Trials and Tribulations On Probation -- Girls Caught in the System

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia, Commentary, Video, Words: Lil' Sneezie and Kalei Meyers//Illustrations: Min Lee//Video: Min Lee and Lil' Sneezie Posted: Nov 27, 2006

Editorís Note: According to the Alameda Country Juvenile Probation Department -- serving Oakland CA. and the surrouding area, 18 percent of young people either on probation or placed in group homes are young women. These essays detail the issues young women, whose problems at home led to years in the system, face. Lil' Sneezie, 18 and Kalei Meyers, 19 are writers and Min Lee is an editor at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.

The Up's and Down's Of Being On Probation

By: Lil Sneezie

I first got on probation when I was 13. I had family problems for a long time but things got really bad then. I just couldnít get along with my mom and felt pretty much alone from the time I was 11 years old. We would fight about everything. I kicked it with a certain gang a lot from the ages of 11-13 and got jumped in. This led to me getting in a lot of trouble.

My relationship with my mom just got worse and worse as the days went by. She always wanted to bitch about everything and take her anger out on me. I dealt with all this by trying my hardest to avoid her, but after awhile I just couldnít help but say something back and weíd end up fighting. A lot of times, these fights would end with her beating me. So I was always out with my other family.

One day my mom and I got into a big fight and she told me that since I kept getting into trouble at school, I might as well not go anymore. So the next day, I slept in past school time. She came into my room and pulled the covers off of me and said: ďIf youíre not going to school, then you need to get out of my house!Ē Then she started hitting me, threw my clothes in a garbage bag, and locked me out of the house. That night I slept on a bench at a park across the street from my house and the next day she reported me as a runaway. I went and stayed at my friendís house. When the police found me, they sent me back home.

I knew I was in trouble when I got home, but I didn't know if my mama was sad about what she had done or if she was just gonna hit me again. I was kinda mad about going home, but felt better than staying on the streets. When the police drove me home, my mama, her boyfriend and my sister basically jumped me when they found some cigarettes and smelled alcohol on me. I tried to get away from them and put a chair up to my door since there was no lock there but they broke in. My mama and sister started hitting me first and then my momís boyfriend slapped me. I just couldnít handle it. A few days later, my sister called the police on me because I chased her with a knife during another fight. That was my first time getting locked up.

I felt angry, sad and confused about being in the hall. After the first night in juvenile hall, when you wake up by the sound of the bell, you think it was all a dream until you look around and see the dirty walls and the little mattress you're lying on. Itís a disgusting feeling. Iíve been on probation ever since.

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When you are sentenced to be on probation, the judge gives you a certain amount of time that you have to serve, then they give you another court date and you are supposed to show up at that date so they can see if youíve been doing what youíre supposed to do and are eligible to get off of probation. I could have just stayed on probation for about six months and been out the system, but while on probation I messed up again by getting into fights with rival gang members and random people on the streets, along with hitting licks (robbing people) and stealing cars with my homies.

I was living at home while on probation but since I kept coming back, my mama gave up and said the judge can do whatever they want with me and that's when I started getting sent to group homes. The relationship with my family was on and off, especially with my mom. Somedays, she would come to visit me at the group homes or at juvenile hall and everything would be good. Other days, she would come pick me up for a home pass from the group home and we couldn't even last 15 minutes without me telling her to turn around and drive me back. I always wondered why me and my mom just can't get along but have never really figured it out.

My first group home was called Drake House in Pleasant Hill. It was an all girls group home. When I first got there, I didnít like it because I have never been a group home and because there was so many girls. I didn't know them, I had to share a room with them, I didnít trust them, and there was just too many rules for me. I wanted to leave so bad but after a few weeks I adjusted to the rules and new people and made a lot of friends. Even though you're supposed to being doing good in a group home, we would go buy alcohol or weed and have little parties in our rooms. We wrote letters to each other, danced together, went on outings and acted a fool at movie theatres and bowling alleys. There were so many memories and good times but also bad ones like the fights and stealing.

I got sent back to juvenile hall by doing over $2000 worth of damage to the group home and van when they sent away my girlfriend. I got so heated I pulled out this stick I had and went around the house smashing all the lamps and kicking and punching holes in the wall. After that, I was in two other group homes, but I only really liked the first one. The other group homes I went to seemed unorganized and didn't really do their job. I even smoked weed with one of the staff members at one. But at least she was cool, there were some staff that were verbally abusive and the rules just seemed unfair.

