Interview with Tarsha Jackson
Tarsha Jackson is a community activist for incarcerated juveniles and their families, stemming from her experience as the mother of a mentally ill son who was incarcerated in the Texas juvenile justice system from ages eleven to sixteen for minor offenses. In Tape 1, Jackson discusses her early life and raising children as a young single mother; how her elder son first became involved in the juvenile justice system; describes challenges seeking access to mental health care within the system; details a violent altercation between her son and detention guards; and explains how her advocacy began with education reform for the juvenile justice system. In Tape 2, Jackson discusses her son’s release from the Texas Youth Commission (TYC); explains her strategies for keeping her younger son out of the system; how the juvenile justice system impacts families; how policing and the education system create a school-to-prison pipeline; details her work with the Black-Brown organization and the Texas Reconciliation project. In Tape 3, Jackson elaborates on issues of overcrowding in Texas prisons and the importance of family visits for the incarcerated; describes how she discovered and managed her son’s mental illness; and how her son’s incarceration impacted her personally. This interview took place on May 19, 2011 in Houston, Harris County, Texas.
CELESTE HENERY: Well, finally we are here today, it’s May 19th and we’re here with Ms. Tarsha Jackson of Houston, Texas, and my name is Celeste Henery. I am doing the interview and on videography is Virginia Raymond, and just wanted to say thank you, first, for being willing to do this, Ms. Jackson, and I wondered if you could begin by just telling us a little bit about your background and where you’re from, and—
MS. TARSHA JACKSON: I grew up in Houston, was born and raised in Houston, lived on the northeast side, large family, my mother had sixteen kids but at one particular time it was always eight, nine in the house. Very supportive, loving family. Of course, Mom spent a lot of time at home with the kids, Dad worked. Pastor’s children so we went to church seven days a week. I have a lot of cousins, a total of sixty-nine first cousins, and so when we were not in our neighborhood we would go to my grandmother’s house. We spent a lot of time there learning how to do crafts and sewing and playing instruments and they just provided everything that we needed there within our own community versus going outside the community.
So it was, as far as drugs and prostitution, we would hear about it but those were things that we never really witnessed because our parents and our grandparents and aunts and uncles kind of sheltered us from that type of environment. So it wasn’t fun, I mean, it was fun, we had a lot of fun but having a lot of brothers and sisters you have to deal with sharing but you always had someone to play with. You didn’t need any friends because you had enough friends out of the cousins and the siblings. It was great. Great parents, did what they can to provide, considering that my dad dropped out of school, I think he was in the second grade, to take care of his family, he’s older, but he managed to pick up a trade and take care of his sixteen plus additional two kids, that’s seventeen, eighteen children with no complaints. He was a great provider as well as my mom.
HENERY: And so can you also tell us a little about your early adult life and eventually how you came into activism?
JACKSON: My early adult life was, of course I was always this individual that was, not curious but I just was, just adventurous. I wanted to learn, see what was what and just be my own person and not what my parents wanted me to be or what my grandparents wanted me to be. Of course, I embraced the knowledge and education that they were giving me, but at the same time it was always something, I felt that I was different from my brothers and sisters. So, of course we moved a lot because of the large family but I always managed to be popular at school and it was kind of difficult moving and having to make new friends when I relocated to another location so eventually when I got old enough, which I don’t think fifteen was old enough, but I made the choice that I was going to move out and get my own place and I don’t agree with misinforming or giving wrong information but I did, I was able to get an apartment.
I got my first job when I was fourteen years old. I worked at McDonald’s and I cleaned that kitchen and I didn’t care. I was all about trying to do something, better myself and my most important thing was, I wanted to graduate. I wanted to graduate from high school. I wanted to graduate with my class. I wanted to live the normal, “the American Dream,” just to go to school and graduate so I worked full-time, went to school, had a car, and I eventually finished school and during that whole time never experienced any type of drug activity. There was, of course you had fights but fights back then was like, fist fights and no weapons involved. But my main focus was getting out of school, graduating from high school. I just wanted to graduate and do something different with my life.
HENERY: And so once you graduated, what did that look like?
JACKSON: Once I graduated, I was, okay, I was a grown woman now. I got pregnant, I had my first child. I did go and enroll in college but it was kind of difficult. I went to North Harris Community College. I majored in criminal justice and it was kind of difficult with the new baby and holding a full-time job and then trying to go to school so that was like something extra added to my plate so I had to pretty much drop out, so my younger years was all about just having a good time and providing for my baby.
My baby was my right-hand person. He was my pride and joy. Making sure that, of course, I had these dreams for him, the dreams that—what I wanted, coming up, that—I mean, my parents, like I said, they were great parents but they couldn’t provide me with the guidance I needed as far as knowing when you open a checking account, if your checks get stolen, to report ‘em stolen, or the importance of credits, your G.P.A., in order to get into a college and get a scholarship, and so when I had my son that was my goal, to educate him, make sure I groom him and train him to be successful and go to college and play sports, do whatever he want to do. You can do whatever you want to do as long as you put your mind to it but you need that support behind you to kind of like guide you so that you can accomplish those particular goals. But of course I had fun.
By this time, my boss at McDonald’s, he fired me, not because I was a bad worker, I was a manager but he felt that I deserved more. He felt that I needed to go out and explore other options and one thing he said to me was, you’re a great leader. So, I started working for General Electric and that was my first office job in corporate America which actually helped groom me to become more business-minded and encouraged me to go back to school because they had one hundred percent tuition reimbursement. Oo-woo, woo!
So, by that time I wound up having a second child and the thing about having children at, not really, say, a young age, yeah, I was young, I was in my early twenties, but I never considered myself as a statistic. Even though I was a single parent with two boys, I was like, okay, I have a job, I have my own insurance, I have a roof over their head, they don’t want for anything, they started out in pre-K day-care. I started their education very early so I didn’t consider myself as a statistic but as far as society was concerned, I was a statistic.
I was an African-American single parent woman with two kids. I tried to prove them wrong with my kids, with the activities and the goals that I had for my children. I’m getting them involved with extra-curricular activities at a young age, I mean, flag football at the age of four and T-ball even though they didn’t like T-Ball—they said it was too boring—and basketball and not just with them but with my little nieces and nephews, just getting them involved with something that would keep them from getting into any trouble because they weren’t getting into trouble then but just to make them realize, hey, you can do whatever you want to do, and life can be fun, you can enjoy it, and it was some things that I wanted to do that I didn’t get the opportunity to do at their age.
But of course, when I got to high school, though, I played basketball, I was in choir, I did everything. I was the athletic manager, the football manager, I ran track, I was in choir, I did rifle line, color guard, mascot, I was into doing everything. I just wanted to experience everything, and then I actually helped start the Martin Luther King Club at Spring High School because at Spring High School in my graduating class it was only ten Blacks out of four-hundred-some students so it was predominantly white, but it was fun. You had your skinheads running through saying “blow up all the Blacks,” but that didn’t bother me. I just got along with everybody.
HENERY: And you mentioned that you had, when you first went to college, that you were interested in criminal justice. What was that--?
JACKSON: Yeah, because I wanted to be an F.B.I. agent and I was like, okay, the way I can become an F.B.I. agent is, major in criminal justice or go to the Marines. I had that in my, you know, you have a memory book, what you want to do when you grow up or graduate, so my plan was to go to Sam Houston State because I know they have a good criminal justice department, but that didn’t work out, and I don’t know why it was criminal justice. I guess because, thinking back when I was in junior high school, I was going to Humble and I never got into any type of trouble at school, I was a good student.
The only time I got in trouble was when I was actually questioning some type of policy that they had at the school, like for example when I was in junior high school at Humble Middle School, we only could go to our lockers twice a day, that was before school and after school. So I felt that, I was coming up with these statistics that we’re going to have back problems because we’re carrying our book packs around all day long and so I organized a student locker sit-out where, when the first period bell ring, don’t nobody go to their class, we all sit at our lockers and they can’t give us all D-hall and I’m just rallying them, got them all excited and they did it. The students actually did it. They gave them all D-hall too, and they sent me to a thirty-day alternative school.
But when I got into trouble, it was for those particular reasons, and my mom, all she could do was just laugh, “That’s you. You.”
So I guess it was always in me, to organize. It was very convincing to the students because they actually did it.
HENERY: Did that surprise you?
JACKSON: Well, not really. Well, yeah, it did. I mean, of course I had them sign petitions, during lunch they signed the petitions that they will participate and on that day they kind of was a little hesitant. You had some that sat down and you had some that stood around and didn’t know whether or not they should or should not do it, but regardless, you were tardy the first period so everybody got D-hall so even if you wasn’t sure you wanted to do it, eventually everybody got D-hall regardless. If you didn’t sit down, you got D-hall because you were still standing out there. I was kind of, it was kind of fun. It was kind of fun.
The principal said, “You cannot change my school, Miss Jackson, this is my school.”
I’m like, “Okay.” I had some good times.
HENERY: And so you stand here before me as someone who has made a career and kind of a life choice around activism.
JACKSON: Yes, and people ask me questions all the time, how did you get into advocacy or activism. I mean, going from corporate America, self-employment in real estate, a lot of my career was in banking, then of course I taught myself graphic design and I started doing business development on the side for different other companies, setting up their business cards, logos, Web sites and so forth.
I mentioned I was in television and film, second assistant director of a movie, a motion picture, and worked as project manager for this particular production company. I also did concert promotions. I relocated to California and I was the promoter for a hip-hop funk rock group called the Flower Child. I was just enjoying life. I was just trying to find out actually what I wanted to do. Everything that I did, I always had two jobs. It was something that dealt with some type of organizing in the entertainment industry or television and film and it was banking, corporate America, learning me how to be professional and picking up all the training that they have available, because General Electric have good, like the Six Sigma, zero defect, really good. So it was just trying to balance and see where I wanted to be and where was I going to go in life, until, when I was in California, an incident took place with my son at the age of eight and they tried to charge him with sexual battery.
The kids were all out playing. They were at a young age, eight years old, seven years old, and the little boys dared Marcus my son, to hit the little girl on her hiney, and he did it. And before you know it, he was expelled from school, completely from the district. The police came in the house and took him out and questioned him like he had just committed this serious offense that I didn’t know anything about. And even the parent, she didn’t realize that it was going to get out of control or go as far as them trying to label him as a pedophile at age eight. These are little kids just out playing.
And so I started doing a writing campaign. I went to the N. double-A.C.P. [NAACP] while I was in California. I wrote to the Sun-Times, the Department of Education. I did a lot of writing but no one really cared. It was like, whatever, this is not my problem. And so I felt alone.
At the same time, I felt alone but when I went to court and saw, even, like I say my son was eight, I was in California, saw all these families there with these little kids that had only been on earth for seven, eight years and you’re trying to label them or criminalize them for childish behavior. It really ticked me off. It really, really ticked me off. It was just like, how can you, my son was, I mean, he was playing blue football, you know, I’m like, he’s just so sweet, you know what I’m saying?
