Part 2: 15, facing 'life.' by Dre

Part II.

I was really comfortable in the juvenile, at first. I didn’t speak much to anybody because I just wanted to be alone. But the staff there did everything they could to help me in any way I needed. If it weren’t for them, I would have had a real hard time dealing with everything while I was preparing for trial. They were always there for me, but it wasn’t always as easy for me.

The stress was hard to deal with. I never liked talking to anyone about how I was feeling, so I just kept everything in, and tried to deal with it all on my own. I honestly think I started going crazy at one point lol. I also feel like I could have dealt with my stress a lot better on some days. I got in trouble sometimes because I let everything get to me & I started having a bad attitude. I started pushing everyone that I was close to away – my family and the staff.

I had mostly good days, and even though my bad days weren’t anything serious, I still regret them. I said things that I didn’t mean, or acted out & took my problems out on everyone else because I didn’t want to ask for help when I couldn’t deal with it on my own. But the help was there.

That’s what makes the juvenile system so different from the adult system: You get the care & treatment you need in a juvenile facility. But, in an adult facility like the one I’m in now (I can’t speak for other adult facilities), they treat you like an animal and couldn’t care less about how you feel; you’re nothing but a number and a burden if you don’t live and act in the way that they see you in their eyes.

It was definitely an adjustment period for me when I came here. One of the hardest things for me that I had to deal with while going through this whole process was having to be strong for everyone and for myself. My mom and everyone used to tell me to promise that everything would be ok – and I would, even though I didn’t know for sure how everything would end.

Sometimes you have to tell people that things will be okay, even if you don’t know for sure. It gives them hope & something to hold on to. All you can do is try everything you can to make sure things will be ok. But sometimes it’s hard to be strong for everyone else when you’re struggling yourself. I always find a way though. But it wasn’t easy.

I remember being in the juvenile & seeing all of the other kids coming in and going home. A lot of times I would imagine how it would feel to go home, but then the thought of facing life in prison comes to mind & it would drive me crazy to think that I might not ever be able to have a life when I really hadn’t done much living as it is. It drives you crazy, but it also gives you motivation.

I started becoming more focused with my case & coming home. I started to get so confident that I was gonna come home that the idea that I could potentially get convicted & go to prison seemed impossible and kind of crazy. I think I shut out the idea of me getting convicted because the reality of that was just too much to deal with.

We went to school every day and worked on the computers. Most of the time I would do good in school, but there was also a lot of times where I couldn’t work because all I could think about was my legal situation. Seeing all of the other kids & seeing how they didn’t have the same worries that I had made me imagine what it was like to be in their shoes. To be able to have dreams for their future once they got out, or what they were gonna do once they were out. It’s hard to imagine any of these things when you’re facing life in prison because you know that nothing is guaranteed. Sometimes in our justice system, your innocence or guilt doesn’t matter – especially if you’re black or Hispanic; all that matters is that you’re charged.

One day I was told that I had a visit, but it was in the morning, and visiting hours weren’t in the morning – only at night. So, I knew that it had to be about something concerning my case. The visit was from my attorney, well one of the attorneys who had decided to take my case for free. He & his partner were going to take my case pro-bono. I thought that was cool, but at first I didn’t trust them. But seeing how hard they were fighting for me made me trust them. It also relieved a lot of stress & took some of my worries away. For a long time, those were the only 2 people that I felt like I could really trust.

I was so ready to come home. It wasn’t even 6 months from the day I was indicted, and I was trying to go to trial. My attorney told me that it was “unrealistic.” Lol. Every other month I had a trial date set and every time I tried to convince my attorneys to prepare. I think I did this for the whole 18 months it took to go to trial. I know they hated that. I definitely had to learn patience because this legal process is something else. Lol.

I turned 17 & I was sent to the county jail. One of the supervisors in the juvenile spoke to me & told me that she could help me stay, but I said no. I think she was worried about me, but at the time I really just wanted something different & a lil bit more freedom. After being in the county jail, I was wishing I could go back. I hated it. And, I took everything about that juvenile for granted. I was pretty good at that when I was younger.

I had turned 17 & I went to trial a couple months after my birthday. But prior to my trial starting, and before I was transferred to the county jails, I used to get picked up from the juvenile, shackled & transported to the county jail so I could be escorted to court. That process got real old, and I hated it every time. I used to always ask myself, “Man, what are you doing in this position?” I always felt like my life could have been much different if I made better choices in my life.

Once I started trial, I really didn’t know what to expect. I waited so long to finally get to that point, and my freedom felt like it was just days away. Not once did I feel like I was going to be convicted. I was confident 100% for 18 months up until my trial was set to begin.

My jury selections started, and the jurors were all happy until they heard what my charges were. They all started giving me funny looks and the trial hadn’t even started yet.

