KAI: Hey there, this is Kai. What you’re about to hear is the second installment in a three part series -- which is to say, it’ll make a ton more sense if you back up and listen to the episode in your feed just before this one. This series is pulled from a podcast that we made a couple years ago, called Caught. It’s about the ways in which young people who do need in fact help, instead, get trapped inside courts and jails and prisons. Given the focus on policing right now, and on how to fix -- or really just get rid of the criminal justice system as we know it altogether -
[THEME MUSIC STARTS]
KAI: We decided to revisit one of the stories we told in Caught. It’s the story of one young man, and a journey through the system that began in grade school. In the previous episode, we left him as a teenager, inside a juvenile detention center in Queens. We pick up the story from there. I’m Kai Wright, this is The United States of Anxiety, and a special presentation of Caught.
Z: Got the punching bag right here.
[SOUND OF PUNCH LANDING ON BAG]
Z: Yeah, we got that right here. That’s how I get rid of my anger.
Kai: That’s Z. We met him in episode one, inside a juvenile detention center.
Z: I just punch that all the time, like-
[SOUND OF TWO PUNCHES LANDING ON BAG]
Z: Yeah, that’s how I get rid of it. (LAUGHS)
[MUSIC FADES IN]
KAI: He’s still inside, and he’s frustrated. It’d be hard for any teenager – to be stuck in one of the most controlled environments imaginable. I mean, think about it: for most of us, high school alone felt stifling and draconian. Never mind a detention center – where every single broken rule comes with a consequence.
Z: It kind of gets me mad a little bit, knowing that people got mad authority over me.
KAI: He’s inside because he and some friends robbed a guy with a gun. But for Z, there’s another layer to this. He’s really got a problem with his temper. And it’s a big deal. Every time he gets mad – or as he puts it “turns up” – it threatens his ability to get out. And he’s turned up a lot. It’s just unclear whether he’s the problem, or if the system he’s been bouncing around, since he was 12 years old, has not figured out how to actually help kids like Z. WNYC reporter Jared Marcelle has been following Z and his family through all of this.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
JARED: Z’s 16 now and being locked up has been rough for him.
Z: Today’s April 1st. I’ve been here at least a month… transferring from different facilities. I’ve been to juvenile centers. I been to Rikers. I’ve been to other places...
JARED: Ever since being detained, he’s become prone to outbursts – that includes breaking things, fighting kids and fighting guards.
Z: I’d go into a rage. I’d start screaming at people and stuff.
JARED: Z calls this behavior “turning up.”
Z: Picture somebody constantly poking you, poking you, poking you. You’re holding all your energy inside, not speaking to nobody. Sooner or later you’re just gonna burst.
JARED: I talked with his mom about how he ended up here.
MOM: He was always with me. He was a momma’s boy.
JARED: We’ll call her Kia. I went with her to go visit him.
MOM: If I went outside, he’d run out the door. if I jump on the elevator, he’ll run on...
JARED: She told me about when things started to go wrong for her son. Kia says he was a busy baby and liked to pretend to be spider man...but she also noticed some things were different about him...like when he started banging his head and walking on his tippy toes. So she got him tested. Z was put in special ed before he even started kindergarten.
MOM: And he processed things a little slower than a regular child. It’s a little different, he's like 6 years younger, but kids don't understand that because, you know, he's growing right with them.
JARED: Kids with disabilities are much more likely to get bullied and that was the case for Z. When he was in middle school, he got jumped.
MOM: They knocked him out in the park.
JARED: So he started carrying a steak knife in his book bag.
MOM: They kept bothering him and they know how he get, he gets a little anxious and he, my son, he's emotional. So if you're constantly saying bad things about him, he start to believe it. But we always knew, when he got bigger, we used to tell those kids, “He’s going to get you when he gets bigger.” I think he created a whole other character just to fit in.
JARED: But do you think he became that or it was just him, you know, a front?
MOM: It was a front at first and then then it got real because he had no choice but to prove himself. So he became that character that he created.
[MUSIC FADES IN]
JARED: Z’s new persona worked for him when he was free but on the inside, it does him no favors. Breaking those habits has been tough for him.
