tv Kids Behind Bars A Soledad O Brien Special Report Al Jazeera April 18, 2015 10:00pm-11:01pm EDT
science... >> we fire a laser imaging system out of the bottom of the plane >> revealing the deadly human threat >> because the mercury is dumped into the rivers and lakes, it then gets into the food chain... >> that's hitting home >> it ends up on the dinner plate of people... >> techknow only on al jazeera america >> part of al jazeera america's >> special month long evironmental focus fragile planet inside these walls teenage thieves and arsonists, gang-bangers, drug abusers even kids who kill. >> my anger was pretty bad. >> but, this once notorious juvenile lock-up is trying something new. >> what does playing the piano do for you? >> it's therapy, a hobby an interest.
>> education, counseling offering a second chance. >> put gas on his car... >> lit it on fire. >> ...set it on fire. >> and it blew up. >> ya [laughs]. >> he used to be an incredibly aggressive young man. >> but, to succeed in the j.paul taylor center, they'll have to control their rage. >> honestly, i think this place has just made me a better criminal. >> inside new mexico's juvenile system where the fight for redemption begins. >> this is what i got for my birthday from my mom, her name is jenny. like mainly they can just send you like types of drinks and
stuff but they can't be like bottles because they think we're gonna make like alcohol and stuff. >> 17 and celebrating... a birthday behind bars. his mom is homeless. his older brother in jail. he was 5 with 7 siblings when his father put a note on the refrigerator and left. >> that's my niece sinnay. she's like 5 right now. this is my brother pedro, he's been in and out of jail his whole life. he's in southern prison right now. yeah he's kind of the reason i got in trouble cuz i would hang out with him. he got me into using drugs and stuff. i don't know, i kinda think that's what lead up to me being in here. to me just wanting to be like him but, i shouldn't want to be like him. that just pretty much reminds me of my family 'cuz i eat a lot of this stuff at home.
and ... yeah it just comforts me. this is his 4th birthday in an institution. >> jail at 11, foster care at 14, rehab at 15, then rehab and jail again. this time it was illegal alcohol possession, and then, violating probation by shoplifting. at 17, he was out of second chances. >> it sucks 'cuz like, on your birthday you want to be with your family the most. >> keith will spend his next birthday here too. trying to change his life while serving a 2 year sentence at the j. paul taylor center. >> this is my favorite- yeah this is my favorite kind of snack (laughs) so... i got to make sure she sends that. this juvenile lock up is also trying to change as part of a 2009 settlement with the aclu after accusations of physical and sexual assaults. >> and an absence of medical or
mental health care. the state of new mexico offers scant resources. even on the outside, and has one of the poorest populations of children in the nation. here keith gets a full day of school... daily counseling. guards that double as mentors. the reforms come from a program is called "cambiar" the spanish word for change, implemented at all 5 of new mexico's juvenile centers. al jazeera america got extensive access inside to see the impact its had on the inmates. keith is 7 months into a 2-year sentence. he's had one family visit and he's nursing an old basketball injury. >> at first, it was pretty bad. heh. my anger was pretty bad. so i needed to just learn how to control it better. it's kinda hard, though. 'cause right when i start feeling it, i try to tell myself to calm down, but it doesn't really work that much.
so i have to learn how to just remove myself from a situation that's gonna make me angry. >> i see his softer side. >> well i just think things happen for a reason. i don't know, maybe, me coming here is just... gonna help me live a better life when i get out. when i get out i have to do my 100% best so i don't end up in a place like this again. part of that means reconnecting with his family. >> but today... on his birthday he seems sad about not reaching his mother on the phone. there are 60,000 kids under the age of 21 locked up around the country. j.paul taylor averages 48 juveniles between the ages of 12 and 21. cambiar hopes to model itself after a program in missouri with the lowest recidivism rates in the country. taylor's program is too new to measure. superintendent quintero runs the place.
