Oakland, CA — When I was thirteen, I wrote an essay looking for my purpose. I asked:
How do I identify my passions, wishes, and dreams? Maybe it’s about being remembered as somebody with a purpose and not just anybody.
This was the year I first tried weed, when I almost got kicked out of school. I had already been arrested once.
I spent the next few years in and out of juvenile hall. I was still looking for my purpose. I was trying to pull myself out of this lifestyle — holding down a real job as a lifeguard and swim instructor. Then, I caught another charge.
I’ll be honest with you, I’m still traumatized by this experience. So I don’t want to say what happened exactly. But it led to me being incarcerated for more than 200 days.
At the start of my time in juvenile hall, I was grieving. But then, I decided, "Hell no, that’s the old me. They’re not going to get the best of me."
Two other girls and I became the first in several years to graduate high school from inside juvenile hall. I completed packet after packet of study guides. It wasn’t easy. For geometry, I wasn’t allowed to have a ruler in my cell, so I used my hair for measurements.
I was an exception to the system. I never thought I’d accomplish these milestones.
I have been out now for a year. I feel extremely lucky. I’m in college. Now, I’m back in juvenile hall, but not as an inmate. I’m a youth commissioner. I sit in meetings with probation officers, the D.A., the public defender’s office, and judges. I insist that people working within the system treat incarcerated youth more humanely.
I tell other girls in the system: “Your life is still going. This is not a stop, not a pause.” I didn’t ever say, “Let me restart my life.” Because my life was happening in juvenile hall. Instead, I told myself, “Let me keep going.”