Once you leave the group home, there are several different types of probation. The worst one I was on was house arrest, which is when you live at home but you canít go anywhere except for school and work. Then thereís home supervision, where you have curfew depending on what the probation officer assigns to you. Every time you leave the house you have to call your probation officer and let them know what time you left and when you were coming back.

I was also on Family Preservation Unit, which is like a program you have to do but youíre basically still on probation. Thereís also just regular probation, where you canít violate any of the rules that goes with your probation like getting into any trouble with the law, being out past your curfew, not listening to you parents, not doing good in school, not going to school, fighting, dirty drugs testes, etc.

Once you get on probation, you are assigned to a probation officer who is out to make sure you are doing what you are supposed to do. Iíve dealt with probation officers that are great and ones that were straight up assholes. When I got out of my group home and was living in a stable home with my Godparents, I got assigned to a new probation officer for home supervision. She was young and real nice and seemed like she wanted to really help. She would come to the house to check on me and have conversations with me and my Godparents. She wanted to be looked to as more of a social worker then a probation officer.

After house arrest they assigned me to another probation officer that was also a woman. I had court in a few weeks for my sentencing and she was the main person who would decide whether or not I should stay with my Godparents or go back to jail. I had an appointment to go meet her for the first time in downtown Oakland.

When I met her she told me straight up that she is probably going to be sending me to CYA (California Youth Authority). I was so furious. I thought: ĎHow is it that you donít even have a real conversation with me once, you just read the mistakes Iíve done in my past and you think I should go to CYA? Do you even know the type of person I am besides what you read about me?í My Godfather, who was with me, was also angry with her. Instead of taking the time to get to know me, she just read that big thick record that detailed my past and judged me. I knew I'd made mistakes in my past but we're all human. I was no longer running the streets but living in a stable home. I was about to get a job with The Beat Within and I was going to school. I was not getting into trouble for the first time in a long time.

I avoided talking to the gang that I rolled with even though they were like family to me. Luckily, we were able to talk to my other probation officer and she completely disagreed with the P.O. that was trying to get me locked up. She ended up writing a good report about me and even showed up to my court date to tell the judge himself that I was a good person and that Iíve been doing what I had to do. Iím glad that she was there for me because if she wasnít I probably would have went to CYA.

Being on probation isnít a good feeling. Knowing that if you get pulled over or if a police officer stops you on the streets and asks for your ID, that youíll be in trouble Ė thatís a big load. But being on probation also has an upside too. It keeps you motivated to not mess up. After awhile you just get tired of going to jail. I know thatís what happened to me. Being in the system and on probation is an experience I will never forget and it has made me grow and learn from my mistakes.

Hard Knock Life Hustlin': My Five Years On Probation

By: Kalei Meyers

I am going to keep it solid with you: the Alameda County Juvenile system should not be played with. Getting myself stuck on probation for the last five years is the biggest mistake I have ever made. Being on probation is like being caught up in a sticky web, and to be honest, I almost didnít make it out.

In the beginning of my trips back and forth to the hall, I was living with my auntie and uncle on 82nd in deep East Oakland. They were my guardians who raised me after my mom got sick. My mom had three biological children but she also had custody of my cousins, which made seven kids in the house. When I was about seven, Moms got fired from one of the two jobs she had and we went bankrupt. Soon after, we got evicted from our four-bedroom in Lakeview and three months later, we were all moving from house to house. My mom fooled us and we all thought she was cool but she was losing her mind about the situation. After about three months, my mom had a nervous breakdown and became schizophrenic. My sister, brother and I moved in with my aunt and uncle and they became our legal guardians.

But living with my auntie and uncle was good. They gave me anything I asked for, helped keep my family together and just gave us the attention that we needed as children. They were always the ones who pushed me toward a better future, making sure I was going to school and doing my homework. But I was still messing up. Me and my friends were professional boosters by the age of 12. From DVD players to CDs to clothes, we did run outs with everything and always had someone ready with a car right outside the store. Well, one day our plan didnít work and we got caught. This was my first time getting my name caught in the system.

We had to call a guardian to come pick us up and I thought that was it, but four months later I received notification in the mail saying I was on probation and had a court date. Soon after that, I was locked up for the first time for a dirty pee test because they drug test you at every court date. I didnít really take it as serious as I should have. I had an ďI smoked some weed, boo hoo, so what?Ē attitude. My aunt and uncle didnít understand, but they were by my side through all my court dates and PO meetings.