Not to mention he had a mental illness but they were just kids in the yard playing and she was the only little, and little kids do that. If, if it was a crime, then I would have been considered a child molester, not a child molester, I would be in, I’d have a record. We’d all have records because I know we didn’t touch somebody as a little kid, but you correct that kid, you let him know it’s wrong, don’t do it no more, now if they go a little bit farther then you might need to do something but as far as just a hey, girl, tap ‘em on the butt because some of your friends, then there were other little boys and they urge and call you scaredy-cat at the age of eight, that’s peer pressure. Come on, you have to educate our kids.
So, I became kind of frustrated. I moved back to Houston. I said, okay, I got to go back to Houston because I really didn’t have any family there. I had friends but I just—It was kind of embarrassing. It was like, how can this be happening to me, because everything is going so well, the kids are—Actually, after they put him out of school I put them in private school and they were still playing their sports and just, a lot of support for them and they were good boys. Even the neighbors were like, what is going on, they couldn’t understand. But it was majority white. I was the only Black in that particular neighborhood. No, I take that back, there was two but I was the only Black on that street, and so I felt—And of course, Rialto [referring to the neighborhood in Rialto, California where she resided]: I figured that had a lot to do with it also.
So I relocated back to Houston, where I felt comfortable, where my family was at, where I knew I would have the support.
HENERY: Would you be willing to walk us through a little bit what it was like as a parent to confront the system, and what that actually looked like?
JACKSON: The first, the incident in California was just kind of like it was a joke. As a parent it was kind of frustrating: how can you put somebody through all this over some kids being kids?
And when we came back to Texas, we came back, he was nine, and of course he was in special education, and the special education department, the teacher, kept ticketing him. He was getting tickets constantly, I mean, of course you have a kid that’s bipolar and if you attempt to restrain him, because they don’t want to go into the time out room which is a dark room, they’re going to rassle, and you trying to restrain him and put them in there, of course that kid is going to rassle back, that’s common sense. But as a result that kid is given a ticket for assault and that was one of the ways that the school, you want to talk about that school-to-prison pipeline, the school got my son involved with the criminal justice system.
Now, as a parent, it was very frustrating to me because I didn’t have anybody to turn to. I didn’t know what to do. You go to these organizations that actually get all this funding to support the community and to be a resource to the community-- could not help me. Would not help me. Gave me the runaround. And so as a parent it was just, it was like, how can you, how can you just try to destroy somebody’s life like this, not just my life but you destroying my son’s life too because you’re making him think that he’s this bad kid and he’s not a bad kid, he has a mental illness that requires medical attention, medication, and if you step on, if you pull him by the arms, and try to throw him into some room, I mean, what do you expect a nine-year-old with a mental illness to do?
Me as an adult, if you, I mean, you see it every day on the news when the police is handcuffing somebody, that hurts, so if it hurt an adult just imagine a grown person trying to restrain a little kid.
So, eventually it became frustrating. I felt powerless. I felt that the system, it was, whether it was the education, the criminal justice, it was like, they were in control. They were like above the law, because they were doing, I mean, he was receiving tickets in the mail on days when he was not in school, so when that started happening, I was like, okay, I had to start thinking back on people that I knew, family members that I knew that had became involved in the criminal justice system in the late ‘nineties and that went to the Texas Youth Commission for minor offenses and I was noticing that when we would go, back then, when T.Y.C. was more engaging families, where you can go have a picnic out on the field, that was how it was back in the ‘nineties, so we didn’t think, I didn’t think anything of it. But I started paying attention, reflecting back on that time when I went to visit my brother and I saw the kids, they’re Latinos and Blacks, there, and I’m like, this has been, it’s been a set-up from the beginning. What they’re doing to my son is, they’re preparing to get him to the system.
So of course it was still nothing you could do because when you go to court you can’t afford an attorney. The attorneys, they can care less. I mean, they tell you to plead out. “Oh, they’ll just give you six months’ probation.” That’s the key word. Once they tell you to plead out, you can’t say, I’m not guilty, I didn’t do this.
I’ve never found a kid, ran into a kid that was actually innocent that did not get probation. If as a youth, if you get referred to the Harris County Juvenile Court, you will get probation. Bottom line. Because some adult said you did this. You don’t have a right to a trial.
They say you have a right to a trial but you don’t have a right to a trial unless you done committed some type of murder—they transfer you to the adult system on that. But you have no right to a trial. You don’t have a right to fair counsel because the counsel is just there, it’s like practice court for them, they can care less. They treat every case as if it’s all the same. They don’t look at each person as an individual.
So, I started reflecting and noticing all of this. I’m like, okay, but I still didn’t know what to do. I still didn’t know what to do. But I did speak up for my son. The judge, during the time when he was ten, eleven years old—oh, let me tell you about one incident. He went down to Harris County Juvenile, he was, they actually detained him for school. They referred him from school, detained him. They sent him to B.B. R.C.
HENERY: Which is what?
JACKSON: Burnett-Bayland Home [Burnett-Bayland Reception Center]. They did not give me a release date. They didn’t tell me. They just sent him. He was ten years old. And I’m like, okay, I’m sitting here as a mother not knowing. I’m like, okay, so when my child is going to come, I want to know when my child is going to come home. ‘Cause you, the judge, didn’t give me no date when my child was going to go, come home. So I need to know.
So, two months pass and by this time I called some advocate, activist in the community and I paid him $50 and he made a phone call to B.B.R.C., Burnett-Bayland Home, and my son was released the very next day.
So I’m like, this don’t make any sense. Of course, you know, when you’re on probation, anytime you get a violation, during that time you can go to T.Y.C. and when eventually, I don’t know if I’m jumping ahead, when they did send him to T.Y.C., that was the most horrific — I wouldn’t wish that on nobody. I wish it on nobody. To have the system take your family — you know, I never cry about this. I never cry about this. But to have the system take a little boy, he never robbed anybody, he never hurt anybody—
HENERY: If you want to stop, we can.
[Tape cut at 26:06]
JACKSON: Well, a little, a little breakdown there.
HENERY: So, you were talking about the Texas Youth Commission, or the T.Y.C., your first experience.
JACKSON: What made it so difficult was, we had just finished our, a basketball game, and Marcus, which is my son, was always a star player. Even though I was a single parent, and I used to feel kind of bad because their, the other athletes, the other players, their fathers were there or whatever, but you always found the fathers looking around looking like, whose son is that?
And I’m just sitting there like this proud mother, like, it’s my baby, because he was good, he was always dominating the court whether it was the football field or the court, he was always the star player, always made all-star team, he was just really good. So, we had just completed our, a basketball game, and he was at a neighborhood pool and a window had gotten broken but because he was on probation they took him into custody for the broken window which was a fifty-dollar broken window.
He said he didn’t break it. I had people come tell me that he didn’t break it. But no one wanted to get involved and go to court and tell the judge he didn’t break this window. They didn’t want to be a part of the system, so my son wound up, he, when he went in they held him because it was a violation, then from there he—I was fighting it, of course.
My mother was there. She was talking about, whatever I need to do, I’ll take him. He can come stay with me, not like I was a bad parent but it was just, we were just trying to keep him with his family because that’s where he needed to be.
So, of course the judge kept re-setting it and they wanted to do mental evaluations and things because he was under the care of M.H.M.R.A. and DePelchin Children’s Center. So, some kind of way the wires got twisted up, there was a communication gap with the agency. The right hand don’t know what the left hand is doing, so he wind up at B.B.R.C. At this time he’s eleven years old. Of course, we’re going back and forward to court. The judge at the time, which is Judge Ellis, which was a great judge allowed me to locate a place where he can go and stay for a couple of months and my insurance will cover it, to get him his mental health treatment, and that way he can still be closer to his family.
But going back to these attorneys, I had a court-appointed attorney because, whenever I was going to court I would do all the talking. The court-appointed attorney, you can just stand next to me and you let me do the talking because you’re not going to do anything to—I had to learn as I kept going because we was going to court a lot. I realize you’re not going to speak on behalf of my child. I’m his mother, I have to speak on behalf of this child, and I will bring other family members, other witnesses to come in and speak on behalf of my child because I know the court-appointed attorney was not going to do that.
I cannot afford my own attorney, and even if you hired your own attorney, you still was going to get probation. It doesn’t really matter. I mean, come on, you’re an African-American male. But anyway—
They went into court without me being present. Judge Ellis [Judge Mark Kent Ellis] set the court date. He said he was going to be on vacation that following week and we were going to set it for two weeks when he returned from vacation. That time I had to provide him with the hospital that I was going to send him to which was West Oak Hospital, already registered and everything, and I received a phone call on that Monday that Judge Ellis was actually on vacation from the attorney which was Jo Nelson saying that, “Why aren’t you in court?”
I’m like, my court date is not set until, we don’t have to go to court until next week.
“Oh, no, the Tacoma Center did not have any beds available.”
I said, Okay, what does that have to do with me being in court when Judge Ellis gave, given me an opportunity to use my insurance, let me pay for it, not the taxpayers, to get my, so my son could get treatment and still be with his family.
So, as I’m on the phone with her, I say, “There’s no way I can make it there because I’m at work.”
And she said, “Well, you need to get here.”
He has an aunt who works right down the street from the courthouse. I called her. I said, I need you to get to the courthouse, something is going on. When she got there, she said they were putting Marcus on the van, so obviously—
She said, Tarsha, she said, “I was running down the street, running, to try to get to the court” - which was a block away from her law, she worked for a law firm, and she just fell to her knees.
She said, “They made that decision before they even called you, they had already did what they was going to do.”
They went before a visiting judge that had no clue to what was going on with this case and he sent my son to the Texas Youth Commission.
And from that point, it was like, all right, what do I do? I didn’t know what to do.
So my main, my number one concern was his mental health, stable, because we had him stabilized, because when they go into the system they start taking medication from you, they change your medication up, and all the work that you done worked hard to get ‘em, they is all down the drain.
So I started going to Marlin.1 You remember, Marlin that got shut down, but Marlin, making sure they kept him on his medication, don’t change his medication, but they said, okay, we have to stop his medication because we got to do, re-do, an assessment.
Why are you re-doing an assessment when he’s already under the care of M.H.M.R.A. which you guys are affil—? What, just get the doctor in from M.H.M.R.A.? Don’t stop his medication to do your own assessment.
So, what they did was, they did their own assessment, completely stopped his medication, and come up with their own diagnosis: personality disorder. So, you’re diagnosing all the kids with personality disorder, when they have already been diagnosed with bipolar, A.D.H.D., been taking all the medications—people, don’t these people care? It was just, like, crazy.
So, of course, for me, it was, I was more afraid for him. I knew he was scared. I knew he didn’t know what was going on. He thought he was coming home and he was far away from home. He had never been away from home.