Z: I’m gonna chill, try to do my time here. Make sure I get a good report from the judge and hopefully I get released.
JARED: So that’s the challenge for Z now. If he can maintain good behavior and the judge agrees, he’ll get to go home. But if you look at his past, that seems rather unlikely. I talked to his mom about how being locked up has changed him. She says he became more violent over time.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
MOM: The other kids there taught him if he turned up, he can get what you want.
JARED: Z learned that just behaving wouldn’t get him any special attention. But the thing is, he’s not just some kid that wants special attention. He actually needs it. When they wouldn’t let him go home for Christmas...
MOM: …he started destroying stuff. He beat up the tree, and broke the TV.
JARED: Kia says this outburst got him sent jail. And because he had been charged as an adult, he ended up in Rikers Island.
JARED: Did you ever have any of these outbursts before you were locked up?
Z: I had outbursts, but it wasn’t really bad, because I could control it. There’s other options. I could go to my room, I could walk out the house. Take a walk.
JARED: But he can’t walk away when he’s locked up. Z told me that when he was in Rikers, he would purposely get in trouble, so they would put him in a special isolation unit. Even though it was a punishment – he felt safer away from the general population.
[MUSIC FADES IN]
JARED: Sometimes turning up gets him what he wants. Sometimes it just gets him in more trouble. It’s a roll of the dice. Z got transferred from Rikers to an intensive support facility where he spent the next few weeks alone. He was given a psych evaluation and a new diagnosis: “severely emotionally disturbed.” That’s a really serious label. It acts as a warning and signifies that a child is capable of violence. And it’s not uncommon for kids in the system -- especially poor, black males.
SCHIRALDI: It’s a scarier label so it can make people react a little more quickly than they might to some other.
JARED: I talked about it with Vincent Schiraldi. He’s the co-director of Columbia University's Justice Lab. And he used to be the commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation.
SCHIRALDI: Yeah, there's a lot of controversy about labeling young people because in part you want to use that as a vehicle to get them services and special accommodations in school and from the mental health system, but sometimes it can be an anchor around a kid's neck that makes people start to look at them differently and react to them differently in ways that aren't helpful.
JARED: Z’s mom thinks he got worse when he got sent to detention. Do you think that locking kids up can impact their mental health?
SCHIRALDI: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, many kids, the advent of their mental illness occurs in juvenile institutions. It’s a vicious cycle it can be and institutionalization can exacerbate their mental illness.
[MUSIC FADES IN]
JARED: “Severely emotionally disturbed” is a diagnosis that landed Z in this new, therapeutic facility. But at the same time, it hangs over his head, and will ultimately determine what happens next for him.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
WEATHERSPOON: He came with a warning label. He definitely did. Like he's been known to hit staff. He's been known to assault staff. So once you hear that it's like bing bing bing bing bing bing bing ‘cause you staff! But the thing about Z is i felt bad after meeting him for the warning label because it was like we had the preconceived notion of who he was because of the paperwork. ‘Well you know, he’ll put holes in the walls, and he’ll do this and he’ll do that.’ It kind of, I feel like at first made people like, ‘Ohhh Z!’
[MUSIC FADES IN]
JARED: Antoneke Weatherspoon is a counselor at an experimental program in Queens called Close to Home. That’s where Z is now. This place is designed for kids with mental health issues. Z gets therapy every day here. And it’s close enough that his mom can come visit regularly. When you pull up – you’re in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The facility was an old monastery that’s been converted into an 18-bed juvenile detention center.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
TONYA DURHAM: It’s set up more like college. There's no bars, there's no barbed wire. None of that stuff.
JARED: Tonya Durham is the assistant director. She told me they don’t want the kids to feel like they’re locked up.
JARED: And there are no security guards?
TONYA DURHAM: No, no security guards at all.
JARED: So how do they prevent the kids from going AWOL?
TONYA DURHAM: it's basically, based on relationships. you have to build a rapport with these kids because if you’re not, they can do that. They can jump over the fence and leave.
JARED: Here, Z’s not just sitting in a cell. They even let him use an audio recorder.
