Caught Up: Girls, Surveillance, and Wraparound Incarceration available in Paperback
From home, to school, to juvenile detention center, and back again. Follow the lives of fifty Latina girls living forty miles outside of Los Angeles, California, as they are inadvertently caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline. Their experiences in the connected programs between “El Valle” Juvenile Detention Center and “Legacy” Community School reveal the accelerated fusion of California schools and institutions of confinement. The girls participate in well-intentioned wraparound services designed to provide them with support at home, at school, and in the detention center. But these services may more closely resemble the phenomenon of wraparound incarceration, in which students, despite leaving the actual detention center, cannot escape the surveillance of formal detention, and are thereby slowly pushed away from traditional schooling and a productive life course.
About the Author
Jerry Flores is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto.
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Girls, Surveillance, and Wraparound Incarceration
By Jerry Flores
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2016 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
Trouble in the Home, and First Contact with the Criminal Justice System
Ray is a nineteen-year-old, fourth-generation Latina. She was born in a community adjacent to El Valle Juvenile Detention Facility. She, like many of the girls in my study, was part of a family struggling with intergenerational poverty, unemployment, and poor housing conditions in a segregated neighborhood. I first met Ray early in my research. She is about five foot seven and extremely thin. When I met her, she had dark wavy hair, but she eventually shaved her head. This new look served as a marker of sexuality and neighborhood affiliation. I would joke and tell her, "I had the same haircut when I was your age!" She jokingly replied, "Damn! Why are you talking smack?"
During our first meeting inside of El Valle, she said nothing. She walked sluggishly around class, could barely stand to sharpen her pencil, and looked as if she weighed around one hundred pounds. As a researcher new to this detention center, I wondered what was wrong with her. Ms. Sanchez, the classroom teacher, sat next to me and explained, "She just got here yesterday. She ran away and is detoxing now. She has a big meth problem."
During our first interview, I asked Ray to tell me her life story. Her response speaks to an overwhelming theme among justice-involved young women. For young girls, trouble in the criminal justice systems typically begins at home: "My life story ... I don't know how to describe it. ... Well, I grew up poor, big family, single mom always depending on partners; started getting in trouble at school 'cause we never stayed long." When Ray was young, her mother struggled to take care of her children. She had to constantly move to escape abusive partners or to find more affordable housing for her family and herself. Given this constant shifting, Ray did not attend school regularly. On top of this instability she, like the other young women in my study, experienced multiple forms of abuse that hastened her contact with the criminal justice system. As I got to know Ray, she told me about her path from home, to school, to detention, to community day school, and eventually, to the larger California corrections system.
Ray's path is depressingly typical. In this chapter, I draw on feminist criminology and research on gender and crime to demonstrate how abuse and neglect in the home led the young women in my study to their first contact with the criminal justice system. I pay attention to how home instability is shaped by gendered, racialized, and class-specific challenges.
This chapter as a whole begins to show the shortcomings of wraparound services. Although these services are intended to help girls at home and school, they did not provide support to the girls in my study. Once girls became involved with the criminal justice system, these services often provided punishment instead of support.
TROUBLE IN THE HOME
A large portion of the girls I interviewed experienced sexual abuse in the home, or in their community, or both. For the young women who experienced abuse in the home, their abusers were usually parents or other family members, as is so often the case with sexual abuse. For young women associated with the criminal justice system, sexual abuse is almost always perpetrated by a relative or close acquaintance (Winn, 2011; Winn, 2010; Chesney-Lind and Shelden, 2014; Simkins et al., 2004; Kakar, Friedemann, Peck, 2002). Scholars have also found that Latina girls are more likely to be sexually abused than Black or white girls (González-López, 2006). Rates of prior sexual abuse are extremely high among incarcerated Latinas (Díaz-Cotto, 2006), including the girls in my study.
Ray, like many of the girls in my study, experienced sexual abuse at the hands of multiple family members and neighbors. The first time she mentioned these experiences, she said, "I think it all started when I was seven, ... when I started being really bad. ... I went to go live with my dad for a little bit, 'cause we were homeless. ... I had to go stay with him, and he had just got out of prison; and then something happened. ... He molested me, ... and then I went to go live back with my mom." Her mother, who was homeless at the time, believed it would be better for Ray to stay in her father's apartment than to live on the streets. When Ray told her mother that her father was sexually abusing her, her mother removed her from her father's house. Together, they wandered to various friends' and family members' homes.
Ray continued to experience sexual abuse by multiple family members and neighbors as her mother attempted to find stable housing. According to her, these events directly influenced her behavior. She began to "act up" during the times where she experienced sexual abuse.
The youth in my study also experienced psychological abuse in their homes. Debby is a sixteen-year-old Latina with a copper complexion. The tattoos on her face and arms give her a menacing look, hiding what I know is a warm personality. Debby, unlike the other girls at the facility, was a deeply entrenched gang member of a local Mexican transnational gang. During our interview, she eagerly recounted her life story, which focused largely on the psychological abuse she experienced at the hands of her father. As an eight-year-old, Debby recalled, she had one of the most frightening experiences of her short life. She explained that her father was diagnosed with both cancer and schizophrenia, and that he would regularly become psychologically abusive to his children and physically abusive to Debby's mother.
