told from a teenager while in juvenile detention. Her real identity will remain anonymous, but her message is real. . .

Alyssa’s Story:
Growing up, my life was basic for a young girl. I have spent my childhood years with an abusive father and a mother who works as a prostitute. I knew as a little girl that parents were supposed to protect their kids. So, I never understood why my parents would bring people into my life that caused harm and hurt me.

My sister and I have always had a strong relationship and stood together to protect ourselves from those trying to harm us. My father was kicked out of the house when were young. He was the strength in our life that I believe brought us order and discipline. Due to not having my father in the home, my mother had to find people to watch over us. Some of them were aggressive and gave us drugs.

One guy in particular named David stood out to me, and not in a good way. He was the guy that would watch over me after my sister got locked up in juvie. There was something strange about David that made me uncomfortable. I was just a kid, but I knew something was wrong with him and the way he treated me. He would give me cigarettes and weed, allowing me to smoke. And, when I was still only 12, he put mushrooms in my food, causing me to hallucinate. When I was on drugs he would try to do things with me physically and I would do everything I could to prevent him.

When I was reunited with my sister after her release, I vented and told her about what he was trying to do with me. He was not allowed to be around me after my sister cussed him out and told my mother. He kept trying to reach me with phone calls and text messages telling me he could get me cigarettes. I would meet up with him sometimes and he would ask me to connect him with people that wanted to buy cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, and weed. He taught me how to send messages via text code so we would not get caught selling drugs. The situations started to get risky. I really wanted him out of my life. I told him to f*** off.

At age 14, I saw David after my sister got locked up in juvie for the second time. We were staying in a motel and my mother brought him over to stay with us. I was hoping he would at least bring me cigarettes, but he said he forgot them and he brought me tobacco stems (slits of blotted paper soaked in acid) instead. He gave me about 7 or 8 stems and told me chew on them as long as I could. I stayed up all night that night; I could not sleep and wanted to get out of the motel and go somewhere. David gave me a bag of cocaine. He told me not to snort, but to sell it and make us money instead.

After staying up all night, watching the ground swirl and my face turn in the mirror, I ended up at my brother’s house. I told him about my experience. I shared with my brother that, after getting a series of drugs from David, I really began to enjoy the high. David and I stayed in touch as he had me selling every drug except for heroin. He gave me all the drugs I wanted as long as I continued to sell for him. I got to make a little profit too. I later met my boyfriend and convinced him to sell with me. Since he was old enough, and could drive a car, I had him do runs for me to San Francisco. I was on a path of lying, cheating, and stealing. I even started going around David as my dealer and making my own deals directly to get more of my own profit.

One time, I met up with David to get more drugs and he caught me on the phone making a deal with my boyfriend. In anger, David flipped out and snatched a bag out of my hand. We were both high. He started yelling at me about how much profit I was making without him. I got emotional and left. He chased me down and offered to buy me a pack of cigarettes. As we talked, I agreed to keep selling for him.

Time went by, and for another season in my life I did not talk to David. One night, my mother brought him back over to our place, and that was the first time I found out he did something to my sister. This is when I flipped out. I had enough. I screamed at him telling him to leave. He would not go and I was getting angrier by the second. I grabbed his shirt and told him to get the hell out. As I took a swing at him, my mother stopped me. I was crying uncontrollably as I spit in his face. He told me he was going to call the cops.

“Go ahead!” I yelled. “I will tell them everything you did to me and my sister!”

I threw his stuff off of the balcony, breaking his laptop and phone, hitting the neighbor’s car. I got in trouble a couple of days later.

I was put on probation, but kept selling, which raised questions about the money I was making. I continued to get in trouble with the law.

Now I am locked up in juvie waiting to be sent to jail out of state. I know I am going to miss my mother and my sister. I want to do well to be able to take care of them again someday.

I do not know who you are or what you are going through, but I want you to know there are many things I wish I did not do. However, they made me stronger. They made me the person I am today. When you hit rock bottom like I did, you learn the only way you can go is up. I have learned a lot from my experiences, but I have also gained a new perspective on life. I tend to look more on the positive side and think about the things that have changed me to help me grow and be a better person.

Also, I learned a few other lessons the hard way:
1. I learned that no matter how smart I thought I was, I always got caught.
2. I learned the more drugs I used, the less happiness I had in my life.
3. The drugs never made me feel as great as being soberly minded and grateful for the little things.
4. I stopped playing the victim and learned to start taking responsibility for my own life.
5. I have the power and self-control to say “no.”
6. I can forgive myself now, set myself free, even in jail, and move forward.

Today, I am filled with hope, serving time and making the best of it by learning a new way of life along the way. When I am successful, I am going to look back at my life and be sure to thank everyone who has been there for me, including the staff in juvie, my instructor Jeff, and my family. I have to say goodbye to all of them for now.

— Jeff Glass writes and teaches the Entrepreneur Mindset Program for different schools, organizations, and the Juvenile Justice Department. 

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