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To Be Tried As An Adult

New America Media, Commentary, Big Vic Posted: Feb 09, 2007

Editor's Note: According to a poll released Feb. 7 by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, a large majority of Americans (92 percent) believes that the decision to try a juvenile in an adult court should be made on a case-by-case basis, and not be governed by a blanket policy. In this personal essay, an incarcerated young man waits to find out whether he will be tried as an adult.

The Beat Within is a weekly publication of writing and art from inside juvenile halls. Beat Within staff have consistently been going into various correctional facilities in the Bay Area and beyond for close to 12 years. Big Vic, a 17-year-old, has been participating in Beat Within classes for nearly a year.

Readers will likely want to know what Big Vic did to be put in such a position. Because words on paper can affect the outcome of a case, those awaiting trial are generally cautioned by their attorneys not to write publicly about the details of their case. Furthermore, it can take numerous sessions before a young person gains enough trust in the Beat Within program even to reveal these details to the group.

Many Beat Within writers struggle in taking responsibility for what brings them to juvenile. They may fear losing their freedom, or appearing disloyal to their peers. --David Inocencio, editor, The Beat Within.

face of juvie kid"To be tried as an adult," the judge says. Then I wake up.

The time is around 3 a.m. Lights have been out since at 11:30. I am extremely tired, my eyes are heavy, yet they never seem to shut completely. Tomorrow is the big day -- court!

They are supposed to make the decision whether to charge me as an adult or a juvenile. They have been contemplating this since late March, but I have a gut feeling that this is the day they tell me
some news. And I am pretty clueless about my case. No calls or visits from my parole officer or my attorney. Left in this institution to face and fend off my wildest imaginations. Who knows what the outcome will be?

Tomorrow's court date falls on December 12th, the day of the "Virgen De Guadalupe," the lady of my country, Mexico. My mom says it is a blessing, maybe some sort of sign. I hope so!

I play out many different scenarios in my head, with various outcomes. Some are clearly exaggerated, and I throw them out the window, but the reality is, I could face up to 15 years if I get tried as an adult.

I can't let myself keep thinking like this, so I close my eyes for a minute. Next thing I know, staff is waking me to wash up for court!

I slowly walk to the bathroom and splash cold water on my face, brush my teeth and slick back my hair. I never thought my hair would get this long -- just 10 months ago I was bald. It's good to see change
in my life.

I am not hungry this morning, so I pass on breakfast, but I say my prayer before I leave, asking La Virgen Y Dios to guide me today.

Here come staff to take me away from my little cave of isolation. As always, the shackles and handcuffs are too tight. "For safety reasons," I get told, as usual. I hear the shackles and cuffs clinking together, making an intolerable noise.


I wish everyone a good day and get my fair share of good lucks as I head out the door to face a world of chaos. I'll need more than luck; I'll need a miracle. That could happen though. Right? I got faith. And "faith is victory."

Down the walkway I go, shackles grinding against my ankles. Once we reach Intake, I go into "the tank" to wait till the van is ready to leave. I see a lot of familiar staff and say wussup. Some just walk by and continue on with their little, meaningful lives.

I don't know how they do it -- lock people up, especially a fellow minority. I could never lock a kid behind a door, control his or her life with a couple of simple words. But hey, it's a job, and you need
to survive. So they work. We hustle.

Once in the van is ready, we go on a field trip leading to the courthouse, and I get to see the "real" world for a little while. I wonder if people on the street know what is inside the van. And if they do, I wonder what they think about me?

As our trip nears its end, I begin to think about court again. Will this be the day my fate is decided?

We arrive in the courthouse garage. As I step out of the van, I lose my balance and cut my ankle on the shackle, causing me more pain and frustration than I'm already experiencing.

Once I'm on the ground, they remove the handcuffs, and I feel a lot better. The shackles still hurt, but I'll live through it.

They give us our breakfast and lunch bags. These consist of Kix cereal, a juice, a milk, and a muffin. Lunch is a dried-up sandwich, a milk, a cookie, and an orange. It's not as bad as it sounds, compared to the jail meals.

We get led to the "tank" for what seems to be a marathon of waiting. I pass the time reading, getting lost in my book.

Just when I think time can't go any slower, the sheriff calls my name. I walk into the court room with my head held high and sit at a table next to my attorney. He looks like a stranger -- maybe because he is. I see my family walk in, which brings a smile to my face. Haven't seen my brother in almost a month, but it feels like years!

After a while, my attorney begins to talk to the judge. The words that come out seem to be in another language. I've been studying up on the law, though, so I can make out most of the words. The judge
speaks, and I feel this is the time. My insides seem to turn with the hands on the clock.

When the news comes, it's familiar -- they've postponed my case again! Another month's wait. No Christmas or New Year's with my family.

I can't let myself get mad, though. My attorney tells me that it's looking good, that it's going to go the way I want it to. I'm not sure what to feel -- I don't know my left hand from my right by this point -- but I am exhausted.

I turn to face my family. My brother laughs at my hair, and that brings a smile to my face. I nod toward my parents and they smile. They have been so supportive during this whole saga that I have to keep my head up, for them.

I exit the courtroom. With my last step out, I leave the real world once again. I prepare myself to answer the questions I know my fellow detainees will have for me -- prepare myself for the trials I face, all the time, in my unit.

Then I'm back in my cave of isolation, to wait, again.

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