Z: Hello hello hello …. yeah.
JARED: The thing is, Z’s not turning up here. Close to Home seems to be working. He has his own bedroom, he even has a desk. He sits there every night and writes rhymes.
[Z RAPPING: “I’m just tryna chase my dream, Every day I’m tryna to survive, Feeling victim to the system…”]
JARED: Many of the staff have been incarcerated themselves. Like Ms. Perkins.
PERKINS: You know I'm here because I need you to see people that’s like me.
JARED: She was never scared of Z.
PERKINS: I like your brain. I think that you real smart. You just need to get your anger together. You know what I mean? I never seen you angry though. So how do you do that?
Z: I'm a quiet person but after seeing and being in so many different types of facilities, I done did everything in the book. Getting restrained 15 times in one day, I did that. Fighting, all that, turning up, so I don't want to go through that type of stuff no more.
PERKINS: I got a question about that. I personally have never had to administer a restraint. How does that affect you after going through that all day. After you get restrained 15 times, how that make you feel?
Z: For me? I don't know. It don't really make me feel bad at all. It's like a quick adrenaline rush. Yeah. It sound crazy, but I get, I get a relief. Like imagine having months and months of trapped up anger and stuff never being expressed in your system without getting it out. How would that make you feel?
PERKINS: Alright, as an individual, I see you calm, you reserved, you always respectful, so far...
Z: Of course, you supposed to watch and observe before you take action.
PERKINS: Oooh ooh ooh, so we still ain’t out the woods yet with what your turn up is. [LAUGHS]
Z: Yeah, y’all just don’t know.
JARED: Z’s been here for a month now. He has an indefinite sentence that’s dependent on his behavior. If he manages to control his outbursts, he’ll be released and his arrest record will be sealed. He and his mom know what a big deal that is. It means his felony doesn’t have to be a stamp on his forehead for the rest of his life.
Z: What do you know about my upcoming court date?
MOM: I know that so far you’re doing very well here. I know that the judge said that if you can do 30 days of not getting in trouble, you’ll be able to come home. Do you like where you live now?
Z: Here? Well, it’s alright but after a while it’s just annoying. People telling you when to eat, when to sleep, when to use the bathroom, it’s annoying. I feel like a dog, but that’s with every facility. That’s just how I feel. I’m not gonna sit here and glorify, “Oh it’s a good program and stuff.” You don’t want your kids in this type of program, you want them home.
[MUSIC FADES IN]
Kai: Coming up….Z goes to court and finds out whether he’s going home.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
KAI: We’re back with Z and he’s going to court. He thinks he’s going to get out today. Here’s Jared.
JUDGE: Calling Case 11.
JARED: All Z had to wear to court was a grey sweatsuit with slippers. But staff brought him some lime green sneakers, so he puts them on before he walks into court.
JUDGE: Raise your right hand. Remain standing and raise your right hand. You swear and affirm to tell the truth?”
JUDGE: Your name and age please.
JARED: The judge reads through Z’s reports. He notes that staff called him “super successful” with no incidents. Then he nods and goes on to explain to Z that he has to keep it up for another two months. That means he’ll be detained until June. And that’s the end of it.
JUDGE: Thank you very much, young man.
JARED: Z gets taken out of court and placed back in shackles. Staff walk him out of the courthouse. He’s surprised to see his mom waiting at the detention center van.
MOM: I’ll see you later, love you.
JARED: They put him into the back seat and shut the door. Now remember, he's shackled, but somehow he figures out how to knock on the window to say goodbye to his mom.
MOM: I can’t see him.
JARED: The windows are tinted pitch black, she can’t see him.
Z: Testing, one two.
JARED: The next day, Z takes out his recorder
Z: This morning I was upset. I was upset that on my last court date, I didn’t go home. I thought I was gonna go home but I guess they gonna extend me for a little bit and I just gotta do the rest of the time. Instead of turning up, I was speaking to staff and after that they gave me time to vent in my room and let my anger out. I was just screaming and stuff. Screaming. (LAUGHS) And punching my pillow, just ahh! There’s plenty of times, I feel like just punching and breaking things. Probably every day I’m here. And the only thing you can do is be quiet when you upset, you can’t turn up. You can’t do nothing. Cause all it’s gonna do is screw you up in the long run. It’s better to punch my pillow than punch somebody else, cause that’s not gonna look good, especially on the court paper. They already look at me like a menace.