And so of course by them taking him off his meds—you can’t control a person with mental illness if you’re taking them off their medication, so he’s going to have quite a few outbursts, and those outbursts resulted in grown men coming in with helmets and shields, they call it, what, cell extraction or something — coming in to an eleven-year-old boy to beat him down, to keep him under control. Why do it take four and five grown men to restrain an eleven-year-old mentally ill kid?
As a result of one of these cell extractions they sent him to the hospital. They had to transport him to Waco Hospital. Now, you ask me what it’s like for a parent to receive a phone call on a Saturday night at eight p.m. and someone on the other end is telling you your son’s been rushed to Waco Hospital and you ask them what’s going on and they tell you nothing and there’s nothing that you can do, you in Houston.
And so I jumped, I got in my car, me and his aunt, the same aunt that ran to that courthouse and fell to her knees. We got in our car. We drove to Waco to the hospital. By this time they done transferred him out of the hospital and we got—it just so happened, God bless, there was a nurse there who gave us the medical records and the doctor said there was excessive force that caused his teeth to come through his chin. His bottom teeth, actually, where he had to have it, the incision closed from inside and out.
They, so, we got a room and the first thing the following morning, which was a Sunday, I went to the Marlin Police Department, had a police officer come and take pictures, I want to file charges, and if you saw my baby, that was the most hurtful thing. They had him in a paper bag, not only they had him in a paper bag, they said he was suicidal, his face was swollen, and this police officer which was a female, females are more emotional when it come to something like that, she teared, she just cried, tears came in her eyes. She took pictures of him and Jerome Parsee which was the superintendent of that facility came up and they said, we assure you an investigation is going to take place but of course they’re investigating their own allegations so you know they was going to cover it up. So, within two days they transferred him out.
I asked the news media, Randy Wallace here in Houston2, and Carolyn Campbell3 was trying to get information about the story.
They transferred him to Corsicana. I didn’t know that they had transferred him to Corsicana. I’m trying to find out where my baby’s at or whatever, and eventually I found out he was at Corsicana, went to see him, and they hadn’t followed any of the doctor’s orders. They never took him back to get the stitches removed, they just—I’ve had stitches before. If you don’t go get ‘em removed, it hurts. So they had this kid sitting there with stitches, mouth stitched up, and did not take him back to the hospital to, for his after-care.
But during that time I came back to Houston. I went to the N. double-A.C.P. I asked them for help. They didn’t help me here, same as California. The Black United Front, they wanted to charge me three thousand dollars.
So, I said, all right, I can’t get nobody to help me, fine. I see what—in fact, going back to my son’s incident, the assault on him by the guards, while I’m there it’s a boy sitting there with his hand in a cast, arm is in the cast, and his mother’s right there, and I’m like, what happened to him? I said, the police is here, you need to make a report, and she was too scared to make the report. And so when I got back to Houston I said, Okay, I can’t get nobody to help me, I’m going to have to help myself, I’m going to have to help them kids because them kids are being abused and being mistreated. They’re being neglected. They’re being treated like animals, so I printed out me some flyers. I stood downtown in front of the Family Law Center, the old Center, the Family Law Center, and I started passing out flyers. I generated a press release. I sent the press release out to the press and then some kind of way it got to try to -
I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just doing. I’m like, people need to know what’s going on.
Before you know, churches showed up and they had they bullhorns, they was like, these are God’s kids, and then people, of course, H.P.D. came out with their horses and stuff. Of course, we got a lot of attention. We was on the same page of Andrea Yates. Come on.
But they called us protesters. It was awareness rally. That’s what I was having, awareness rally, let them know what was going on in this building behind us. They were locking up our kids for childish behavior and when they were locking them up they did not care about what happened. They didn’t know what was going on after they left the Harris County. They didn’t know what was going on in T.Y.C. They didn’t know that kids were dying. I mean, I met parents who had kids that actually died. It was covered up, and I wish I could find these parents to this day. I mean, my heart went out to them. It, it just-- It just really destroyed our family.
Anyhoo. Anyway, I started doing awareness rallies and of course not knowing that that’s when policy directors and state representatives realized that—I saw that it was parents out there that was, was concerned, because they had bills that they had authored but they had nobody to testify on. And so they approached me and asked me would I testify and I’m like, for sure, I will testify with the bill.
Basically the first bill, the one that we were working on in 2004, I don’t recall the bill name but the bill name was conditions of confinement of representations of minorities in the criminal justice system, extended length of stays, the abuse, and it was some other bullet points to that particular bill but it was mainly outlined according to my son’s case. You have an African-American young man at the age of eleven sent to the Texas Youth Commission sentenced to nine months for a broken window and he winds up spending three and a half years.
But, during that time, let me step back a little bit, during that time before I did my—well, actually, Sylvester Turner and Allison, they were wonderful. They were just, they were just great.
HENERY: Can you tell us who they are?
JACKSON: Sylvester Turner is my state representative4 and Allison Brock is his chief of staff and they were very supportive of – Senfronia Thomas, of course, she followed up, I wrote a letter to her in reference to the abuse, the incident that took place when they had to rush him to the hospital, as well as other things that was taking place as far as taking him completely off his medications. She followed up.
My state representatives, even [U.S. Congresswoman] Sheila Jackson Lee. She couldn’t get involved and her chief of staff at the time was Angel, can’t remember her last name, but she always inquired about what was going on with my son, but she couldn’t get involved because it was state and she’s federal. So, but she wanted to stay, remain up to date on what was going on.
But prior to, Allison and Sylvester Turner, they actually encouraged me to get involved with other organizations and so the first organization that I got involved with was ACORN, ACORN of the very well-diverse, and I just started working with them on housing and education and of course you had -- Katrina didn’t come ‘til later -- minimum wage increase, the Justice for Janitors,5 so I started just getting out in the community and that started actually helping me.
I was focused on what was going on with my son but at the same time as I’m out networking and meeting all these organizations that’s out here that have different aims, it was an opportunity for me to let them know what was going on in the criminal justice system that nobody wanted to talk about, that little silent secret that Texas was keeping under cover.
So, and ACORN was very supportive, like the rallies that I would have, the members would come out and be there, and when the people see numbers, they’re like, Okay, we need to pay attention, especially state representatives. So, of course you had Harold Dutton,6 all of a sudden, Representative Harold Dutton got involved. Senator Whitmire 7was our number one fan and that was when we were like, because we came back too, during interim session, we came back and we started testifying here locally and so it was just, a lot of eyes became on, because of the, I wouldn’t say, how would you say it? Just because of the attention I was bringing to what was going on in the system.
It’s like everybody started kind of like paying attention. They wanted to have hearings and find out what are they doing, and T.Y.C. always had everything on point. They would walk in with their books and they just, like, we got this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and I’m something like, they is just making this up as they go but the representatives was buying it because they had documentation to support what they were saying which was false documentation. That’s just my personal opinion.
But it’s like, it became, okay, so, with my son, it became more, it was no longer about him. I mean, I love, I love my son to death, I love him so much, and to this day I kind of feel like, I ask myself, am I the reason why he spent more, three and a half years?
And I know a lot of it was retaliation. They kept extending his stay because Ms. Jackson was out running her mouth, bringing attention to the agency. And another example of bringing attention to the agency was, they were promoting the kids to the next grade, they were, kept promoting the kids and so my son, they had promoted him to the eighth grade if I’m not mistaken and I said, “What are you guys, your framing of your class, what is, how is your classes set up?”
He said, “Oh, we don’t go to class.”
I say, “What?”
He said, “We don’t have no teachers, they just give us a piece of paper and they tell us to do it and we turn it in.”
I say, “Now, hold up, so they’re promoting you guys and you don’t have any teachers?”
So he said, “Yes, ma’am.”
So I’m like, “Okay, you setting all these kids up for failure. You’re setting every last one of them up for failure, not just mine, every last one of them.”
So, I didn’t, so of course the advocates of Southwest Key, Dr. Juan Sanchez, I have much respect for him because he stepped out and helped form Texas Coalition Advocating Justice for Juveniles with, that was compiled of a lot of organizations that was working on behalf or coming up with policy around juvenile justice reform and Priscilla and the N.A.A.C.P., eventually, everybody, noise I start making, all of them start coming out.
But Dr. Juan Sanchez, given the fact that he had contracts with the Texas Youth Commission, and he was actually advocating against the Texas Youth Commission, not just against them but just requesting, treat the kids right. He lost his contracts. They came in the middle of the night and marched them kids out of these facilities here in Houston. So I have much respect for him because that let me know, you really care about them kids because you lost your contract. That’s your money, you know what I’m saying? So with the support of Southwest Key, they really couldn’t help me because they’re not attorneys, they had attorneys, but they guided me and I appreciated them so much more for that, for not doing a lot of the work for me but guiding me and educating me on how to do it.
So, I filed a due process with the Department of Education. I made a complaint against the Texas Youth Commission that they’re promoting kids, they have no teachers, et cetera. The Department of Education did their investigation. Come to find out, they didn’t have no teachers, so the Department of Education and T.Y.C. and my own self, we had this huge meeting in Beaumont to where the Department of Education gave T.Y.C. a time frame to get stuff together and then they had to re-test the kids to see where these kids actually were on their grade levels, and so when they re-tested my son he was on the second grade level, but I’m like, when he got there he was on the sixth grade level so you just destroyed his brain, everything he ever learned or knows.
After that, it was like, Tarsha Jackson’s bringing too much heat to T.Y.C. Dwight Harris wanted to have a meeting with me. That was the chief executive of T.Y.C. at that particular time. I went and met with him and me and him and Linda Reyes we sit there and we talk. I have a witness with me every time I have a conversation with them. And soon as I leave, I send them a confirmation e-mail recapping what we discussed—“We didn’t discuss that, Ms. Jackson, I don’t know where you’re getting that from.”
I’m like, okay, these people, this is crazy. It’s crazy, but it was fine. That was fine, because eventually the day will come and the day did come.
So I just kept trying to love my child, be there to support him, support the other kids, support the other families that had kids in the system and that’s when we formed Texas Families of Incarcerated Youth which actually was an extension from Texas Coalition Advocating Justice for Juveniles, because that was during legislation session and then of course we realized the parents needed that continual support of each other during the time while their kid is in the state because the building passed that session.
I think Moreno died after leaving Houston so everything kind of like halted but the parents still needed that support from each other and it was a great support group.
We continued to just keep things moving, well, what we going to do next session, we need to get a bill passed. We need to get a bill passed. And so Hinojosa authored Senate Bill 103 and I know I’m going on about legislation, there’s so much stuff, I know I’m going on about legislation, but he authored Senate Bill 103 and you know what, everything happen for a—I won’t say—yeah, it happens for a reason.
That, the sexual scandal in West Texas, that right there, it was like, I mean, for me it was like, okay, we been sweating and doing this and doing that, and finally, boom.
