"one of the worst decisions I ever made..."

I am Dre.

07.11.2014

How are you? I just got your letter today. Sorry if my letters take a while to get to you. The mail is late going out, and I usually get letters weeks late. For a sec, I thought my letter didn't make it to you. I thought they lost it or something. I wouldn't be surprised. It's good to hear from you again though.

I appreciate you telling me a little more about your self, and what your program is about. Like I said before, I think what your doing is great and I would love to continue answering your questions. Hopefully it can stop other kids from going down the same path that I did. Or maybe if others continue to write, it could inspire law makers. From what I've been reading though, the legislators are strongly against changing the sentencing laws. They’re fighting for juveniles to continue to be able to get life sentences. Our U.S. Supreme Court took a step by saying it's unconstitutional and overturned cases in 2010-2012 finally. But they can only do so much.

The laws are still the same, and if a judge wants, he/she can still sentence a juvenile to life with out parole. Instead of giving someone “life in prison,” the judge will give someone a really high number like 50 yrs or something. It’s the same as JLWOP [Juvenile Life without Parole]. You know in majority of our states you can be charged as an adult automatically at ages from 12-15? For Illinois it is 15. So basically a 12 yr old, in other states could get life in prison. Only a certain amount of state's laws, have it where your case goes to juvenile court first, and you have a hearing to determine if you should be charged as an adult. The Illinois Supreme Court is suppose to be deciding on several cases this year that deal with that. If its Successful, it will stop kids in the future from spending decades in prison.

But my relationship with all of my siblings are great. I'm very close with all of them. Both of my brothers are locked up though. We write each other. My oldest brother [name removed]. He's 23. He great. And he always encouraged me to do right. I just was hard-headed. My other brother is [name removed] (21). He was the one that I followed growing up, and got into trouble with. Now we pretty much do our own things & have our own friends, but we're still close. I'm more of a big brother to [name removed] than he is to me now. And if you don't mind, can we not use my siblings names? But yeah, I also have 2 sisters. My oldest is 22. She & I are very close. She's been by my side through everything. From day one of me being locked up. We keep in touch on a regular. I call when ever the prison lets us. And she sends me money so I can survive inside of here. If it wasn't for her, I would have it really hard in here.

MY YOUNGEST SISTER IS 4 YEARS OLD. SHE WAS ONLY 6 MONTHS OLD WHEN I GOT LOCKED UP. SHE'S MY EVERYTHING. WE NEVER WERE APART WHEN I WAS OUT. SHE GROWING SO FAST, BUT SHE STILL REMEMBERS ME.

I talk to her on the phone and we have full conversations. I was kind of tripped out at how smart she is for her age. She also knows I'm in prison, but she don't know why. She is the biggest reason why I fight to win on my appeal. My mom and I have always been close. I hate I put her through so much. She did everything she could to get me on the right path and I just ignored it all because I loved the streets and wanted to hang out & fit in. And I didn't like being looked at as a kid cause I wanted to fit in with all of my older friends. But my mom & I haven't spoken in months. Mostly because its hard for her to see me like this, and the calls are a constant reminder. She cries everytime I call. And that makes it harder for me cause I know she's in pain because she loves me. I don't look at my pictures either cause I see how much she's changed from stressing over my situation. And my mom has always been my mom & dad at the same time. As crazy as that sounds.

But to be honest, I loved having my dad around, but I got used to him not being around. I never knew what it felt to have a dad cause he wasn't around long enough. I don't blame him though. He had his own problems. And when he was around, he loved me & my brothers & sister. He just wasn't there on a consistent basis. The hardest part of not having him around was how much I missed him.

At the Boys & Girls club I played sports a lot. And I remember going to the summer camps too. But I don't remember what we did at the camps.

It was difficult sometimes not having friends my age cause I had to try hard to fit in. Eventually I was accepted & had a lot of older friends. But it made it alot harder to make friends at school that were my age. I couldn't relate to them cause I was always with older people. And I think thats why it was hard for me to be social with other kids my age.

Hanging out with older guys did expose me to alot. Everything from guns, drugs, money & women. And also violence & gangs. I think that seeing the things that I've seen & going through everything that I've been through because of the group of guys I was around really made me strong mentally, and I think that's a good thing. But over all I think hanging around older guys was bad, because the lives that they were living wasn't good. But I always thought it was cool for some reason, so I tried to copy just to fit in, I always wanted to be a grown up, but now I wish I could get all these years back & just be a kid again, because I feel like I missed some of the most important years of my life.

There wasn't a specific incident that changed my life at 12. I was actually in a residential home from 10-12 because I kept getting in trouble and I was too young to go to the prison for juveniles. Ages 13-21.

I WANT TO TELL YOU MORE ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE THERE AT THE RESIDENTIAL HOME. IT WAS LIKE A GROUP HOME. IT WAS A NICE PLACE. GOING THERE WAS ONE OF THE BEST THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN MY LIFE AROUND THAT TIME. AND ONE OF THE WORST DECISIONS I EVER MADE WAS LEAVING THAT PROGRAM.I really wasn’t ready.

If I would have stayed, I would be in college today. I want to tell you more about what I learned, and how I changed while I was there, but I'll save it for my next letter. The reason why I say leaving that program was one of the worst decisions in my life at that time is because once I left, I went right back to my old neighborhood, and my 1st day home, I started selling drugs for the first time. But while I was at the group home, all I was focused on was school, sports & just having fun being a kid. But I always missed my old neighborhood a little bit. Especially since the group home was in a nice area & the total opposite of my old neighborhood. Once back home though, I started selling drugs, getting into fights. There was always shootings in the neighborhood. I lost my virginity, and I started dating older girls & eventually women. By the age of 15, I had used ecstacy, weed & alcohol. I never used anything else. I stopped using drugs all together though. But I also was making money selling drugs and I had alot of enemies at 15 yrs old that were almost twice my age because alot of people didn't even know how old I really was. Being around older people so much made me feel like I was much older than what I was. By the time I was 15, I carried a gun everywhere I went because I made so many enemies over stupid stuff. I always seen what happened to other guys who was living the same lifestyle that I was living, whether it be getting shot, or getting beat up real bad, and I didn 't want that to happen to me. I always made sure my education was a priority. I was kicked out of high school my freshman year for fighting, and I was sent to an alternative school.

I COMPLETED ALL OF THE PROGRAMS AND GOT MY GRADES BACK ON TRACK AND I WAS SUPPOSE TO START MY SOPHMORE YEAR AT MY REGULAR HIGH SCHOOL, BUT I ENDED UP GETTING CAUGHT WITH A GUN THE MONTH BEFORE SCHOOL STARTED. THE JUDGE SENT ME TO THE DEPT. OF JUVENILE JUSTICE (THE PRISON FOR AGES 13-21) FOR 3 MONTHS. THE WEEK BEFORE I WAS SUPPOSE TO BE PAROLED, I WAS TOLD I WASN'T BEING RELEASED BECAUSE I WAS BEING CHARGED WITH THE CHARGES I HAVE NOW.

I haven't seen my family in almost 2 yrs. I used to see them every week before I was convicted. But they sent me to a prison almost 8 hours away and my family can't make it right now. It's all good though. I don't put any pressure on them to come. I've had friends thats drove all the way down here to visit, but couldn't get in because the prison was on lock down. Anytime an incident happens, the prison goes on lockdown. I've had 2 people get turned around. You have to be careful cause the prison can go on lockdown at any moment. But I'm about to get some sleep. I hope this answers your questions. And if you don't mind, call me Dre. Take Care. I look forward to hearing from you again.

Dre.

P.S- what's the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?