It was night time in February when my friends and I went to the corner store down the street from my house. Three of us were 16 years old and I was 15 years old. The police saw me coming out of the store right as they were riding past. They knew me by name from always being in my neighborhood. I used to get stopped all the time by the police in my neighborhood. After a while, I lost count of all of the times I was stopped.
This time, they stopped the car, backed up and said, “Come here, Flash, what are you doing?” I said, “I’m on my way to my house.” They searched me and told me that they stopped me because an officer was beat up in this area. They told me, “If he doesn’t identify you, we’ll let you go.” There was no reason for him to identify me; I had nothing to do with the crime.
Two officers escorted me and my friends down the street to an apartment building. They took us up to the second floor, where a police officer was sitting on the floor in the hallway. The medics had just finished looking at him. He was shaken up and disoriented—he barely even had his eyes open. They asked him to point to the kids who beat him up. He pointed to my friends and me and even some of the officers. He didn’t know what was going on.
I was shocked when they detained us. They took us down to the juvenile system and released us on community detention, which means that I had to wear an ankle monitor and stay in my house. Two weeks later, I found out that they had charged me as an adult for attempted first degree murder and first degree assault on a law enforcer. The police came to my house, picked me up and brought me to the Baltimore City Detention Center.
They locked me in a cage like an animal. I had to prove that no one was going to mess with me by fighting and doing whatever I had to do. The jail environment creates so much violence and hostility that you always have to have your guard up. One time I was watching a fight that started between one of my peers and his roommate. They had stopped fighting for a second when one of them picked a pencil up off the edge of the bed and stabbed the other one in the neck with it. He was rushed off to the medic. Because I worked on the unit, I had to clean up the pool of blood. It didn’t even faze me – I had already seen so much blood. It is a treacherous place.
Youth see so much violence in adult jail that they become worse than when they went in. They are not given any of the necessary tools they need to get better. I saw a friend go home from the jail for 7 days and then come right back. Another guy went home for only 4 days before he was back.
After over a year in adult jail I was released because I took a plea bargain for second degree assault. This was my first time being incarcerated in adult jail. Even though I knew I was innocent, I was going to do whatever it took to go home. I wasn’t even thinking about what the consequences of taking a plea bargain would be. On top of having an adult criminal record, I was released with the mentality that I had developed when I was incarcerated. I didn’t care about anything—I was reckless and careless. I knew that when I got out that I was going back. I wasn’t fooling myself. I was out for three months before I went back to jail for violating my probation.
Similarly to my case, a lot of youth charged as adults didn’t commit the crimes that they are charged with. Almost 70% of youth charged as adults’ cases are finally dismissed or sent to the juvenile system. All it takes for a youth to be charged as an adult is for the police to write a report. It’s too easy. Once they handcuff you you’re going to jail and there’s nothing you can do about it. I wasn’t even given bail.
I’m only 21, but I’ve been through it all. I’ve seen everything. People tell me that I have no feelings, but I just had to learn to hide them. Adult jail is not a place for kids. I’ve seen too many youth get worse in the adult system when they could be getting better in the juvenile system. Stop automatically charging youth as adults and start their cases in the juvenile system where they belong.