JARED: Before Z got here, his natural reaction to bad news would’ve been to turn up, but this time, he keeps it under control. He’s actually learning to think about the consequences of his actions. That’s something he wasn’t doing before. Here, Z really trusts some of the staff.
TANYA DURHAM: When he was in crisis, I was one of the people who was able to bring him back to himself. I knew that he was one of those kids that needed the attention. Not to be in his face, but he needed you to pay attention to him. So I would be in my office and we had cameras in the supervisor’s office. If I saw that he was like pacing or he was looking like something was wrong, I would call over the walkie talkie and say you know, ‘Ask him what’s going on.’ So he knew that I was watching him at any given moment. He always knew that.
JARED: Z’s not trying to run away...he’s going along with the program, and spending his time playing basketball and Monopoly. And he’s eating well here. Dry turkey sandwiches? Try again. How about curry chicken. But most importantly, he’s doing his school work and is getting good grades. Z has turned the ship around. At the beginning of July, Z’s judge says he can go home. Finally. He’s ecstatic. Ready to have his summer vacation on the outside.
Z: I want to be free, just like you. I wanna be home laying on the couch watching Netflix and stuff.
JARED: Except now...there’s a new reason he can’t leave. It’s not because the judge wants him to stay, and it’s not for bad behavior. It’s the label that’s come back to bite him. Remember, severely emotionally disturbed? Because of that, he can’t go to a regular public school. And they’re having trouble finding a place to send him. So as good as Close to Home has been for him up until this point...it all falls down here, when the label he got while he was locked up, ends up being the reason he’s stuck inside. It takes another two months before he gets assigned a school.
TONYA DURHAM: I was actually sad for him, when his release dates kept being extended. If I was in a hospital, if I was anywhere, and you tell me I can go home this particular date and I’m so excited. I think it was actually like July 5th, he was supposed to be going home, and then the 5th came around and it didn't happen. And then it's like okay, well the 19th? Nope, then the 20th... These dates keep coming and going, and you still don't know why you're in detention. That's frustrating, for anybody.
JARED: After 6 months in Close to Home, Z finally gets released. It’s the Saturday before Labor Day, so his chances of enjoying the summer are officially over. But he’s out.
STAFF: There’s no rearview mirror. Stay focused.
JARED: Two staff bring him home.
STAFF: Stay focused. Stay in that music.
JARED: It isn’t a long ride since Z only lives a few miles away. His mom is there waiting to bring him inside.
[walking down the hall, key in door]
MOM: Welcome home!
Z: Yeah, I’m back!
MOM: Tay Tay, your brother’s home!
JARED: He walks in at 9AM, and it’s the weekend, so his little brother isn’t even out of bed yet.
Z: I just got one thing to say, “I'm free!"
JARED: He’s happy to be home, but ready to go outside.
MOM: You can't mess up one time. If you mess up one time, they said that you going upstate.
Z: Hey, what’s up Felix?
JARED: His mom invited his friend Felix over for the homecoming – he’s somebody she approves of. They went straight to the mall.
Z: I’m not gonna lie, I’m used to a smaller crowd now that I’ve been incarcerated for a while. So when I was outside, I kind of was amazed to see a lot of people and I kind of was staring a little bit. (LAUGHS)
Felix: When we got on the train too, you was like, “I haven’t been on the train for like a year.”
JARED: And he looked like he just came home. Z seemed in awe of everything. I start coming over weekly to meet up with him.
JARED: Oh I forgot you got a cat. Love cats, don’t tell anybody.
We’d talk about music, I’d pet his cat. And sometimes we’d hang out in the park.
JARED: How did your friends treat you differently after you got arrested?
Z: Some left, some stayed and I attracted a badder crowd.
JARED: Did it give you street cred?
JARED: Talk about it.