>> these are clients who have been committed by the court because they've been found to have committed delinquent acts. >> what would be a delinquent act? >> um, range of different things. it could be anything from a probation violation to murder. >> so you have kids here who have killed someone? >> yes, we do. >> but like most kids in the national juvenile incarceration system, the majority at john paul taylor committed nonviolent crimes like shoplifting, burglary, or selling drugs. >> we have facilities here and facilities in albuquerque. >> sandra stewart is director of new mexico's juvenile justice services. >> instead of just warehousing kids and watching them serve their time, the kids learn to do everything together in a unit. >> and the staff started being trained to be more along the lines of mentors and team leaders and coaches rather than
correctional officers. >> hey we're gonna be doing a check in a couple minutes. we're going to be doing a check-in in a couple minutes ok? >> it was a huge change, a lot of the staff that were here at the time, it was just easier to sit here and just watch, and they didn't believe in being giving them the time necessary and the help necessary to help them become better. >> keith's unit, called mesquite, contains 9 young men. >> hey get ready we're going to do a check in here in a couple minutes. >> the mesquite unit has a strict routine, including a 6 1/2 hour school day. twice-daily check-ins with staff who get 6 weeks of specialized training. education and therapy are vital to the success of cambiar. douglas ingram considers himself a mentor. >> how much time do you give 'em before they have to come out? >> probably another 2-3 minutes, and i'll open all the doors, they'll secure 'em behind 'em, and they'll all have a seat. >> alright. >> cool. >> and we'll start. >> and i'll stay out of your way. >> ok.
>> alright fellas hey. real quick, lets, lets stay quiet, give everybody the opportunity to talk. we're gonna do a check in with you guys. i'll start off with uh, vicente, how's your day going? >> excellent. >> good day? no issues today? >> not at all. in fact it was boring. >> work out? >> little bit. >> feeling good? >> nothing too bad. >> good, okay, good. >> keith how was your day? >> my day was pretty chill. no, i, my issue i got into it with gonzo earlier but, just, it was over some wack stuff...over a ball. >> so you took care of it? >> yeah we talked about it >> okay. >> i'm good. >> well if you have any issues let me know okay? lets have a good day. >> you too. >> wyatt? >> everything's good. >> many kids in the center and in juvenile facilities nationwide have special needs. in fact, up to 70% of young people in the system suffer from a mental disorder. >> well if you have any issues let me know okay?
lets have a good day. >> keith struggles with the trauma he suffered as a child. the staff looks out for his unpredictable anger. >> what's the post traumatic stress from? >> they say it's just mainly from me getting beat when i was younger and like, they'd lock me in the closet all day. i start getting like anxious. like it's hard for me to control that stuff i take meds for it but, they don't ... they can only do so much, the meds. i have to try to control it too. but when i first got here, i was getting in like 3 incidents a day. so i have changed a lot. >> keith is frustrated right now. he is up and down. someone will not want to participate in some things and then he wants stuff right then and there. >> ok, so what we have to do is make sure that we keep an eye on keith today, monitor his frustration because we do all know that he has outbursts. so we will make sure that we keep checking in with him and uh making sure he's ok. >> why is he frustrated?
>> a lot of times it's for attention. you know, he will just scream and you look over and say "what's going on?" and he'll smile, you know, and then other times he'll just get angry, you'll be in the middle of a conversation, he's happy, and then all of a sudden he's mad. >> if he needs us to take him out, take him for a walk whatever needs some individual attention from us, we will give that to him. >> today on his birthday keith still can't reach his mother. >> this is my mom right here. this is my main support. she helps me with everything. whenever i have like- whenever i'm thinking about something i can't make a decision, i'll call her and ask her about it. even when it doesn't have to do with her, she's the first person i ask about anything. even when it benefits me like, if she doesn't want me to do it i won't do it. so i won't do anything without her knowing about it.