But they already knew this stuff was going on. It’s not like it just happened. They knew it was going on for years, probably decades, but they act like they was so shocked. You wasn’t shocked. You knew this was going on. But it really brought pleasure to see the Texas Rangers go in there and arrest Jerome Parsee and staff members that was abusing and neglecting and beating them children. I mean, for me, I don’t like to see nobody go to jail, but it was just—they, it was needed. It was needed. The agency was out of control. They felt untouchable.
And so that right there was the best day of my life. And my son came home to what, April the twentieth. When Jay Kimbrough took over, he was like, Marcus coming home, Ms. Jackson. He coming home.
Even though I spent thousands of dollars, I spent anywhere from twenty, well, I spent almost twenty-five thousand dollars on an attorney because they was trying to reclassify him as a violent offender and they was trying to extend his stay after he was already left for three and a half years and the statement I made to the superintendent over at [Marlin], I’m like, first of all, you guys have had my son for three and a half years. If you haven’t changed him or did what you so-called supposed to do within three and a half years, you not gonna do it, sweetie, it’s time for my son to come home.
But little did we knew as parents with our kids being locked up and confined and neglected for three, four years, they came out, all of them, I mean, when I talk to all the different parents, all our kids were like, they were clones of each other. They all came out with post-traumatic stress disorder, manic depressive, I mean, seriously suicidal. Marcus was schizophrenic, tried to commit suicide twice, so it was like, even though your child was in the system, we were in the system the whole time they were there.
It’s not, just because he was there, I was locked up too. I was locked up, too, because it’s like I lost, I went through a depression and a lot of parents, a lot of parents did, they, a lot of parents to where it really broke their bodies down to where they’re in wheelchairs, couldn’t walk, some parents became bedridden, some of them had nervous breakdowns and some of them wound up incarcerated and I was just one of those parents that had to keep doing.
I couldn’t, I just couldn’t let it stop there. Regardless of what happened with the scandal, the agency, the whole purpose of the agency is to make money. Prison, the prison system is about money, so they got to make money and they’re going to continue to lock up kids so I have to come up with a way of keeping these kids in the community, at-risk youth, because all of them don’t deserve to be locked up. I mean, there’s some that need some special attention but all of them don’t.
So Marcus came home. Yeah, all the kids came home, the parents that were working with them and we continued supporting one another.
[END TAPE 1]
VIRGINIA RAYMOND: That was one hour down.
CELESTE HENERY: Is there a part you want to pick up on, Ms. Jackson, in terms of, your son came home?
MS. TARSHA JACKSON: Yeah, he came home, and as I mentioned, the kids, they all came out with post-traumatic stress and other issues and so I had to deal with a lot, utilizing the mobile crisis unit to come and have him hospitalized when he would have a breakdown.
But he wanted to be a part of, he wanted to experience school. That’s something that he never experienced and that was something that kind of like frustrated me about, with the district, the school district, because they wasn’t equipped and qualified and didn’t know how to deal with youth, kids with mental illness. They would isolate them away, they would isolate them from other kids, so they had a special school that they went to but he never, I mean, he wanted to play basketball, he wanted, because he loved basketball, he wanted to play for school and so I knew he wasn’t ready but I said I might as well let him try, since he was back on his medication and different things like that.
So, of course, I went on and enrolled him in school. The school set up a special program for him. I’m thinking he was in the eleventh grade because when he got out he was sixteen years old, so my son was gone from me from eleven to sixteen. So, they set up a special program.
Advocacy, Inc.,8 was very involved, right-hand, just my right-hand people, support. I had a great support group of organizations, advocates, and so forth. So, but, I still didn’t think he was ready. The second day of school, there was an incident to where they threatened to call me and of course he, that post-traumatic stress disorder, he had a flashback of what happened to him in the Texas Youth Commission and he threw a chair.
And so of course the police arrested him, took him back to jail. By this time he had only been out for about a couple of months, three months. And so they took him to jail and the school district didn’t realize the seriousness that, what was going to happen, so the superintendent wrote a letter of Klein I.S.D. Advocacy, Inc., wrote a letter, M.H.M.R.A. wrote a letter. Everybody did to say, we’re here to support him, so just release him.
So we went to court and they were gonna release him. The judge was going to release him. It was just the weirdest thing. After we provided him with the letters of support, the bailiff came behind him and of course a kid with post-traumatic stress disorder, when you step into their space, they become hostile. They become hostile. You cannot step into their space because they’re paranoid and they just, you know, I mean, not, he wasn’t hostile to the bailiff but it just caught him off guard because he didn’t know what this man was about to do that was walking behind him, and so when the bailiff walked behind him and grabbed him he jumped and within a split second the judge said, “Oh, no, you not ready. You going to boot camp.”
So, after spending all those years, three and a half years in T.Y.C., he spends a year in Harris County waiting to go, we fighting his case, this petty case, so he spent a total of four and a half years locked up and you send him to boot camp? He don’t need boot camp. This is a child with post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s schizophrenic. He got some issues. He needs some mental health treatment, not nobody yelling in his face telling him to pick up some rocks. He don’t need no boot camp. But they sent him to boot camp anyway.
After spending three months in boot camp, of course, Emily Powell, I don’t know if you guys know, she’s a documentarist, she was, her crew was coming down there. We had been working on a documentary with Marcus so they were continuing it at the boot camp. By this time Marcus was just opening up. He was letting, telling them things that I didn’t know that had took place in T.Y.C. Sexual abuse, et cetera. And so the probation officer made a request to go back to court and I give him much respect for that because I never met a probation officer like that, just forgot, wasn’t much about money, wasn’t about—he didn’t care if he got fired. He made a request to go back before the judge to tell that judge, this boy needs to be at home. This boy needs to be with his family, he needs to be with loved ones. Keeping him locked up is not the answer. You say he’s a menace because he broke a window. You’re, the system is making him into a menace. They’re making him hate people. He needs to go home.
And the judge released him home. He came home. He was doing okay. We got him back on his medication. Me and him started going through counseling because, of course, I had some issues that I was dealing with because I spent a lot of my time back and forth with T.Y.C. I just felt that this wasn’t supposed to have been my life. My children wasn’t supposed to get locked up. They was not supposed to be involved with the system. My kids supposed to be going to prom and getting ready to go to college and this and that, but then after a while I had to realize that we can have all these plans and all these dreams for our children and it might turn out different, and it’s up to you and it depends on what type of person you are, how you accept that and use that to better yourself, your kid, and other people, and so that’s what I had to do with the experiences that I was going through with my son, my oldest son Marcus [Marquis?]. Not to mention, keep in mind, I have two boys so I was getting a double dose.
My youngest boy, my whole thing with him was trying to prevent him from getting involved in the system because I saw what the system did with my oldest son. We don’t want you in the system. I did everything I can to keep him from getting in the system. He was in fifth grade. They ticketed him for spitballs. I went to court. I asked for a jury trial. I want the public to see what you guys are sending these kids to court—you are making these kids —
See, the thing about children, and I know I’m jumping around, but the thing about children that I learned from dealing with my own personal experience and from kids, my nieces and nephews, keep in mind I have a large family, a large family—a niece, an honor roll student, she made one mistake and her whole world been turned upside down. She done went from being an honor student to just not caring because the system has made her out to be a bad person because she made one mistake, versus correcting her.
That’s what would happen with our parents, our parents corrected us. They didn’t say we were bad. They said, just don’t do it no more, sweetie, Mommy love you. Showing them love.
That’s how you encourage and you keep kids, make them want to be a part of life. But when you make them out to be these bad villains because they wrote they name on a sidewalk and you want to call it graffiti, when we used to sit up there and write, do chalk, play hopscotch, we all would have had tickets. The system now is criminalizing every type of childish behavior and it’s happening in the minority communities, I mean, in mass numbers and so it’s really like, kind of ticking me off.
But anyhoo, anyway, going back to my youngest boy, my youngest boy, the spitballs, I moved him from school to school, I put him in private school, I did everything. So, I’m dealing with my youngest boy but then also I’m dealing with T.Y.C., the stuff that’s going on with T.Y.C. with my oldest and so it’s becoming—but my youngest boy, he’s still in sports, he’s still playing the football, basketball. I’m doing everything I can to keep him, “Marcellus just don’t get involved with the system.”
He finally did, at the age of sixteen. Honor student. Now, I won’t say honor student but he’s an “A” and “B” average student, athletic, he’s an athlete, and he—popular, but he was with a total of seven boys and they had a joint on ‘em and they charged all seven of them with one joint. Come on. Why would you give this boy that had never been in trouble before?
Now, the ones that was seventeen years old went to the adult system so they got time served, they didn’t get no record, but because my son is sixteen, he, they, I mean, he stated, “It wasn’t mine, it wasn’t mine.”
The courts don’t care because you was referred by a police officer or adult, whatever, you automatically guilty, and they convince you to take deferred plea, no contest, and you get in the system, and so that’s what happened to my youngest son, that I’m dealing with right now. He has to go to drug classes. He don’t have a drug problem. I smoked marijuana. I mean, come on. We all have done something in our life. We not all walking, these perfect people. That don’t make us people that, with problems. But that’s the way society and that’s the way the system is designed now, so I told Marcellus, you’re not a bad kid, sweetie, our system is screwed up, just do what you gotta do and they will seal your record. They promised you that they will seal your record because I was asking for a jury trial. They thought I was crazy.
I wanted a jury trial. We went to court, like, four times, and they was like, okay, Ms. Jackson.
I said, I want jury.
Marcellus, my son, my baby boy, he said, “Mama, we just can’t keep coming down here. Just whatever they say.”
I say, no, sweetie, if you say it wasn’t yours, you have a right to confront your accuser. That’s our right, our civil right, our human right. You have a right to a jury trial and let the jury decide if you should get a six months’ probation for a joint that seven people was supposed to have been smoking on. Come on!
So, he, now he’s like, oh -- he walking around, “They violated my civil rights,” somebody at the schoolhouse told me. But he’s a sweet, he’s a good kid, my pride and joy, and he keeps, he kept me going.
He kept me from losing it with Marcus because Marcus, like I said, that was my first, that’s my first, my oldest, and my baby. So, the system is a boogerbear. I get to talking, so—
HENERY: Could you talk a little bit about what you witnessed in terms of, and heard, in terms of the stories of other parents as well, that just gave you a bigger picture of how serious the situation was?
JACKSON: You talking about like, in the Texas Youth Commission or just in the juvenile system in general?
HENERY: Any, exactly. Yeah.
JACKSON: Like, for example, I’m known as this parent, a lot of people know me, and they give me a call if they have a problem or whatever and so I, like, run down there and pretty much act as an advocate on their behalf but you have, like, for example, I was talking about the two little girls that wrote their names on the sidewalk and they were charged with graffiti but it was just their name, come on. And then it happened in the neighborhood and the police goes up to the school and handcuffs them in front of everybody and takes them to jail. One of them just so happened to be seventeen years old so she goes to the adult system.