Z: Well I used to come to school like, “Oh, that's the bad kid." Yeah you don't want to mess with him, but more girls started talking to me and stuff and people started giving me respect a little bit. And nobody ever tried to game me or hustle me out of anything.
JARED: I remember talking to you before and you were telling me that you wanted to be a cop.
Z: Of course. Who wouldn't want to be a cop? You get authority, you get to ride around in cars and stuff. You get to own your own personal gun and you get to take down the bad guys. Until I realized the bad guys ain't always what it's cut up to be. Some people is just misunderstood. Everybody's not bad. There’s some people that belong in jail and there's some people that's misguided that don't know what to do.
JARED: And what do you think you are?
Z: I'm in the mix of both of them. I want to be a good guy but sometimes I'm a bad guy.
[MUSIC FADES IN]
JARED: Z’s learning what it means to be on the outside but still be in the criminal justice system. Now he has a curfew, court every month, therapy on the weekends, and multiple caseworkers.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
JASMINE: I always tell parents that when you come home, everything's not gonna be perfect and everything’s not gonna be great.
JARED: His case worker comes over every week to check up on him. Z’s charge is still pending. If he doesn’t follow the rules, he could end up back at Rikers, and his armed robbery charge will be on his permanent record. Despite knowing that, he still has temptations. One of them is smoking weed…oh yeah, and he’s being drug tested...so it’s a shock to nobody that he fails his first test.
Z: What do you think the judge would do when he found out I smoked last week?
JASMINE: Oh, I didn’t think anything was gonna happen.
JARED: Z was worried the judge was going to send him back to jail.
JASMINE: It was a first check in. Judges are not so quick to put youth back in jail for little incidents like that.
JARED: So he keeps smoking. And he’s starting to rack up truancies. His school is two hours away. That means he’s gotta be ready to go by 6:00 am.
JARED: I went up to see him. He calls the school “the jail school” because it’s connected to a detention center.
Z: It’s so quiet and depressing here. You lucky you didn't see all the wild turkeys. Don’t get too close, they will attack you. [LAUGH]
JARED: You know from experience?
Z: Yeah, I tried to touch one.
JARED: Are you serious? Why would you touch a turkey?
Z: I don’t know, I wanted to! (LAUGHS)
JARED: Yeah man, I never saw a wild turkey but I know chickens don’t play. You gonna pick up a turkey you out of your mind. [LAUGHS]
Z, to someone else: Hello.
Z: You see, look at this. They about to fight.
JARED: Two boys are arguing loudly down the hall. They seem ready to fight right there in front of school staff. Just another day at school.
TEACHER: So you’re in this class this period?
JARED: I follow him to his next class, some sort of computer lab with about 8 students.
TEACHER: Googling the states...
JARED: The day’s assignment is to look up each state’s capital, type it in as a list and print it out.
JARED: Do you find this work useful?
JARED: You don’t like this class?
Z: Eh, it’s okay, I guess.
JARED: You saying that bc the teacher’s right there?
Z: [LAUGHS] Maybe.
JARED: Z wants to be at a normal high school – not a place he considers a jail school.
Z: I feel like the school’s worse than all the schools out there.
JARED: He doesn’t trust himself in this kind of environment.
Z: There's people throwing up gang signs, people rocking their bandanas in the hallway, all types of stuff. And me, just getting out, I don't want nothing to do with that. If they want me to do good, why would you send me to a school like that? You need to put me back in a normal setting.
[YOUNGER Z RAPPING: “Stay in school…”]
JARED: Z used to like school...when he was 12 he even wrote a rap about it.
[YOUNGER Z RAPPING: “You could be anything if you stick to school, you prob be rich, buy a house with a pool / chill with your friends, have a good time, mercedes benz, you know I want to drive / two years in college that’s a start / dream what you want to be, anything you want to be / you could be what you want Barack Obama / or you could reach the stars and be hot like a sauna.”]
JARED: Hot like a sauna...it’s cool, it’s catchy. But it’s also sad. Because now Z is really struggling to keep his head in the 10th grade. I meet him at his house the next week
JARED: You seem like you in a different kind of mood today. Man, do you feel like you’re at your wits’ end right now?