>> hello? hey is my mom there?... this is keith...my mom's not there right now? do you know where she's at? when d- when are they going to be back?... alright well i'll try back in like 30 minutes. >> i was trying to call my mom... she uh, she wasn't at the house. she went to go pick up my little cousin with my aunt. so they said she should be back in like 30 minutes, so i told them i'd call back. >> yeah ... that's just [bleep] weird, like their phones are [bleep] up. >> his anger rises. common among young people with traumatic childhoods. >> i need to just focus on what's coming, like what's gonna happen later on. because you never know what could happen here. so you just gotta focus on the day, focus to be safe, not get in trouble. that's mainly what i think about in here: just not getting in
trouble. cause' if you get in trouble like, if you get more than i think 7 errors on a 2-year, you can get extended. and i already have 7. so if i get 1 more i'm eligible for extension. so that's why i have to be like extra careful now. >> a lot at stake.. for the young man going to bed on his 17th birthday, feeling on the brink of chaos. >> criminal gangs risking lives >> it's for this... 3 grams of gold >> killing our planet >> where it's blood red... that's where the mercury is most intense >> now, fighting back with science... >> we fire a laser imaging system out of the bottom of the plane >> revealing the deadly human threat >> because the mercury is dumped into the rivers and lakes, it then gets into the food chain... >> that's hitting home >> it ends up on the dinner plate of people... >> techknow only on al jazeera america
>> sunday night. >> 140 world leaders will take the podium. >> get the full story. >> there is real disunity in the security council. >> about issues that impact your world. >> infectious diseases are a major threat to health. >> "the week ahead". sunday 8:30 eastern. only on al jazeera america. >> long before cambiar was implemented, eric contreras entered his first new mexico juvenile detention facility, camino nuevo. he was just 8 years old. his claims of abuse in the juvenile system mirrored the aclu lawsuit. >> there was fights every day. almost all day sometimes. bloody noses, broken noses broken hands... just bloodied up. thrown in the hole for, for more than they should have been, you
know what i mean? one of my friends, he would just cry like, "man, its awful in here. i want to go home." that was our whole childhood... to us it was normal. >> by 11, he faced manslaughter charges. he accused his guards of beating and hog tying him. >> that is accurate. we did have a lot of turmoil at that time. ...even at this facility we use to have a unit that they called "the adjustment unit" and when kids were unmanageable in a larger setting, or became physically violent, they also went to the adjustment unit. they don't get anything. you know, if anything if it causes them to act out even more. >> just seems like a 12-year-old, in solitary confinement, 23 hours a day? >> yes. >> for day after day after day? months at a time? >> yes, ma'am. >> it was 23-hour lock-down. we were locked down all the time. like you got out to make- to work out, make a phone call and
um, like a 2 or 3 minute shower and you were done, you know what i mean? it makes you hate the system, it makes you hate the co's, makes you hate the inmates more. just makes you hate this whole environment. it doesn't teach a kid a lesson it just teaches him to hate more. >> the aclu sued new mexico accusing their juvenile justice centers of locking kids in solitary confinement, abusing them and lying about the level of violence. >> it was bad. there was a lot of concern about excessive use of force, concern about isolation and separation concern about inadequately trained staff. >> a settlement has been reached in a case from 2005 between the aclu and children youth and families department. the lawsuit stemmed from problems at the cyfd center in
springer where fights constantly broke out between detainees and sometimes the guards even got involved. the aclu filed the suit saying the cyfd wasn't doing enough to make sure that detainees were safe and getting the help they need. >> like i said- i was a kid. you know what i mean? i thought that was just how it was supposed to be... so, but now i look back and that was no way to live. >> he got his high school diploma but says he was never taught anything. eric moved the federal system at age 20. the aclu has gone back to court twice since, accusing new mexico of not moving on reforms from their settlement. that was all before cambiar. >> within just a few seconds of us starting this discussion, what did you guys start saying? >> i don't- i didn't want to change i just, i have to. because if i go outside and i do the same thing i might rob the wrong person and get myself
killed or- i'm robbing the wrong person, they pull out a gun and i shoot them first. so, if i go out and do the same thing i'll either be dead within a week or in prison for the rest of my life so... >> since then... mequite has added group counseling from a certified therapist. once a week, it's one-on-one. >> what are some other factors that might help us to add to that epiphany? >> j. paul taylor didn't fully implement cambiar until a year ago.
it's success is still measured in kids like keith who finally reaches his mom. >> thank you sir. sup mom?... how are you doing? oh i know i ain't even trippin' like those kids can't bring me down. alright, so... alright well, i don't want to go over before i get in trouble. alright i love you too. bye. >> then suddenly, i see another side of keith... when ...out of nowhere... he tries to start a fight. he's the guy with the pink cast in this surveillance video. >> so, how many fights have you had in the five months you've been here? >> five, heh. >> five fights? >> five, yeah, five.
