My oldest son was sentenced to California's youth prisons, called the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) in 2010 for assault when he was 16 years old. On one of our visits, my son told me that killing himself is his ticket out of DJJ. Imagine just for a second what it feels like to hear that from your child.
He’s attempted suicide 7 times in two years. When he hurts himself, he gets put in solitary confinement. He sits in a small dirty cell for more than 21 hours a day while he hallucinates and gets more depressed. Once, he didn’t eat for 7 days and no one bothered asking him what was wrong. He never had serious mental health issues before he went to DJJ. Now he takes more than 10 pills a day and constantly thinks about hurting himself. When we visit him, his body is scarred and his face twitches.
I need you to understand that this is standard procedure. Right now, youth prisons and juvenile halls can hold youth in solitary confinement for as long as they want. That's why I joined with Books Not Bars to write a bill that would end this torture of our children. On April 17, we fell one vote short of passing the bill out of its first committee. There were four legislators who didn't support us. All of them received thousands of dollars from the prison guard’s association in their last election.
Try to imagine what it’s like to get a call in the middle of the night and being told that your child tried to hang himself with a bedsheet. Then, being told that he stabbed himself with a fork. Then learning that he slit his wrist with a razor. And after that, getting a call because he broke a TV and used the wires to choke himself.
They don’t try to talk to him or give him counseling. Whether kids are getting into trouble or they are trying to hurt themselves, guards put them in solitary confinement. How is putting my suicidal son in solitary confinement supposed to help him? A psychiatrist talks to him for 2 minutes in the morning, then he stares at the walls for the rest of the day.
Every night I wish I could tuck in my son, give him the sign of the cross, and kiss him goodnight like I used to. But I can’t, and it hurts so much. I may not be a political insider or give millions to political campaigns, but that shouldn't mean politicians can ignore me or the thousands of other families who know my pain. There will be one more vote on this bill on April 24.
Will you help me make them listen?
Solitary confinement has been widely condemned as torture. Yet, California's juvenile facilities continue to engage in this harmful practice that has zero rehabilitative value. It does not address the root cause of misbehavior and often exacerbates disciplinary issues. For suicidal children, it worsens their mental health and increases their vulnerability to self-harming behavior.
This is unacceptable.
When the state takes custody of our children, they deserve to get education and programming that will help them put their lives back on track. Locking them up in isolation prevents them from getting the help they need. SB 1363(Yee) is a historic opportunity to curb this abusive practice. We strongly urge you to vote "YES" on this important legislation that will protect our children and encourage juvenile facility administrators to invest in effective alternative practices.