Z: Yeah, I think i’m at the end.
JARED: Are you proud of yourself though for not turning up like you wanted to?
Z: Ehh, a little bit.
JARED: Yeah, I know before you said that you feel like that’s the only way people give you their attention.
Z: True, when you one of those bad kids that’s constantly getting on their nerves, turning up, it’s like they always come first.
JARED: Why were you so angry?
Z: Cause I felt like nobody understands me. They feel like they’re me and they can tell me what’s going on in my life and how I feel.
JARED: How do you feel?
Z: I feel pissed off, I feel angry, I feel depressed.
[MUSIC FADES IN]
JARED: I don’t hear from Z for a few weeks. Eventually, I catch up with him and his mom at a diner.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
[BACKGROUND SOUND OF DINER]
JARED: So tell me about this school situation now.
Z: Ah, I actually got suspended.
JARED: For what?
Z: Throwing a chair.
JARED: Z pulled off a classic turn up.
Z: I feel like I don’t like getting out of character. I don’t even like turning up.
JARED: This is your first time turning up since you got out?
Z: Yeah, and I kinda felt embarrassed like, of myself.
JARED: Are you afraid you’re gonna flip out again?
JARED: He’s been out for two months now. But he has to stay out of trouble for another six months before the charge is wiped from his record.
Z: That’s the only thing that’s keeping me from flipping out.
JARED: Z’s just come from a court date. He was surprised he didn’t get locked up again.
JARED: Do you have any people that you can talk to about that kind of thing? Obviously you have your mother. You think maybe you can speak to a counselor or something like that?
Z: Yeah, I always speak to my counselor but still, talking… after a while, you get tired of talking. You want to take action.
JARED: You understand that what you’re saying is that if you don’t get your way you might flip out, and you could potentially get in deeper trouble with the law?
Z: Yeah, I know what I’m saying. I think I saw the system for what it was.
JARED: What is it?
Z: They take young kids like me and just ruin them.
JARED: But you’re acknowledging right now, that they’re trying to ruin you and you’re playing into their hands.
Z: Yeah… sometimes I feel like they beat me already.
[MUSIC FADES IN]
JARED: Z wasn’t always hopeless. He used to rap about staying in school. But now he feels like he’s in a situation where he’s destined to fail. He wanted to come out and be a regular kid… but it’s not as simple as that, because his leash is much shorter. When he has to go to court, he sees other kids getting sent back to jail for making the same mistakes he’s made.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
Z: It’s like you on the outside, you’re enjoying your life. As soon as you walk through that door, it’s like going to another dimension. How they say, there’s heaven and there’s hell… Back there, is hell.
JARED: The system has changed him. And now Z doesn’t know how to function on the outside. He even told me he called back to his old Close to Home facility just to talk to staff. Think about the significance of that. He’s calling a detention center.
Z: Everyday I wake up, everytime I go to sleep, I think about being locked up. I be having dreams.
JARED: And what happens in the dreams?
Z: I get locked up and I'm doing time and I remember standing in front of the judge and seeing everybody inside the courtroom and I just picture myself being remanded. They putting those tight handcuffs on me and bringing me to the back room locking me in the cell.
JARED: How often do you have these thoughts?
Z: Everyday. Everyday I wake up.
JARED: I lost touch with him for awhile, but then one day I got a text from Z’s mom. “He got arrested again.”
KAI: And so Z’s relationship with the criminal justice system continues. He calls Jared – this time from Rikers Island.
Z: Yeah, I been better.
JARED: What do you mean ‘you been better’? Tell me what’s going on.
KAI: Z says it’s the stupidest thing he’s ever done.
Z: It's bad enough I’m in here, I just need something to make my time go by. Like I don’t know, this is crazy.
JARED: Do you know where you going?
Z: Upstate in a couple of days. I can’t call nobody when I get up there, unless that one free call, that’s it.
JARED: I’m sorry. I’m sorry to hear that man. I mean, that’s unfortunate.