And then, another case is where the same little girl, when I go to the jailhouse, they have her handcuffed and I’m like, it’s a big sign, says she’s not a violent offender, she’s not a threat to anyone, so you need to un-handcuff, you need to take them cuffs off of her, because she, she, you went to the school and picked her up, this is something that could have been taken care of by the homeowners’ association, et cetera. You find the police getting involved with a lot of incidents that they really shouldn’t be getting involved with. I mean, these people should be given a fine, say don’t do it no more. The fine would make them realize, don’t do it no more, et cetera.
So, that’s one case, and that little girl, eventually, is still in the system. She’s, in fact she would have turned herself in on the traffic ticket, she’s just, like, “Whatever, I’m a criminal now.”
I’m like, no, sweetie, you’re not a criminal. They just criminalized your behavior. You were just being a kid, so, don’t, you’re not a bad person.
And then it’s another individual that was in school. Peer pressure, which I know, pulling the fire alarm is a felony, but this was an honor student. She pulled the fire alarm and she picked up a felony record and her life hasn’t been the same since.
So, then it’s like, I just, I mean-- Cases like that, and then there’s one little boy, he actually served, they gave him six months in a facility for truancy, and see, I work on the J.D.A.I. initiative.
HENERY: What is J.D.A. I.?
JACKSON: Oh, acronym. The Annie E. Casey Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative.
When Senate Bill 103 passed during the Texas scandal, Governor Rick Perry requested Annie Casey9 come in and help reform the juvenile justice system, so Texas, in Texas, Dallas and Harris County are model sites. So, I am on the D.M.C. [Disproportionate Minority Confinement] Task Force [which is part of the Harris County Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) and identifies areas in which racial disparities appear to exist and to work with other JDAI Task Force committees to develop strategies aimed at eliminating bias] as well as the Self-Inspection Task Force and so—I’m also on an ad hoc committee to where I review cases, which is in confidentiality but I see the kids that’s there, and a lot of them do not belong there, shouldn’t be there, and I think just from reviewing a lot of the cases, you have a problem with probation officers and the system in general individualizing these cases versus making them all, everybody the same.
Or even making them more family-focused, to find out what the family needs are, to prevent this kid from going back into the system or even getting involved in the system. A lot of them are encouraged to call the police, the only way they can get help with their at-risk youth, ‘cause kids, they go through, like, when we get older, when you get older, you probably go through menopause, kids going through some stuff too, you know?
I mean, you just have to understand them and get someone who can relate to them. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they just praise them. Sometimes parents just have a lot on they plate, they don’t want to deal with them, but they’re being encouraged to call the police on their kid, and I’m telling them, don’t call the police on your child unless you feel like you completely, really, seriously threatened or whatever. Call a special unit, a special unit, and have that person, that child, transferred to a mental health facility. That way, you do not get your child, do not put your child in the system.
I don’t encourage any parent to put they child in the system. Find, figure out a way to fix it without involving the police, but right now, the community, they don’t know, and that’s why I’m out here letting ‘em know, every day.
We do workshops, do not involve the police unless it’s necessary, I mean, you really, really, really need ‘em, because sometimes you can handle these kids, but you have some kids, like I was sitting in court, I mean, with my son, and of course with my son we been going back and forth to court, I got a chance to speak with some parents. Well, one parent, she called the police on her daughter but she said she feel like she’s the one on probation and she’s the one that, and that’s the way the system, they make you feel like, they put the parent, the whole family is on probation, bottom line. It’s like, the whole family is in the system and it shouldn’t be that way and they don’t know. They destroy families.
That’s most of what it is—they destroy families. The mood. I mean, before Marcus went to T.Y.C., and I was just like, football team mom, and run around making brownies, and mums and stuff for the kids, and it’s like you lose that spirit. You lose that urge to have all the little kids over to watch the playoff game, make them some nachos you sit back and you just enjoy it with the little teenagers. I don’t feel that anymore because I feel that a big part of me is missing and it’s been missing for a long time.
And I look at my son now and the situation that he’s in right now, which he is currently in Harris County Jail, but I’m like, I didn’t raise him. The State of Texas raised him. If you look at Marcellus, the child that has been with me, and you look at Marcus, the child that was raised by the State of Texas, that’s their fault. They need to take responsibility for making criminals. They need to take responsibility for jail overcrowding because they’re the one doing it.
I know, huh. Yeah, it just-- I’m like, I didn’t raise him. He’s still the sweetest kid but they took his whole life from him. I mean, he didn’t get a chance to do nothing and then of course when he got out it was culture shock. I mean, everything had changed.
He was working on computers when he was five years old. I used to get e-mails from Yahoo, A.O.L., with the parental control that he typed in something he had no business typing, but I mean, I look back, he didn’t, missed getting a chance to go to a prom. He done missed getting a chance to go to a high school dance. He didn’t get a chance to do anything because it was taken from him all because the system assumed that he was a villain because they did not prove that he did not break that window, and even if he did break that window, it didn’t deserve locking somebody up for so many years. No. No. Not at all. Nobody deserve that. Nobody.
HENERY: Do you work with incarcerated youth in general, beyond just parents?
MS TARSHA JACKSON: I don’t work directly with incarcerated—well, I take that back, within the past couple of years I’ve been pretty much working, focusing on the Texas Reconciliation Project but prior to that I was making visits to the Texas Youth Commission facilities, Edinburg, they’re all out there about, what, eight hours, and nobody go out there and check on ‘em so we would go and check on them, talk with the parents, talk with the kids, they’d be straightforward.
Of course, after Cherie Townsend took over [as TYC Executive Director] they were very open with letting T.5 come in [a Texas Families of Incarcerated Youth (TFIY) and Juvenile Initiative project, sponsored by The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition], representatives of T.5 come in and talk with the parents and talk with the youth and find out, do they know about the changes that have been made, and one of the interesting things was when I would do the workshops, like in Beaumont, I did one in Beaumont on Marlin.
The important thing is letting the families know how the system was, prior to their kids becoming involved with the system and encouraging them to take advantage of every opportunity that’s available to them because our kids didn’t have that opportunity. Our kids didn’t have the opportunity to sit in a classroom for eight periods or seven periods with a teacher and actually learn. Our kids didn’t have a red phone to where they could call and get some help if they felt that they was being abused. Our kids did not have a secret way you can file a grievance with confidentiality, where allegations of abuse are being investigated somewhere else. Our kids didn’t have a Parent Bill of Rights and a Youth Bill of Rights.
So, letting them know the important, because the bill is really extremely huge, but letting them know what we as parents went through and what our kids went through and the changes that have been made so that their kids don’t have to go through the same thing, take advantage of it.
So, I found that very helpful because a lot of parents didn’t know about how T.Y.C., didn’t know that T.Y.C. was the way it was before they got there. They didn’t know anything about no bill, they didn’t know anything about no scandal, so that’s how I do the workshops here, even locally. I update them on the bill and thanks to the material from Texas Appleseed, I use that, how to navigate through the juvenile justice system, knowing your rights when your kids get in trouble at school, it’s another one, and of course it’s in English and Spanish, and just kind of helping the parents, helping them on things I didn’t know.
If you don’t know, it’s just like—and that makes them, that’s even more depressing when you don’t know, so just to know you have somebody to go to and talk to and somebody to have information is really, really good, and so I think that’s one of the reasons why my youngest son never received any referrals from school, because I started knowing my rights. I knew my rights. I knew to call a meeting and let’s confront—I never took his side. I wanted to get the whole story before anything go any further.
And of course there was a high referral to alternative school, which is the number one, where a lot of the kids wind up in the juvenile justice system from alternative school. Alternative school, the only thing it is, is like a mini-jail. It’s like a holding tank before you get to the regular juvenile detention or adult system if you’re seventeen years old. They walk in, they go through the metal detector, they get stripped down, just like they in jail. Yeah.
HENERY: Could you talk more about that, because I know you mentioned it before, the kind of school-to-prison—
JACKSON: Like the alternative school? See, like, right now, in this area it’s majority African-American /Latino and you have Highpoint, which is ran by the [Harris County] Department of Education[H.C.D.E.] but also the local sheriff’s department, and what they do is, the kids are referred to Highpoint for, I mean, say for instance you got, you had five tardies or ten tardies and they turn—they send ‘em for that, or if you had so many classroom disruptions, they send ‘em for that.
So that, the whole thing about Highpoint, it’s so institutional, it’s, it’s like a jail, I mean, and the way they have it set up is that parents cannot drive directly to Highpoint. You have to actually get up and take your kid to a location which is not, probably about fifteen minutes away from your house, and when you pull up to that location you’re going to have at least a good seven or eight police cars out there, standing. I mean, they just-- you’re going to have to check it out. I mean, you have about eight police cars, probably more than that, standing out there, and some police are standing outside their cars as the kids are standing waiting for the bus to come so they can get on the bus.
Once they get on the bus, they transport them to the school. When they get off to school, each one individually have to go—they cannot take anything, they can’t have, no jewelry, no, it’s white, whatever shirt, pants, no belt, no nothing. You walk through, you go through the metal detector, and then of course they search you and once they search you, you have to stand up against the wall and then you do it again.
My experience from being on the self-inspection task force when I went through the process of what do you go through when they do go into the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center—it’s the same process. The only thing is they not making you take a bath. It’s the same process. So I say it’s just a little holding -- a little, okay, you mess up there and the sheriff is already right there.
One time I went there, the sheriff was sitting in the back, Harris County Precinct 4, was sitting in the back and just writing, he had a stack of tickets, just writing tickets, just writing tickets, just like—What?
And the reason why I noticed that was, Marcus, my son, he was actually at one of those schools, it’s called A.B.C., that’s what H.I.S.D. used, and he went straight to-- I mean, it’s just, they take you right on to juvenile detention.
Yeah. It’s a set-up. It’s all a set-up. And when you go out there, I mean, you see some, and when we say Black, brown, but you see low-to-moderate income whites out there. Anybody that’s low-to-moderate income and don’t have the means to pay for an attorney, they’re going to be there. They’re going to be there.
If you live in a certain area, because they did it with the redistricting, when they built Dekaney High School the whole purpose of the building of Dekaney High School from Spring I.S.D. was to redistrict and move all the African-American kids or people who lived in housing apartments into that particular school. That’s why you see a lot of riots. I know you just probably saw it recently when it was on the news, a major riot, and they’re always having riots. And it’s not just students, the teachers be fighting too. Oh, yeah, girl.
Yeah. So, my main thing is, my son, I don’t say I lost him. I feel that he’s going to come out of the situation that he’s in. I feel very confident of that. But I want to understand what these kids are thinking. We talk to the parents and the parents say, you never know the whole story. We can only go off of what our kids say or what we see. I go off of what I see, personally, because I’m always going to do my research before I accuse or anything.
