Ella's Voice, a blog of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
by Lina Roldan
I am a mother of four children living in Pico Rivera. In my daily life, I work as an interpreter, lead a girl scout troop, and take my girls to volleyball practice, Karate, and Aztec dance classes. But a part of me is always with my oldest son, who is locked away in the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). The DJJ and their abuse of solitary confinement practices has scarred my son forever; will you help me stop the abuse?
My son is not a tough kid and wasn’t ready for the gladiator school called DJJ. On his very first day, he was beat up. He’s seen things he should never see, like kids fighting each other and guards assaulting and pepper-spraying kids on a daily basis. After experiencing solitary confinement, violence, and humiliation by guards, he now suffers from severe depression and hallucinations. He never had serious mental health issues before. Now he is suicidal.
Try to imagine what it’s like to get a call because your child tried to hang himself with a bedsheet. Then being told that he stabbed himself with a fork. That he slit his wrist with a razor. And after that, hearing he broke a TV and used the wires to choke himself. He’s attempted suicide 6 times in two years.
It gets even worse. Every time he attempts suicide, guards strip him and put him in a small, dirty, empty solitary cell for 21 or more hours a day, sometimes almost 24 hours a day. These “suicide watch” cells are the same cells used to discipline youth. Why would you do this to a kid who is hallucinating and suicidal?
Our son’s body is marked and scarred. He says things like, “They’re making me crazy in here.” Once, he told me that killing himself is his ticket out of DJJ. Imagine for a second what it feels like to hear that from your child.
Every day, I wish I could comfort my son, tuck him in at night, give him the sign of the cross, and kiss him like I used to. Every day I wish he finds some glimmer of hope to keep him alive through this nightmare.
I need you to understand that what happened to my son is the standard procedure. Every living unit at Chaderjian has these same solitary confinement cells used for discipline and suicide watch. There is no treatment. No counseling. No rehabilitation. Just cruelty.
Right now, youth prisons and juvenile halls can hold youth in solitary confinement for as long as they want. There are no standards or regulations. SB 1363 would change that. If we can change the mind of legislators who have the power to pass the bill out of committee.
I’m only one mother but I represent thousands of families who know my pain- the pain of the DJJ and its abuse of solitary confinement. If we all act now, we can end the torture.
Lina Roldan is a mother and a leader with Families for Books Not Bars.