>> so, every time you fight, you get a disciplinary write-up. >> yeah. and it takes 7 to get extended on a two-year, and i already have 7. >> so the next thing, you're getting extended. >>, i've got to be really cautious. but i mean, i still have slip-ups. the other day, i almost got into a fight. and it was over, somethin' stupid. >> someone cutting you in line. >> yeah. it's, so i gotta s-, just start thinking more about stuff before i act. >> is it working? >> sometimes it is, sometimes it doesn't. >> cambiar is working better for the oldest teenager in the unit 19 year old vincente that's a long way away from his days as a gang member in the west side locas. he's been in jail three times. once he and his brother beat a drug client. this time he's serving two years for arson and assault. >> um what brought you here? >> well, originally on a
one-year for an arson case that i picked up in clovis. >> you put gas on his car and set it on fire and it blew up? >> yeah, more or less you know. >> that got you how much time? >> that got me just a year. >> a year? and that was in albuquerque? >> yes in albuquerque. and then i- we jumped that kid with a weapon. >> what weapon? >> it was just a sock and a bar of soap- and then whenever the staff tried to intervene my friends started to assault him and i just followed suit. >> and that's what brought you here? >> yes, and then i came down here then i got committed til the age of 21. >> his first year, nothing changed. >> i was what they call a [bleep] stick. >> a s[bleep] stick? which i'm going to guess is exactly what it sounds like. a bad kid. >> yeah. always trying to instigate people to fight, trying to get restrained. >> so what happened in the two and a half years that you have been here?
>> i can honestly say i woke up one day like, "oohh i don't want to do this no more." >> i learned how to reason before i do my actions i learned how to control anger a little bit i learned a little education. >> what made you realize it was fun to learn? >> honestly like i've always liked to learn it was always there but i never actually took the time to sit down. i never had the will. i never had someone to push me and when i came here, like i said, some staff here helped me out with that. >> has having mentors helped you? >> yeah i'd say it's helped me out a lot. >> how? >> just their life experiences some of them can relate to me. some were in bad situations, some try to push me some actually, i got love for once. some affection, so they showed me kindness and all that. >> so you had to come behind bars really to get some attention and affection? >> i know it sounds odd but, something like that. >> what do you like to study? >> i like music, i like space
and physics a lot, like the physical sciences, not much grammar and english and those but more hands on things. >> quintero, the superintendent, credits the program for helping vincente turn things around. >> something clicked in him when he got here. and i hope it was a decision that "i don't want to live my life this way." vincent found a reason to change, which is his music. >> we're gonna do this. >> [piano music] >> i'm so bad. alright, let's do it again for real. ready? >> oh i switched it up. i was going into whole new, a different rhythm, my bad.
>> so obviously you're playing better than doing "chop sticks". what's your favorite thing to play? >> ah... a little bit of classical: beethoven, mozart, bach. >> how did you learn? i mean you don't just sit down one day and start feeling out bach on the piano. >> nah, i just, took what i know from the trumpet and translated it to the piano. >> how do you play, for example, the bach pieces that you like? i don't see any sheet music... oh, here you go, a little. >> yeah. >> so you can read music? >> yes... but not like, for piano i kind of like- i can't really read it directly. like that one's actually for the cello, i actually took the cello piece and played it on piano. >> what, um, what does playing the piano do for you? >> it's therapy, and a hobby, an interest. i wanna be a professional you know its just a little bit of everything. >> does anybody else here play? >> nah, not really, like i teach them, you know the- [plays a scale] the little scales and different- they like little hip hop beats, you know like songs that are already made so i teach them how to play those. like you'll have kids make beats and flow all day but when it comes to a little sonata or something, forget it.
>> they can't do it. >> mhm. >> what's the thing you're working on now? >> right now i'm doing uh, cello suite by bach. >> how does it go? >> lets see if i remember it. [piano music] >> cambiar let him keep his trumpet when he arrived, and later found him a piano. but not everyone here has found their way to peace. the mesquite unit is about to explode.
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>> good morning. >> i heard that you had a little excietment this morning? >> oh nothing too much. >> nothing too much? what happened? >> i got rushed in the bathroom. >> you did? >> yeah while i was doing my chores... unfortunately, but... >> so what started all that? >> i have no idea i was in there doing my chores and he just ran in there and hit me 'whop'. he said, "what's up," and then the, "b" word, and then he hit me so.... >> so what did you do about it? >> i hit him back. >> did you get hurt? >> no, no. >> ok. let me see your hands... ok. wyatt blames keidrik who's now holed up in his room, not talking. quintero says 15 year old keidrik's mom is in a gang and she has several other kids. he's been in mesquite for 5 months, after violating probation for assaulting a police officer. keith is the only friend he's made. >> so you were saying that, that this is still prison. what do you mean?
