For Youth in Lock-Up, Family Connection is Key

Edson Ramirez, 18, is a youth advocate with the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network. Photo: Jeremy Loudenback

I was locked up for a year, just after I turned 17. I was at three juvenile halls for about six months and then at a juvenile camp for about five months. I was sentenced for robbery.

It was my first time ever being locked up or being part of any criminal case. People were telling me ‘Oh, it’s not going to be that bad, it’s your first time.’ I thought I was going to be in and out. But I ended up staying at LP [Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall] for five months while they worked on my case.

The biggest issue I really had when I was locked up was being able to see my family. After being at juvenile halls, I was sent to [Los Angeles County’s Campus] Kilpatrick, which is in Malibu. Visitations there only happen on Sundays.

So on Sundays, my mom would have to drive from Long Beach to Malibu, and sometimes it would take her almost three hours to get there. The visiting hours were from 1 to 5 p.m., but sometimes she wouldn’t end up getting there until 4:30, so we would only have like 30 minutes to see each other. One time she came in crying, and I asked what was going on. It was because she was so late, and we only had 10 minutes. She was rushing all the way to get here, and it took her four hours to get there because of the traffic. She was really sad she didn’t get that long to see me. That made me feel really bad. I don’t want my mom stressing to come see me.

The visitations happen in a little room — cameras everywhere, microphones everywhere, with walkie talkies and handcuffs. We would just sit there talking for 30 minutes. That’s the time they give you. I could only see my mom or my dad, not my brother or my sister, or my aunts. Since my dad was working on Sundays, it was just my mom. The [Probation Department] needed proof of her identity and paperwork to let her in. One time my mom forgot her ID, and they didn’t let her in to see me. She had to have my aunt come all the way from Long Beach to bring a picture of her ID, so she could get in.

We usually only had 20 to 30 minutes. One time we had an hour for some reason. But it always felt like five minutes. Time goes by really fast. We would talk about how I was feeling, and she would ask me if I was learning anything new in there and what am I going to use when I get out to better myself.

Sometimes it was hard for my mother to come because of my little sister, who just turned 1. She wasn’t allowed to come in to see me with my mom. A few times my brother came with my mom to watch my sister in the car, otherwise there was no one to take care of my sister when my mom came in to see me. Sometimes there were Sundays when no one came to see me because my mom couldn’t find anyone to drive 60 miles with her to Malibu.

I always wanted to see my sister. I wanted to see her grow up and just to be able to talk to her. The first time I asked to see her, the Probation staff said no. She’s too young, they said, and only your mom can come in. Sometimes you can have family visits; those are something different. You have to plan that with your counselor, and they set it up on the side. It took my counselor two months to get it together for the first one for me. In total, I had three family meetings when I was in Kilpatrick, but they were all toward the end of my time there since the first one took so long to set up.

I tried to talk to my sister on the phone, but she’s too little to talk to on the phone. She didn’t know who she was talking to. I wanted her to remember my voice so she wouldn’t forget me, but it didn’t work. I finally got to see my sister after being at Kilpatrick for three months during a family visit. Before I was locked up, she would at least put her hands out to me. The first thing she did when she saw me at camp was cry because she didn’t even recognize me. Then she ran to my mom.

I think she was probably thinking, “Who is this guy and what are we doing here?” It impacted me a lot that day. It’s sad when your own family can’t even recognize you.

When I was at juvenile hall and Kilpatrick, we were able to talk on the phone to our family. Phone calls were supposed to be once a week. But usually we got two. Sometimes they would give you none if you really got them mad. Like if you get punished for fighting or you do something stupid at school and you get kicked out of class, the first thing they do is take the phone calls away.

I understand taking away phone calls from your friends, but not your own family. When you get mad, I feel like you need to talk to your mom, talk to your family. When the staff take that away, you go even crazier. It’s not healthy. I feel like you need to talk to your parents, no matter what, even when you get in trouble. You still need that time with them.

I don’t know if you can relate to it, but it’s a really good feeling when you’re inside to know that another person not just cares for you, but is there for you to talk back to. When you’re in jail, you feel lonely. When you are able to talk to someone out there, it’s everything; it’s like your birthday gift.

The night before I was released, me and my friend (who was also getting free) were up almost all night. We didn’t want to go to sleep. The next day we were the first ones to wake up, our beds ready.

That day I was released in January, it was just my mom who picked me up. I got out at 6 a.m. in Malibu. It was strange coming back to our home in Long Beach. I grew a little bit when I was away for that year. My house felt so small, almost like I was a giant in my own home. 

Edson Ramirez, 18, is a youth leader with the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network (AIYN) from Long Beach, California. Since leaving Los Angeles County’s Campus Kilpatrick detention facility in January, he’s participated in AIYN’s Our True Colors program, which uses arts to help support young people exiting the system.

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