In the summer of 2005, my aunt was diagnosed with cancer. Being young and knowing how strong she was, I never thought that shit would take her life. It wasnít until I was in the hall for a violation and no one came to my court date that I started taking her illness seriously. I called home from the Hall and asked her angrily why she hadnít come to court. Thatís when I found out she only had a few months to live. The last time I saw my aunt was in the hospital a day before she died. She couldnít talk, walk or eat. She couldnít do nothiní but shit on herself and wait for someone to clean it up. It didnít really hit me that she was dead until the morning of the funeral, right before walking into the church. Boys, drugs and liquor became my best friend at the time.

During all this time, my uncle was hooked up to an oxygen machine and still smoking cigarettes. After her death, he barely even got out of bed. When he did, he would just sleep on the recliner for hours and hours. One day just four months later, I walked into our living room and he was dead because he fell asleep without oxygen. He was my guardian and I loved him as the father I never had.

When my family all ran over to the house to try and revive him and call the ambulance, one of my uncleís nieces Ė who I never got along with Ė kept saying it was my fault for leaving him alone. I couldnít take it. I went and got the shotgun out of the closet and pulled it on his niece. I told her she had me fucked up for saying it was my fault. My sister and cousin both snatched it from me fast when they saw me struggling with the bullets. At that time, I really wanted to die but didnít want to cause more pain to my family. I thank God now that I didnít do nothing stupid with my uncleís gun because that girl wasnít even worth it.

Basically, after my auntie and uncle died, I was on the run for like three months back and forth from Frisco to Oakland. Once, when I was staying with my cousin in Potrero Hill, me and my aunt got into a fight, she stabbed me and we both ended up in police custody. At first, the cops took me to YGC but when they found out I had a warrant, they shipped me back to my county and I was back at 150 Hill. Out of all the times I went to the hall, this was the first time I had that ďfuck itĒ feeling about everything. My PO was trying to send me to a group home and even though I had a dozen write-ups and got in hella fights in the hall, I managed to be sent home in five months because I told the judge everything I had recently gone through. Those five months were like hell, just thinking about everything that happened and feeling alone.

When I got out, I went to my auntie and uncleís house on 82nd and couldnít believe my eyes. They were selling the house and everything was gone: my bed, my Jordans, my panties, my rings, everything. It was empty and ready for inspection. This fucked my head up even worse then what it was. Not only did I not have an auntie and uncle no more, but I didnít have anything but the clothes on my back. ďDamn,Ē was all I could say as the tears rolled down my face. But I wiped my tears and said, ďFuck the world, Iím finna bounce back.Ē I didnít know at the time how hard that was going to be.

That summer I started selling drugs, boosting, braiding hair, prostituting and robbing people. I was trying to cover up my pain with the money and activities I was getting into. But at the end of the day it wasnít doing shit except making me feel bad, knowing that my aunt and uncle was seeing me do it from Heaven.

I was so confused and did not know what steps to take in order to get through it. I felt like I had no alternatives, yet I was unwilling to change my situation. Doing all that I was doing, I found my way back to the hall and every time it got worse and worse. After failing home supervision, ankle monitor and Family Protection Unit, I was back in custody fast. By the time my last court date came around, even my public defender thought it was a wash but again, I managed to plead my case to the judge by writing about what I had recently been through. The judge took pity on me and it was a miracle, but I got out. I was then assigned to an organization called Pathways to Change, an organization that tries to get repeat juvenile offenders like me to stabilize their lives. This is when I finally decided to turn my life around.

I finally began to attend school every day, went through counseling sessions, a substance abuse program and everything else the court expected me to do. I managed to do it all because I wanted to, not because someone else wanted me to. I got a job, will get off probation in three months and am on my way toward receiving my cosmetology license while I complete my last year of high school.

Hustliní on the streets is a hard knock life for a teenage girl to live. Over the last five years, I have been in and out of juvenile hall, hustling for food and clothes, engaged in pain and heartache, lost and then found. No one can help a person that doesnít want to help themself, so it's all on me. What I learned is that there is true relief and happiness in working hard to achieve your goals. The way I maintain my stability now is by remembering all I have been through and knowing where I want to go. I was deep in the system but with hard work, Iím on my way out.

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