One evening after arriving home, her father went directly into her mother's room. Her siblings heard her mother yell. Debby said, "I was so scared. I didn't wanna go up to my dad's room, 'cause my dad was really scary." Debby and her siblings went to investigate, and Debby recalled, "My dad, I guess he forgot to lock the door; and entramos [we entered], and we just saw my dad with a belt in his hand, and my mom's face is all bruised up. We were all: 'Papi [Daddy], stop, stop, stop'; and my dad was all: 'What are you doing out of bed? Get your asses back in bed. Fuck you guys.' Like he wasn't fully there. And I got scared; it was the first time he was talking to me like that." Debby recounts how she and her siblings saw their mother beaten and bruised. Apparently her father had beaten her with a leather belt because he felt she was being unfaithful.
Debby's grandfather, who lived next door, managed to intervene in this fight, and things calmed down.
The next morning, however, resulted in more traumatic events. Her father decided that he had had his fill of his family and packed his things. He loaded his truck and grabbed Debby's youngest brother and sped off. He had decided to return to Mexico and had kidnapped her brother in the process. During the trip, the child's crying angered her father, so he pushed him out of the car while driving on the freeway. Luckily, her brother survived, but after this event Debby did not see her father again. She told me that, upon her father's departure, she began to struggle with delusions and depressions similar to the psychotic events her father experienced. As had been the case for Ray, the psychological abuse in Debby's family began to influence her home life.
Virginia, like Ray and Debby, experienced abuse in a very turbulent home. However, her abuse was mostly physical and gender-specific. For example, as the eldest daughter in the home, she was expected to cook, clean, and care for her younger siblings. If she did not complete these gender-specific tasks or challenged her parents, she was beaten. Virginia was placed in charge of tending her young siblings from a very early age because of her parents' alcoholism and drug abuse.
Virginia is about five foot five, a sixteen-year-old first-generation U.S. Latina with a fallow complexion and timid personality. When I asked her to share her life story, she described a lifetime of abuse and mistreatment. When Virginia was eight years old, her family moved to El Valle, California, from central Mexico. Shortly after this move, she recalled, "my parents, they drank more; my mom became an alcoholic. And then they would hit me, and Dad and Mom would fight. When I was ... twelve to fifteen, the violence got worse. ... My mom became a meth addict and an alcoholic. That ruined our life." The violence Virginia experienced became progressively worse with every passing year. Slowly her parents' addictions got so bad that they stopped feeding her and her siblings altogether. As the oldest daughter, Virginia did her best to feed her young brother and sister. She did this by panhandling, selling her mother's alcohol outside of a local liquor store, and asking neighbors for help. This situation began putting a strain on the lives of her growing siblings as well.
During this time, Virginia herself became increasingly frustrated and violent. She recalled that she started "boxing" her dad and fighting back against abuse. In a separate incident, she attempted to protect her younger sister, who was in turn trying to defend herself from their mother: "She was pretty violent. She would hit me with anything she could get her hands on ... plates, cups. ... And then she shattered my sister's bone with a broom. ... She whacked her with it, and she shattered her bone." While Virginia was accustomed to her parents' physical assaults, she was extremely upset that her mother broke her younger sister's wrist. Clearly, the violence was getting worse.
Approximately a year after this incident, an anonymous source notified child protective services. Virginia and her siblings were removed from their home and placed in a group home supervised by social workers. Once law enforcement officials became aware of the abuse, they arrested her mother, who was subsequently deported. Virginia remained in the group home for more than a year, after which she and her siblings returned to live with her father, who continued to mistreat them.
ROMANTIC PARTNERS AND TROUBLE IN THE HOME
The young women in my study often sought out a romantic partner to help them deal with the emotional and physical abuse they experienced in their parents' homes. These new partnerships were often short-lived, and they frequently created multiple problems for the girls, both inside and outside their homes. Eventually these new relationships pulled girls away from their home lives and pushed them into high-risk behavior. For the girls in my study, a new romance represented the possibility for a "normal" life away from the abuse they'd experienced. It also allowed them to gain the emotional support they did not receive from their families. In the end, however, these new relationships seldom worked out.
Feliz is a seventeen-year-old, third-generation, light-skinned Latina. She has brown hair that hangs down to her waist and a friendly and outgoing personality. She is five foot six with a slender build. She began experiencing trouble the summer she transitioned from middle school to high school. Her home life was complicated by the problems that existed between her abusive father and her mother, who used drugs. Feliz's mother and father fought a lot, not so much because of her mother's drug use, but because of her father's infidelity and work in the informal economy. She said, "I guess he [her father] would cheat on my mom a lot; and to keep my mom settled and content and pretty much oblivious, ... he'd bring her bags of bud [marijuana] ... and she'd smoke." Feliz's father attempted to control her mother by offering her large amounts of sedatives and opiates, which he also sold. He also verbally abused her mother and her other siblings. Eventually, her family was evicted from their apartment in Los Angeles, and they moved to El Valle. After this, Feliz's father commuted forty miles to the Los Angeles city core to continue his dual employment. Her mother became a homemaker for the family, and they attempted to start a new life away from her father's drug dealing and indiscretions.
