My First Chance at Changing the System for California Youth

One Young Man's Day of Legislative Visits

Editor's Note:

When Roy was a freshman in high school he was interrogated for four hours and later charged with burglary, all without understanding what he was being questioned for. Now at 23, he recently had the opportunity to share his experiences in hopes that they don't happen to others. Spending a day doing legislative visits turned out to be a day of great accomplishment.

                               Roy signing letters of support of Prop. 57 implementation to the CDCR.

I never actually thought about trying to make a difference across the state of California. However, on Tuesday, August 22nd, I was ecstatic to be part of efforts to push for juvenile justice reforms. 

My aunt, cousin and I woke up around 4am in the morning and left for Sacramento at 5:30am. This was my first trip to Sacramento. We were on our way to share our experiences with those who can make decisions that will impact thousands of youth across the state.

Once in Sacramento the large group of about 70, including the artist Common, split up into small groups to speak with legislators and their representatives. The visits with the different legislators were very interesting and they were surprisingly easy to talk to. They listened to our concerns and some asked us questions. We all spoke about how we really felt and how these reforms can be good for everyone.

My family didn't have very much when I was growing up, but I was still fortunate to have a family who loves and cares for me. I experienced my mother having cancer, losing my grandmother, and going to prison at a young age. It was very hard growing up going through what I had to go through. I will never forget the feeling of not knowing whether my mother was going to live or not. I wasn't the easiest son or grandson to have but my mother and grandmother showed me unconditional love. My mom raised me right; I just chose to do wrong. I was very manipulative and stubborn. I fell in love with the streets at a very young age and believed that was where I was supposed to be. I thought the streets would lead me to living lavish on a yacht, non-stressful, chilling with the patnas.

But now, I know where I’m supposed to be – working. I still want to live a luxurious life, but I now know I have to work and earn. Going to prison for two years – being in a cell – made me think different. Not being able to be with family, not having the freedom to just hop in my car and be where I want to be, that changed my long game.

And so the opportunity to speak to legislators last month about bills that highlight why it is unconstitutional for juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) and why a juvenile should receive legal counsel before giving up those rights, gave me the first chance to help prevent other youth from going through what I went through back in high school and give others the opportunity they currently don't have, of one day going home.

SB 394 would allow a young person who was under 18 at the time of his or her offense and was sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) to go before a parole hearing after serving 25 years of their sentence. This bill does not automatically give this person a ticket home but a chance at life again. I strongly believe that if someone was to parole because of this bill, people would take advantage of the opportunity and become something good in the world. I believe everyone deserves a second chance maybe even a third one.

SB 395 requires that before custodial interrogations by law enforcement, youth under 18 should be able to consult with legal counsel before they waive their rights. Unfortunately, a lot of our youth come into contact with police and don't have the capacity to comprehend their rights. I believe it's very important for a young person to understand their rights and to be able to understand what exactly they are waiving.

I unfortunately, have been through this situation. I was a freshman in high school and I was called to the principal's office. When I got there, I was approached by an investigator. He told me who he was and asked me to have a seat. I didn’t know why I was called there or what he was talking about. I was then interrogated for nearly four hours. I felt helpless and like I needed to be saved. The investigator kept asking me questions about my friends and what I knew. When it was finally over, I had never felt more relieved in my life, and I was glad to go back to class. I was read my Miranda rights only after he was done questioning. He said that they would come talk to me again.

My mother didn't know what had happened until I got home and told her. She was confused and kind of upset, but really didn’t know who to talk to about it. I put the incident out of my mind and then about a week or so later, I was charged with a burglary I didn't commit. The charges were later dropped – they knew I wasn’t there, but I feel that if I had had legal counsel, I would have been properly prepared for what I was going to endure those long dreadful hours. SB 394 is very important to have and could make transformative changes to the way youth and children first experience the criminal justice system.

I believe I made a difference in paying a visit to our state capitol to have my experiences and support heard about SB 394 and SB 395. I think it's important to make a difference in your community, city, state, maybe even the world. I've never felt more accomplished a day in my life because I feel I expressed every angle of the issues and their importance.

I would like to thank Debug for giving me this opportunity; for someone like me, it was absolutely different from what I am used to but it turned out to be a great experience and I would enjoy going again to feel that I’ve helped make a positive impact.

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