JARED: And so, he goes upstate. And we’re gonna go with him. We’re gonna to get back to Z’s story, as Caught continues.
[MUSIC FADES IN]
KAI: I’m back with Dwayne Betts… and Dwayne, as I think about Z, and where he stands now -- headed upstate, to an adult prison…
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
KAI: I gotta say, I get really pissed off about the fact that he’s gonna carry this shit around with him for the rest of his life. And we don’t know where his story’s gonna end, but whatever happens, he is surely gonna be emotionally scarred by this. By the fact that he’s spent most of his adolescence in custody...And obviously he’s got problems with his anger, and just with making good choices, but on the other hand, how do we know that’s not a consequence of being caught up in the system since he was 12 years old?
DWAYNE: Most of us do time inside and never have anybody evaluate us, coming in or going out. So we actually have no clue about where, like, where’s the center of the problem. What we do know is that some people develop a whole range of behaviors that complicate living for them, and for others. And it’s two challenges to that though, too, right? Because one is, if you're blowing up, if you're showing like extreme types of behavior, then people want to figure out how to manage you. And that's how you get treatment. But what if you aren't blowing up? What if everything is just going internally? Then you just coast and people never ask you how you’re emotionally dealing with this. I was talking to a friend of mine once. And me and this cat, we did two years in a cell together. He got locked up when he was 17. I got locked up when I was 16. And I know him well. I didn't know his mother died while he was locked up, and that they wouldn't let him go see her. He literally never talked about it. So there's this question of like, what do we ever know? And the ways in which the very structure of these institutions almost make it a healthier choice for you to have your vulnerabilities.
KAI: I mean Z did get that kind of help finally inside, right? I mean once he got the label of being severely emotionally disturbed, once that label was put on him, he was able to get some resources to go with that. But then when he left, as you say – when he left, coming out of detention, things fell apart because he wasn't getting that anymore.
DWAYNE: Right, so I think one of the points is that you find yourself in this ruthless Catch-22. You need attention because you have challenges that you're dealing with. And the only way to get attention is a certain kind of aggressive behavior. What happens to young people is they commit a crime, and we need to look at that crime as being so heinous, so dangerous, so violent that it deserves a kind of retribution, the kind of thing that's beyond punishment, that it makes us unwilling to look at the catch-22 that they were trapped in. And if we took a step back and really honestly said, some of these crimes don't warrant prison anyway, then maybe we would admit that we could more effectively deal with this in another fashion. We haven't had that- even my crime – I carjacked somebody. They focused completely on how heinous the crime is, but right now, I'm on government panels, I've been appointed to things by President Obama. I've been at Yale Law School. I mean all of those accolades, people think that that's an example of my rehabilitation and overcoming. And I think what it is, is an example of why we could have done something different with me when I was 16.
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KAI: Coming up, Z’s mom travels upstate to check on her son’s new life, in adult prison.
Kia: I wanted him to be normal and feel like, you know, he was home and he can eat and drink and stuff. So I went and wrapped up everything that he loves and put in a box and sent it.
KAI: That’s next, in our special presentation of Caught, a podcast we made a couple years ago and that, sadly, feels incredibly relevant right now. You can hear all the stories in the series by going to Caughtpodcast.org. We made caught in partnership with Radio Rookies, which is an incredible, award-winning program here at WNYC, and you can find more of their work at wnyc.org/shows/rookies. And here is everybody who worked on the initial release of this episode. This episode was reported by Jared Marcelle and Courtney Stein. Dwayne Betts is a consultant on the podcast. Cayce Means is our technical director. Hannis Brown is our composer and students Taja Graves-Parker, Alberto Lugo and Sean Gary from Building Beats provided additional music. Our team of talented producers includes Rebecca Carroll, Jessica Miller, Sophia Paliza-Carre and Patricia Willens, with additional production assistance from Caitlin Pierce. Michelle Harris is our fact checker. Kaari Pitkin is our senior producer. Karen Frillmann is our executive producer. And I’m Kai Wright. Thanks for listening. Caught is supported, in part, by the Anne Levy Fund, the Margaret Neubart Foundation, the John and Gwen Smart Family Foundation, and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
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