But a lot of time these kids are going through some things and they have no one to talk to. Adults are always right as far as they are concerned and so they tend to get frustrated. For example, I had a phone call today from my son’s school. He’s in in-school suspension for a week because he was skipping seventh period. Okay, you need to suffer the consequences for your actions. However, he was tardy to class. When he walked in the class the teacher told him that he was going to give him an additional day.
My son gets upset, puts his headphones on, and just block everybody out, so of course he had to go to the office. The principal called me a couple times before you guys showed up here. So, she said, can you talk to him, he won’t take the headphones off and it’s loud so my son gets on the phone.
I say, Marcellus, I said, what happened? I asked him what happened. He explained to me what happened and I explained to him, I said, Marcellus, I know why you put the headphones on, because you were angry. You felt that you should not deserve, you don’t deserve another day of detention, but there’s a way to handle these situations and that’s what we need to start —t alking to this kid with love, versus uuuuh, you just bad, like what the teacher did, giving you another day, versus asking him, why were you tardy, let’s see what we can work out or whatever.
But Marcellus, his response was, “I’m going to put the headphones on and be defiant.”
So I knew that’s what he was doing, so as I’m talking to him, I say, you put the headphones on because you were upset, because he told you about the additional day.
He said, “Yes.”
I say, Marcellus, there’s a teacher, there’s a principal that you can talk to, the principal has the last say-so, and you also have a mother that loves you. I know you’re trying very hard, I said, so do not let, I told you, do not let anybody get you upset and do not—your actions make it worse, so what you then done, you done actually took a situation that could have been resolved within a minute or two and turned it into a visit to the office.
So we need to start trying to re-train the kids on how to react different because I’m not saying, I know it’s hard to be a teacher, but at the same time you do have some in these areas that’s not really qualified to deal with some of these kids. Because you have the cultural differences that they don’t understand, which is the same thing within the system. Some, I mean, you have Latinos, you have African-Americans that’s coming in there where the Latino, nine times out of ten probably don’t understand.
Every culture is different. This person is probably—religion, Buddha, they come from different households and it’s up to the system stakeholder, the system that’s over this particular family to educate themselves, find out, what is this family like, because they could never know that I was straight-up Pentecostal, could not wear pants, couldn’t wear jewelry, couldn’t go to no club, I did it, but there was a lot of things we could not do but you have to, that’s the whole point of involving and the family, engaging the family. Getting to understand that family so you can know how to help that kid. And so right now I’m the only one that can really help my son because the schools, and the system is not prepared to go to that level of understanding how each, individualizing the family and the kids. You got me?
HENERY: Absolutely. And following that, I wonder if you could talk a little bit, I know you’re really active in Black-Brown organizing and so, and given the statistics, are there certain things you talk to parents, folks of color who have children, who are confronting the system, particularly young men, that is there a way you approach that that brings race into—
JACKSON: As far as the Black-Brown?
HENERY: Yeah, just in terms of parents who are of color who are dealing with the complexity of the criminal justice system.
JACKSON: And see, the African-American community, working with them, their attitude is, it is what it is. It’s been like this since our ancestors came over on a ship.
The Latino community, what I try to do with them is make them realize that it’s not just the African-American problem and right now you have a lot of Latino advocates working around the Black-Brown that’s focusing on all the anti-immigrant bills but at the same time you’re losing your kids, your legal kids, to the system.
I’m working with J.D.I. The number of kids, Latinos, that is in the juvenile justice system has increased anywhere from twenty percent. There are actually, it’s more than African-American. They actually outnumber the African-Americans right now, but the Latino activists and advocates are not paying attention to that. They’re trying to stop some bills where you have policy—everybody have a role to play but you need to focus on the bigger picture.
The United States regardless, they have always for centuries, they have always used policy to dictate who stays here in the United States, and for economic gain and to actually keep, maintain a balance, and right now with the Latino community, and this is something I always talk about, I always go through the history of African-Americans and Latinos, I mean, African-Americans from the beginning of time to now, what’s going on now. You see now, there’s an equal number of detention centers as well as with prisons so you have a lot of Black men and women that’s incarcerated in prison along with Latinos but then you have more Latinos and Haitians and Jamaicans that’s in detention centers and so we need to balance it out and not really focus on, because the anti-immigrant bills are going to be there.
I mean, you have policy, policy directors that work for advocacy groups that’s working to fight for that, but you ask organizers and activists, it’s important to keep your eye on the ball and have your community keep your eye on, this is other stuff that’s going on, like with the education, how they want to check for status, immigration status on education. I think, is that part of Senate Bill twelve? But anyway, now I’m going into some bills.
But, so, that’s pretty much how I frame it as, with the new Jim Crow laws and with the immigrant policies as well as, when I do some workshops, this is another way I kind of set it up: I say, you have immigrants on this side and you have African-Americans that’s involved in the criminal justice system. If you look at both of them, African-American, what happens with African-Americans that’s been involved in the criminal justice system? They can’t find a job.
What about an immigrant that’s undocumented and eventually get detained or —it’s hard for them to find a job.
And then, of course, education.
It’s like, all the similarities are there, whether you’re undocumented — I don’t like the word “illegal”— undocumented or if you’ve been involved in the criminal justice system. We were all, been affected the same way. That’s some type of policy that’s going to keep us from prospering or trying to get to where we need to get, so that’s why it’s important for us to unite, and I got rid of the Black-Brown. I say, community unity, because we have a lot of white, Anglo allies, and we have a lot of Anglos that’s dealing with the same things that we’re dealing with, so, and we have to come together in order to make a difference, and bring our communities and strengthen our communities.
But working with Black-Brown, it was real fun, though. It was fun learning about the different, how the cultures, their different beliefs and even their different foods, foods that I had never eaten before, even with the Asian community and the African community, because I went, like, really deep and just started learning what their beliefs is as far as marriage and the punishment of separation, both in the Asian community and the Muslim community.
But the Latino community and the African-American community is so similar, but they do not really under — and this, and another thing, I know I keep jumping the gun —another thing, it’s not the youth, it’s the grown folk just doing it. It’s the adults that making all this prejudice, coming up with all these assumptions and these stereotypes but the youth, they get along just —they see color, but they know, but they homies. Yeah, they don’t have a problem with, they don’t discriminate against each other. It’s the grown folk that does it. Yeah.
We want to make it a Black, Brown, and white issue, and so that’s something I have to get out of, and I had to start learning, and then I learned that from not just my son but his friends and everything, and I asked him about gay kids at the school, because it’s another issue. Gay Latinos, that’s something we never really paid attention to, what they’re dealing with, and so the kids, the boys, they like, we don’t care, we don’t pay no attention to them.
That’s what they want to do, that’s what they want to do. But you do have some that pick on ‘em but they just kind of all accept each other as, hey, we’re all in this together. That’s the way the youth think about it. Yeah, I noticed that. That’s like, very interesting. So I said I was going to start this youth group and let them run it and let them kind of like let us know what adults are doing because even if we as organizers is setting these grounds of, it’s racism, it’s Black-Brown, or Driving While Black or Driving While Brown, we want to hear from the young folk, do they feel the same way? But they probably do and they probably are dealing with it worse.
Because of going back to my son again, I learned a lot from him and his friends. They were out playing basketball in the neighborhood that I just recently moved from and the police pulled by, pulled up, and put them all on the ground, had ‘em all face-down on the ground, searched they pockets. And we lived in the nicest, but it was an all-Black neighborhood, few Latinos, Black, middle-class neighborhood and searched their pockets to see if they had drugs on ‘em, and their position was, oh, well, we didn’t have no drugs on ‘em so.
But the point is, you have the right to be in your neighborhood and play basketball without being harassed by police, that was my position.
My son was like, “Mama, ‘cause if I told you, you was going to make a big deal out of it, you was going to call the news media.”
I said no. I said no, but you have a right to go play basketball without being harassed by the police.
And that’s saying how our communities accept this is what it is, they accept, we have no control over, we just deal with it, and you shouldn’t have to just deal with it. You should be able to live life without being, feeling terrorized or being terrorized by the police. So did that answer your question?
HENERY: Yeah. Sure.
RAYMOND: We have about fifteen minutes .
HENERY: Okay. I also wonder if you could talk about, you mentioned it just a little bit ago, but, the Texas Reconciliation Project, what that work involves.
JACKSON: Yeah, that was of course, uniting the Black-Brown community around social justice issues and of course I had the, because I was already working around criminal justice, and of course criminal justice was work around Black-Brown issues because, I mean, they’re the majority in the criminal justice system. It was just, it was more-or-less building a relationship within the Latino community and building a trust and understanding what, the culture. I really didn’t understand the Latino, the different, ‘cause a lot of them telling me they don’t want to be called Mexican, some of them, it was just like all this, and they learned that there was prejudice, discrimination within the Latino community, so it was like, very interesting.
But as I came on the scene we were kind of working around a 287-G and “Secure Communities” program where the local law enforcement act as federal ICE agents. And so I saw, I saw an opportunity as working with the Rights Working Group out of D.C., they had the [Racial Profiling: Face the Truth] Face the Truth campaign. And I saw that campaign as an opportunity to bring these communities together because it was dealing with racial profiling, and so I brought the campaign down and you had CARE, the N. double-A.C.P., LULAC, CARECEN. And across racial lines you had O.C.A.,10 the Asian community.
So we all came together and we started working, creating, getting testimonies from individuals who had been affected directly or indirectly by racial profiling through whatever agency, whether it was police, the airport, the bus, wherever. And so, on June the twelfth, of last June we had a racial profiling hearing where all these individuals came forward. It wasn’t about any type of campaign for any politicians. We wanted our state representatives and our senators and all our elected-eds there to listen, and they showed up. They showed up and they listened.
And the public testified, they told their stories about their different experiences and from this particular, from the testimonies, a report was compiled for the, it was submitted to the United Nations civil rights division or something, rights working group, and A.C.L.U. was also a part of it, But also for us to help, to help us locally to encourage our representatives that 287(g) and “Secure Communities” is just another opportunity to have high presence in the African-American/Latino community because it just does not affect the Latino community, as well as racial profiling. I mean, because, I mean, you have a lot of blacks that look like they’re Latino and if an officer has an opportunity just pull you over because of the way you look, they’re going to be pulling everybody over, especially Blacks because they think all Blacks sell drugs.
And that’s another thing, that War on Drugs thing, that’s just another opportunity to terrorize the neighborhood. Everybody’s not dope dealers.
So, the Face the Truth campaign was a great success. It gave a lot of the organizations here in Houston and Harris County an opportunity to see, find out, meet new organizations, and see that there was organizations out here doing the same thing that they were doing versus reinventing the wheel. We can all just work together towards this come and go, or whatever, support each other in each other’s work.