During my trial, I was there physically but not mentally. I was so nervous, man. I couldn’t stop shaking. I remember being real tired after every day of trial & just going to sleep until the next morning. I also remember seeing so many people that I haven’t heard from since being locked up, and some people I didn’t even know. There was a lot of support for me once my trial started, but once it was time to hear my verdict, there was only 3 people there to support me. By that point, I already knew I was going to lose.

I can’t even explain how it felt to get found guilty – even though I knew... I really can’t explain how it felt though. It was a lot worse than how it felt when I was first charged, because now it seemed like there really wasn’t any hope to hold on to. I knew I had an appeal but I really didn’t know what an appeal was or where to start.

I think the hardest part of this whole process has been seeing the effect it has had on my family. I see the affect that this situation has had on not only my family, but also the victim’s family – but there’s only so much I can say right now because of my legal situation. I do have a lot to say, I just can’t.

Seeing how it affected my family, especially my mom, sisters & brothers, and knowing that they’re hurting because of me and there’s really nothing that I was able to do for them was painful. I feel like I let them down because I kept telling them that everything was gonna be okay. The relationship that I had with my family hasn’t been the same since then. Just hearing my voice hurts them. Sometimes it’s easier for them when I can’t call.

Man, this blog seems sad. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m just saying exactly how this experience has been for me. I’m actually the happiest & most peaceful that I’ve been since I’ve been locked up.

By the time I had my sentencing hearing, 5 months after I was convicted, my situation didn’t really keep my spirits down. I was already preparing for the appeal process & preparing myself mentally for the adjustments I was going to face in a maximum security prison. I have been focused & dedicated to winning on my appeal ever since.

I read a lot of legal material & I study my case & the law as much as I can. I’m going to put myself in the best position to win. My family & the people who love & support me can ALWAYS count on that.

When I first came to the prison I’m in now, they put me in the worst housing unit in the prison. It’s the most dangerous and non-productive building in the prison. These guys are in their cells for 23 ½ hours a day, every single day, except for 2 days a week that they get to go out & exercise & use the phone. You’re lucky if you can get an opportunity to use the phone because you’re competing with 100 or more people, and there’s only 5-6 phones that you can use in the 2 ½ hours that they give you.

They also don’t offer any programs to the guys living in that building. But this is where they keep all the younger guys at. Most live there at least until they’re in their late 30’s. And most end up in trouble eventually because the environment isn’t much different from their neighborhoods that they came from.

My main focus when I came to prison was my family & my appeal, and that kept me out of any trouble. I’ve always had good guys in here who have helped guide me & encourage me to keep growing & staying focused.

I got really lucky. I knew that the prison didn’t allow guys in my housing unit to go to school, as crazy as that is. But I ended up seeing the warden face to face & I explained to her my desire to go to school, and a few days later I was moved to a much better housing unit.

I’ve completed my GED and just enrolled in Adams State University to work towards getting my degree. I’m hoping to go as far as possible with my education and get my Ph.D. whether I’m in prison or in society. So, every day I’m really just going to be focusing on reaching that goal, along with focusing on my appeal, my family & the ones I love, but also focus on working on ‘The One.’ This opportunity to go to University wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for ‘The One.,’ so I feel lucky, and I’m going to make the best of it.

I look forward to writing more in the future about my experiences and life in a maximum security prison and hope that others can learn from my experiences.

Thanks for reading.

Dre

 

Editor's Note: Dre is currently 20 years old, 5 years into his 61 year sentence. To complete his sentence, Dre would be released at the age of 76. Unfortunately, the life expectancy of males in prison is far younger than that age; a fact that Dre is well aware of. Dre is currently appealing his conviction to the state supreme court. 

Dre is one of thousands of juveniles who have been given life sentences in the U.S. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled against 'mandatory' life sentences for juveniles indicating such sentences constituted "cruel and unusual punishment." Many states have not made this decision retroactive (applying it to cases occurring prior to 2012) and, in those states that have allowed re-sentencing, some judges have elected to uphold the life sentences.

We hope that reading Dre's blog will shine a light on the injustice of treating youth as adults in the justice system and invite you to join our movement toward a fairer justice system for our youth by clicking our social media links below and following The One. #HearOurVoices

Dre is humbled and extremely grateful for the overwhelming support and prayers he has received, stating, "I didn't think anyone would want to hear what I have to say." We received an astounding 16,000 viewers on our site, within two days of the original post. We are beyond proud of Dre and thankful for the positive reception of his work.

Dre has requested that anyone who is interested in contacting him to do so by leaving a comment below, or emailing your letters to administrator@theoneinternational.org. All comments and messages will be forwarded to Dre.

To read Dre's work about life before he was incarcerated, click here