For a brief period, Feliz's home situation improved, largely because of the absence of her father. Things were "getting better" all around for her and her family. Her mother, however, continued to use drugs. Although Feliz was at first too young to remember her mother's drug use, she identified this behavior once she became an adolescent: "I noticed that my mom would sneak around the house a lot and into the backyard and stuff. Now I look back and I know she'd always be smoking bud." The challenges Feliz experienced at home became worse when she began a new relationship with Edwin, a boy who attended her middle school. She said, "I got a boyfriend who I fell in love with."
Feliz and this boy dated for approximately a year. During this time she started sneaking out of her home to visit her boyfriend. One evening, Feliz left to visit Edwin. Upon her return home, she found both of her parents waiting for her — they had discovered her late-night exit. "I got caught, and my dad was beating me because I was sneaking out to go see Edwin. ... He beat me pretty bad." Feliz's unannounced exit, her new relationship, and her father's perception of what he took to be her inappropriate sexual behavior resulted in a severe beating that left Feliz emotionally and physically exhausted. Her perception of her father changed as she recalled that she had had "bruises everywhere." Feliz's experience is consistent with most of the literature on girls' physical, psychological, and sexual abuse in the home, which suggests that abuse often begins or intensifies after girls express their sexuality and begin new intimate relationships (Winn, 2011; Winn, 2010; Sharma, 2010; Chesney-Lind and Shelden, 2014).
If her father had hoped to convince Feliz to stop seeing Edwin, his plan backfired. She lost respect for her father and became more attached to Edwin. Unfortunately, her father's abusive behavior continued and reached a tipping point shortly after her initial beating. A few days after this incident, Feliz planned to go see a movie, but her father refused to let her leave. Feliz and her father began to argue, and she said, "Can you not be an asshole?!" This infuriated her dad; "he started hitting me, and it didn't stop till I got to my room, which is down the hallway and up the stairs." A concerned neighbor called the police, who arrived at the home shortly afterward. When law enforcement officials entered Feliz's home, they noticed her visible signs of abuse. They arrested her father and began to question the family. Feliz recalled, "I had bruises everywhere, so the only reason my mom didn't get arrested is because she was like, 'I can't leave her, look at her. Look at her body, she has bruises, she has cuts. ... Her dad beats her.'" Since Feliz's mother was her only other guardian, the police decided not to arrest her and blamed Feliz's father entirely for his daughter's bad physical state.
Feliz's father was taken to county jail, and Feliz herself was taken to the police station. At the station she was questioned, and "they took pictures of me and my body. ... He [her father] got charged with child battery or child endangerment." At fourteen, then, Feliz had her first encounter with the criminal justice system. At the station she was photographed and the police documented her physical condition. This information was then used to prosecute her father. She remembered this as "one of the worst days of her life."
The pattern that I describe here was the overarching narrative for the youth in my study. Girls experience abuse in the home and look for ways to spend less time there. Then, the girls begin expressing their sexuality by meeting a partner at school or in the community, and they begin sneaking out of their homes or staying out late. Their new partners provide them with an escape and the emotional support they do not receive from their families. This in turn results in more abuse at the hands of already violent parents, who disapprove of these new relationships. At this point the young women begin to act out further — mostly by continuing to date despite their parent's disapproval and physical punishment.
Debby, introduced above, similarly began dating at a very early age. She was eleven and Daniel was seventeen years old. Debby kept this new relationship from her mother, knowing she would disapprove. In the beginning, she was content with her relationship with Daniel. She said, "[At first] he would come to see me; he would buy me ice cream. He would take me everywhere with him. He was like, 'Oh baby, I love you. You mean the world to me.' No sabía nada [I didn't know anything]." However, this changed one evening when her boyfriend called her on the phone: "It's fucking one o'clock in the morning. ... I met with him near the graveyard. He just told me: ... 'I have a surprise, but you have to promise me that you will do it.' He's like, 'Pinky swear, pinky promise, cross your heart, hope to die.' And we ended up doing it [sleeping together]. It was the most horrible experience ever. I hated it, I was crying. It was horrible. I just didn't like it. And two weeks later, ... I ended up going again."
Excerpted from Caught Up by Jerry Flores. Copyright © 2016 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents
1 Trouble in the Home, and First Contact with the Criminal Justice System 28
2 Life behind Bars 52
3 Legacy Community School and the New Face of Alternative Education 70
4 School, institutionalization, and Exclusionary Punishment 93
5 Hooks for Change and Snares for Confinement 110
Appendix A "Who Is This Man in the Classroom?" 143
Appendix B Demographic Information 161