So, following the racial profiling hearing we did the Bridge the Gap conference, which the Bridge the Gap conference was where all the organizations that was part of this racial profiling hearing, Face the Truth Campaign. We kind of just brought culture, art, we had African dancers and the Latino dancers. We had drummers, we had spoken-word poetry, we did the history timeline. We had the healing of racism, the Center for Healing and Racism came in and did workshops, so it was just like the community coming together and pretty much getting to know each other even more, just having a great time.
So, then of course we had a transition workshop following that which pretty much, it focused on helping organizers because it’s kind of hard to, when you trying to change a person from a way of thinking, you can’t get a whole group of, you have a hundred people in a room and saying, okay, you guys need to get along and start working together. No. You have to start small, so the way I framed it was, I approached the main leaders of each one of these communities in Harris County and we started engaging in dialogue. We discussed opportunities, the obstacles, the challenges, advantages of working together, and then we just started confronting our own prejudices that we have within ourselves that we had never really discussed, I mean, beneath the surface. We got organized but we got some issues too.
So, we started engaging in this dialogue for about a good six months which was really, really good and then from there, which started the transition process and when you start accepting and seeing that, hey, we can work together, so they were like, I developed bridge-builders and the bridge-builders will go out into their communities and their organizations and start transforming, transferring this information to their colleagues and so you change one person at a time and eventually you have everybody kind of working together. But it’s not something that happens overnight.
I mean, it’s, of course, the project is thank you to the Andreas Fund Foundation and that’s a project we’re going to continue here because it’s a lot of progress has been made and there has been a lot of, it’s been quite a few Black and Brown coalitions or unity-building projects that took place here in Harris County but it stopped after a year.
So what made this project so interesting is the fact that it was consistent. It just didn’t go away within a year and it’s still going. So with my new O.S.I. [Open Society Institute] fellowship, I will be able to work both of the projects because criminal justice is where all of these communities intersect, and we will continue with collecting stories and getting the youth more involved, the community more involved, engaging the community in all these reform processes as well as policy changes that’s taking place up in Austin and locally.
HENERY: Just checking out, see what time—
RAYMOND: Twelve minutes.
HENERY: Should we keep going with the—Do you want to change, or—
[END TAPE 2]
CELESTE HENERY: Your fellowship, and what, you’ve already gestured to it, but what the fellowship is and you will be doing.
MS. TARSHA JACKSON: The fellowship is basically, I been focusing more toward engaging families and the community in trying to reduce the number of youth and adults that’s been sent to the prison system as well as to the adult, the county jail and the juvenile justice jail, through the stories, through just coming up with some type of, what is it, okay, back up.
We doing focus groups and these focus groups will consist of anywhere from six to ten family members at a time, because you can’t have everybody there, because everybody want to tell they story, so we sit there and come up with, what was your experience with the criminal justice system?
Attorney ethics, and just what could have the system done, if this was available to you, would it help prevent you or your child from becoming involved in the system or even the adult becoming involved in the system.
So, just engaging the community, the families, and so we be taking it to every area, ‘cause you know Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States and we, what, incarcerate more people than anybody, so just taking it to every area in the city of, Harris County, City of Houston, surrounding areas, because everybody all wind up at Harris County Jail, and from these little focus groups, compile a survey as well as a video of stories that’s really compelling but of course it will be checked for authenticity, to make sure that it was accurate, but just to see what we can do and what needs to be done to help reform the system.
As you know, right now we are undergoing a lot of reforming and it’s funny how the system stakeholders are trying to reform their own system so the community, I feel that the community need to step forward and assist with this reforming and let them know what needs to change. So, that’s what this project is about.
And then we’re going to do a Trails of Tears tour to Louisiana. We’re going to rent a van, that’s going to one of the highlights of our events, rent a van and take the families to go visit their loved ones in Louisiana.
One of the things is with the Harris County Jail overcrowding and, I mean, with the budget crisis, why are we transferring people to Louisiana? So, just to show how this is affecting the community and dividing the families by transporting these individuals all the way to Louisiana.
HENERY: Could you talk a little bit more about that?
JACKSON: About what?
HENERY: That particular—where that idea came from?
JACKSON: That idea came from just, I knew an individual who went to, that was in Louisiana, and he couldn’t get, he didn’t get any visits. He was there for six months and talking with one of the attorneys, they had a problem, they did not know that the people that was being shipped to Louisiana was still in just, they had, no decision had been made on that case, so they were in pre-, they hadn’t went to trial and no decision had been made. So, but, that, the waste of money coming back and forward, come back and forth to go to court, it limits the number, the time they can spend with their attorney, et cetera, and on top of that they can’t get any visits because visitation hours is at night and by the time a family member make it there at night it’s over with, and then on the weekend you have to drive down to Louisiana wherever they at in Texas to go visit ‘em, so it’s just to show the strain it puts on a family member to just be supportive to their family member that’s incarcerated and then just to show that they’re human beings.
They’re people. Yeah, I know, people did commit some heinous crimes and I do not agree with it but they’re still people that have loved ones that care about them, you know what I’m saying? And they deserve to have that loved ones come, the opportunity to have their loved ones come to visit.
And so that would actually encourage Harris County to reduce those number of inmates that they have in the Harris County Jail and keep the ones from going to Louisiana, because right now they’re just holding anybody.
And of course there was something, a bill, there I go with bills again, there was a policy where they said they were going to increase the number of days of stay for misdemeanors, so another day, which is crazy. And then of course it takes anywhere from twenty-four hours to be processed, twenty-four to forty-eight hours to be processed, and on top of that you extending them days. That’s why our jails are overcrowded and they talking about this budget crisis. That’s why we’re in a budget crisis, because everybody’s mismanaging the money and then when you go in these courtrooms the judges and the district attorneys and the staff is so unprofessional, they’re sitting up lollygagging and playing with peoples’ lives in the cases.
I mean, my son had been sitting in jail for two years waiting to go to trial. What happened to the right to a speedy trial? The people’s rights are being violated and nobody’s doing anything about it.
HENERY: I’m going to turn the questions over to Virginia, here.
RAYMOND: Oh. Oh, I wasn’t expecting that.
HENERY: Sorry! If you have any.
RAYMOND: Yeah, I do. I’m just going to pause it. Okay.
HENERY: One of the questions I have for you, Ms. Jackson, is also about mental illness and incarcerated folks with mental illness, and if you’ve done, beyond the case of your particular son, if you’ve done work around that and—
JACKSON: I haven’t done a lot of work around mental illness in the county jail but I did make recommendations for individuals that have the youth. Well, I did. We have, now we have the mental health court because a lot of judges do not take into account that this person is mentally ill. Mary Martínez, that’s with M.H.M.R.A., very supportive of the youth and advocating on behalf of youth with mental illness, with her assistance as well as other individuals that care, on the J.D.I. initiative, Annie E. Casey J.D.I. initiative, Self-Respecting Task Force, we were able to develop that.
So, now as far as how it’s going about, how it’s going, I think it’s going fairly well but one of the things that, and it’s something I mentioned in my workshops, when I did the workshops, is, when you are dealing with a person with a mental illness and you call the police, ask for the special unit.
That’s something that I stress to parents: Don’t just call 911 and just have any—because anybody can come out there and that’s why you have a lot of shootings. A lot of people, they get killed with mental illness by police, so when you ask for the special unit, it’s police officers trained to come out and know how to deal with individuals that have these psycho behaviors so that’s something that I do point out, but as far as working directly with them, I don’t, but I do provide my advice because I do have a son that’s mentally ill. Yeah.
RAYMOND: So, thank you again for all of this. This is huge, and I do have a lot of questions. I’m just trying to think about which way to go first, but one of them, and maybe we can come back. So the question about mental illness raises the specter of, on the one hand there is, there are things that are internal pain and we use the term mental illness and medications do manage some of those symptoms and stuff and it’s real.
On the other hand sometimes we also see a lot of over-labeling and that over-labeling happens especially to young Black children, especially male, and it’s just tragic to watch a kid who’s excited and active, you put him on the playground and he’s having a good time and he’s being a kid and he’s having all this energy and in the classroom where you’re forced to sit, that energy somehow gets described as negative and before you know it you have an E.D. diagnosis, emotionally disturbed diagnosis and so on and so forth.
And I wonder if you can talk a little bit or share any thoughts you have about this, on the one hand there are mental health needs and on the other hand there is this problem of over-labeling that gets kids into different kinds of systems that are not always good for them, and just any thoughts you have.
JACKSON: Well, when my son was three years old I noticed that there was something not right about him and going back a little into my personal life, I later found out that his dad was on drugs. And so I took him to DePelchin Children’s Center and they did some testing. That was when they started prescribing Ritalin and I was like, oh, no, I’m not putting my child on Ritalin, it’s going to make him, like, a zombie.
So, but, as time passed his mood I noticed, like one minute he’ll be happy, the next minute he’s just like, it’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He would go off on any little thing. I mean, if he didn’t get this, his cereal, he, I mean, it was like just chaos in the day care center and so forth.
Now, I’ve experienced some people just label they child or say that they kid have a mental illness just to get some type of assistance, Social Security, but I didn’t want my son having a mental illness, but eventually I had to accept the fact that he had a mental illness and as he underwent a lot of testing they came up with a chemical imbalance which, of course, where medication is needed to keep him kind of like stabilized and when he started taking the medication that was prescribed to him I noticed a difference.
I know, but at one point he seemed, you say to kids, just like, zombies or whatever, and a prime example of what you just mentioned, how if the kids move around a lot they A.D.H.D. I had the school tell my son, tell me my son was A.D.H.D. because he was in class taking the test and students started walking by and he looked at the students walking by.
I was like, I’m an adult and if I’m taking a test and it’s a lot of noise in the hallway I’m going to look, so I guess we all A.D.H.D. and so I was actually trying to make excuses for the fact that my son had a mental illness ‘cause I did not want to have a son with a mental illness but not realizing, it’s like diabetes. It’s like high blood pressure. If you treat it, it will be okay.
So, eventually, when we started taking, went to psychiatrists and we had the pow-wow with doctors and all that, and eventually when he decided to accept it and started taking the medication, he was happy. At one point he was sad and I never forget going into, and I don’t know if I’m answering your question, I’m just jumping around a little bit.
I never forget when he was in kindergarten and I went, you know how you have open house, and you go, and all the kids drew these little beautiful houses with the sun and stuff, and then I got to my son’s picture and it was just black. He didn’t use no color. It was just, he just scribbled black and I was like, oh my God. Now, as a parent I knew something was wrong and it would have been wrong for me if would have kept denying it. You see, we draw a house with the sun, so something—
Now, as far as the schools and systems stakeholders or whatever that’s over-representing the mental illness thing, all these kids are not mentally ill. They’re going through phases in their life. They’re growing. You know what I’m saying? But there are some kids which, they’re normally diagnosed at a young age but at, at the same time, talking with some of the attorneys at Advocacy Inc., I talked with one attorney and he was like, he was bipolar. He didn’t know he was bipolar and he went through law school and everything and became bipolar at the age of what, thirty-some. He said he was like thirty, forty, became homeless, and so that encouraged him to go work with Advocacy Inc. to assist individuals, kids, people with disabilities because he didn’t know, he didn’t think he could be bipolar but he can, and my son is extremely bipolar, so—but with medication, it helps.
It helps make them more happier and more, they can function better in society. They’re not, they’re not going to explode to certain issues, blow issues out of proportion, and then I think if, if individuals with mental illness are diagnosed early and treated, I think we’ll see a reduction of individuals with mental illness in the criminal justice system, because a lot of times that’s all they need is their medication but they need the right medication.
They don’t need, don’t just start using them as guinea pigs, giving them anything, because I went and visited my son one day and he was just drooling from the mouth and it scared me and I’m like, oh, no, and so of course we made some phone calls and eventually got him on the medication that he should have been taking from the beginning and so now he’s just, he’s fine, able to cope with his situation in jail, the resolution of it.
RAYMOND: This is really helpful and helping me understand, and thank you.
Specifically talking about mental illness, and mental health care, when you were talking about T.Y.C. you described some horrible, horrible, terrible things that happened to your son and to your whole family as a result, and then you said that there are things available now that didn’t use to be available, like the Parents’ Bill of Rights and the Child’s Bill of Rights. Have you seen, are there changes in mental health care at T.Y.C. or do you know?
JACKSON: Once Senate Bill 103 passed, the ombudsman, Will Harrell, came in, and one of the recommendations was that they do not stop youth medication if they come in on medication, so that was one thing that did change.
Secondly, they got rid of the anger, it’s called aggressive management program where they were confining the kids for getting in, it was like some type of solitary, and so pretty much got rid of that, and of course you saw a lesser number of assaults or incidents that took place because if you’re putting, you been hostile towards a youth with a disability or a mental illness they wind up kind of like exploding which make the situation worse and somebody eventually will get hurt.
So, since the passing of the bill, I’ve seen some changes on the mental, the mental health part. At the same time, I’ve seen more, I’ve learned about more resources that’s available outside of the agency.
Now, with the agency merging with probation, that’s gonna be another different, it’s like we have to start all over from scratch, basically, because a lot of the focus on the reform was towards T.Y.C. and so now you have a whole ‘nother agency that you have to try to get caught up from 2007 on all the reform that took place, including how to work with youth with mental illness, so, yeah.
RAYMOND: Your work’s cut out for you.
JACKSON: Oh, yeah. I’m just like, we’re all like, oh, God. What are they doing? Because we worked so hard with T.Y.C. I mean, it was a lot of work put into it, even with the task force for youth with special needs that I serve on. I haven’t been very active on it but they’ve been doing very good work on coming up with ways to work with youth that’s aging out of a certain system, whether it’s C.P.S. or probation, et cetera, and that has mental illness and how can we do to, what can they do to, to kind of help the situation, help them transition, so you have them transition. You have probation, you have criminal justice, parole, I mean, everybody’s at the table and they’re trying to do what they can to pretty much make sure there is a seamless process for all agencies are kind of like in-connect with one another with that one particular youth or adult which has aged out.
RAYMOND: One of the things I’ve noticed that has been so impressive listening to you talk and also reading about you before is that the kinds of activism that you’ve done vary across the spectrum from, okay, there’s nobody else doing this so let me print up some flyers, get my sister and me out there, to workshops in the community for other parents, to getting involved with your state legislators especially although also with Congresswoman Lee, and then also being on these different task forces, in sort of a pseudo-governmental position, sort of a watchdog kind of position on different task force.
And that’s unusual, I think. I mean, a lot of activists say, well, I’m in the streets, or, I’m in the legislature, or, I’m going to be organizing in the community, or, I’m going to be educating in the community. It’s unusual to see someone who’s like, I’m going to do it all, whatever works, and I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your personal growth and experience as an activist in these different realms.
JACKSON: And see, I sit back and I was like, okay, am I organized? Am I an activist? Am I an educator? But I find that it’s important to, I mean, I, like, as far as the different organizations that I kind of connect with and work with, I act more or less as a support to them because it’s really hard work to be an organizer. So, I organize organizers and come up with ways of how we can now, what projects we need to bring to organize the community, what are the issues. So it’s like you have organizers that’s here and I’m like, okay, bring different projects in and then take it from there.
Now, the workshops, when I do workshops, the workshops are not just me standing there all by myself doing the workshop. The workshop is going to include education, nutrition, it’s going to include any aspect of what these communities are dealing with or what they need to hear, and just one of the components will be criminal justice or juvenile justice or navigating, how to navigate, et cetera. So, we kind of bounce off each other to kind of pretty much give the, not the community information overload but give them just enough information that they need in order to make it through that month because somebody might be going through it at that particular time and need to hear some of the things that we were talking about, as a collective, so I say we are more or less a collective and collaborative versus me, and I know it seems like, appears like jumping all over the place but I feel that it’s very important to build and maintain relationships.
I think that’s very important and of course we, it’s not organizers and activists, it’s not easy sometimes and so just being there with each other and supporting each other, it helps us continue the fight, because somebody has to do it and then of course it also, it also gives us that, you have that, you know how you need like somebody to over-, to look at something for you, proofread or whatever, or to encourage you, as well as let you know, hey, we need to start doing this.
Like one of the things we were talking about in the recent Bridge the Gap conference is that we need to start training young organizers because we’re not going to be doing this, we not going to be living forever so we can’t keep our knowledge for ourselves so we have to start bringing up our young organizers and equipping them with the tools and education and knowledge that we have so that they can further this work because it’s going to keep going on. I mean, Martin Luther King was doing it, they been doing it for the longest. The fight will continue forever. I’m sorry, it’s just, it’s just, we have some accomplishments, some, some, what you call it, successes, some what do you call it? Victories. Yeah. And you have some, all right, at least we tried. Yeah, so, it appears that I’m all over the place.
RAYMOND: I didn’t mean it like that. I mean it, meant it as a compliment, that, lots of tools. Lots of tools in your—
JACKSON: And then, I think because I didn’t, I didn’t master, I don’t have a Master’s, and I think due to the lack of education that I have like around policy and whatever, criminal justice, I think it’s very important for me to educate myself and stay around people that that have those, education that I don’t have, and I just learn from them so I done got me a free education, right? Huh? No, really. It’s like I’m constantly wanting to learn everything.
I was just in New York at a human rights training and now I’m like, whoa, I didn’t know this was this, about the treaties. We were discussing the treaties with the United States and other countries and it’s like these organizations that I work with on a local and a national level, it’s my education and it’s helping me get to where I want to go and it’s helped growing me without, even though I do, I want to go to school and get a degree, get another degree, but hands-on training is nothing like it. It’s nothing like it, but you have to do a lot of reading and staying, staying on top of things.
Sometimes I feel a little intimidated. I’m like, okay, I don’t got no PhD., I don’t got no F.F.D. No. But I went to a prison conference and we’re all just sitting there and was individuals doing these workshops and it was like, what planet are they from? I’m like, just because you went and pulled some stuff off the Internet and read some books, sweetie, it’s not the way it is. I’m out here in the real rugged. I can tell you how it is and help you write a real report that’s gonna turn some heads, because everybody, I mean, it’s good to have a degree but hands-on being out here in the field, it’s nothing like it. Man, it’s just like, every day you see something different, yes. I mean, just yesterday I was seeing some, some crazy stuff going on around here. Yeah.
RAYMOND: Well, I don’t know. We’re sort of near what we said—I want to say that I feel more hopeful about what the future of how we treat children in this state and young people in this state, I feel more hopeful knowing you’re on the case, Ms. Jackson, and I do want to thank you for that and for your time and I hope you’ll let us come back because there’s a lot more that I want to know.
Certainly, all of these collectives that you’ve talked about, all the different organizations that you’ve worked with, I’d sort of like to know the history of each one of them and how, what are the challenges of those groups working together as well as what works, how do you get over different bumps, when those bumps happen.
JACKSON: Right. Because even working with organizations you’re going to have your differences and of course, me, I just, they know the way I, I feel. I’m a person with integrity. I’m going to say just the way I feel and we can still work together but I don’t agree with how you’re doing this or how you’re going about this particular campaign and I just kind of back up away from it.
Now, it’s a lot of conflict and there’d be like a lot of stuff going on but we all realized that we have a lot of tension and a lot of stress. I don’t have stress, only when I’m doing an event, that’s when I’m stressing out, running around trying to get this and trying to get that, but I don’t let it stress me out because I feel that it’s going to get done and even if it don’t turn out, if I only have four people turn out to an event, at least four people heard something that they can take back to they community and the next time it will be more people, so I just try to look at everything as if, positive. So, yeah.
And I was going to say something else but, I was going to say something else but I forgot what it was. But, oh, well, I forgot what it was. It was about parents which is—the most important thing that above all is, regardless of how the system makes you feel, how the system make the family feel about their loved one that’s involved in the system, it’s up to them to remember that that’s their loved one and they need to show, I mean, you can get so frustrated, it can be so overwhelming to have a person, a loved one, a child involved in the system, to where you find yourself, from me talking with psychiatrists and psychologists and stuff.
You find yourself, yes, I talked to them one time but then I was like, I don’t need you, but you find yourself becoming angry at the wrong person. All of a sudden it’s this family—this is how it divides families, and then it becomes this family disconnect because you angry because this person got you going through this, and I found myself doing that a whole lot with my son. I’m like, I’m not the one in trouble. It’s not his fault that he got caught up in the system but I’m like, I’m not the one on probation, I’m not the one that this—I’m not the one that did this, I tell you something.
So you find yourself becoming angry with them and all of a sudden it’s just like animosity and this cold feeling in your house and then this cold feeling spread out to other family members and then it’s just like it don’t just affect your house, it affects the entire family. It affects the entire family.
And so that’s why me, personally, I had to step back and in certain situations like with my youngest boy I was telling you about, I love you, sweetie, you’re not a bad kid and that’s what we as families, as parents, and family members does not necessarily mean the biological, anybody that provide any type of support, care to individuals. Let them know you love them, that they are valuable, that they are a person and they deserve dignity and respect and you are there with them and that would help, help, I bet that would change a whole lot of lives and you see less kids re-entering back into the system or less kids getting more involved in the system, because that kid’s going to take what you say, that love that you show them, and they gonna go out with they friends, hang out with they friends, and they gonna show their friends that same love.
Everybody’s attitude is going to change, so that kid that would normally throw, talk back to they teacher, probably not going to talk back to their teacher no more and be like, it’s not even much worth it, don’t talk back, just say, yes, ma’am, my mom say, just say, yes, ma’am, be done with it and just ‘cause we got to graduate anyway and so it starts there. But the system tends to affect you that way.
RAYMOND: Thank you so much.
[END TAPE 3]