i mean i think the guys out there would tell me that they're all working very hard. from the moment you got in here, to help you grow, and change and develop, and leave better off than you came in. is that not true? >> i guess. like, you ... take it how you want i guess. some people they don't see it as a prison but it really is. it's a juvenile prison. and you get your commitment, you come here and do your time. if you want help, sometimes they'll give you help. but, most of the time, you're on your own. >> you feel like you're on your own? >> pretty much, you fend for yourself. >> you don't feel like anyone is giving you any help? >> the only people really giving me help is my mom and my mentor right now. >> who's your mentor? >> uh, horton. >> mm. and what kind of help does he give you? >> just talks to me whenever i need someone to talk to. and one of the staff members ingram. he helps me a lot too.
he helps me a lot. just to stay out of trouble and stuff like that. he's been gone for a while so, it's been kinda ... kinda like weird without him around. >> taylor calls itself a center. the state lists it as a correctional facility. the leaderships calls the juveniles clients, not inmates. >> one of the young men i talked to today said, "they call us clients, but we're not clients. we're prisoners..." you can call it whatever you want, you're in a prison." does he have a point? >> well, we do still control their movement. uh, they are still certainly in an environment that we are in control of and they're not. and that probably feels like prison. >> and you have barbed wire. >> yes. >> and doors that lock. >> yes. >> in front of you, and behind you. >> yes. one of the toughest things for my job certainly is to always balance the needs of the client
and public safety. >> (unintelligible) that's making you both feel disrespected. and it's not worth it, 'cause.. >> alright. >> i'm telling you we can mediate but i'm just going to tell him i don't like you and i'm not gonna talk to you but whatever is done... >> ok, see there's a respectful way to do it and there's disrespectful. starting off a conversation with "i don't like you, but i'm willing to work this out, but just know i don't like you." you're still leaving that little dirt out there and it still can create some further issues that's not facing the situation. >> alright. >> and i want the situation to be resolved so we don't have no problems, not, not go in there and just say what you want to say for the time being. i don't need you fighting or having no more dir's or no more trouble. >> alright. >> you got me? >> yeah. >> ok. >> i told you earlier, you know, that immaturity and the way you would come off towards people that that was eventually going to happen. you know what i mean? so- you gotta treat people with respect to get it. >> yeah. >> you know? >> i mean the thing that really got to me was him just- the whole blind-siding thing like
that kind of pissed me off you know what i mean? >> mhm. you know if anything comes up you know you can contact, let us know so we can do our job. you know what i mean? so lets just stay focused. >> alright. >> ok? >> why don't you walk me through what happened. >> so i was cleaning my room and walked out, i went to the restroom and he told me to square up and he started swinging at me and just started fighting. >> there was nothing that precipitated it? there was nothing that... >> disrespect. >> you look a little agitated. >> 'cuz i haven't seen my family in forever and i just had a little sister that was born, and i haven't seen her yet. and it's just kinda frustrating. >> do you sort feel like you walk around frustrated all the time? >> yeah. >> keidrik has some attention issues, you know he's hard to focus. he's at the beginning of commitment so he's still in the 'buy-in-phase'. he's not sure whether he wants this because i don't think he's
seen enough of what we can do. >> most juvenile facilities isolate kids who fight or even shut them in solitary confinement. but not here. as part of the aclu settlement no kid can sit in a locked room alone. >> it's not ok to isolate kids. it's very damaging to them. >> as of right now you never can separate a young person? >> if one of them continues to act up, you can take that client to their room but the staff member has to stay there and work with them. and the...what i'm hoping for is talk them down, find out what the problem was, find out what caused the fight, find out what you need to do to make sure that situation doesn't come up again. >> but keidrik could face more
time if the staff rules that he was at fault. >> i don't believe you should segregate a kid for no reason or just, just to, you know. but, there's also i believe a time when you need to whenever it's, it 's unsafe for the other peers. as far as doing it as a punishment, i don't think that that really works with them, anyway. >> but, now you can't segregate at all? >> no. you, you're not able to secure them at all. even if they go into their rooms, you have to sit there and kind of monitor their behavior and, and in it, but you cannot secure their doors. >> james moya oversees the school where classes run 6 and a half hours 5 days a week, standard for new mexico since they instituted cambiar. >> we're never gonna suspend kids, or kick kids out of school, that's not an option for us, so that's, i guess, the big difference. the change that i've seen from the correctional to the cambiar model is more understanding of not what we could take away, or not how we could discipline, or,
or correct, but it's more like what can we reward. >> vincente is one of several kids who has earned his diploma in jail. >> so you finished your high school equivalency when? >> 2013. >> what was it like? on that day when you graduated? >> honestly, it was nothing special just another day. >> really? >> it wasn't nothing too special because i felt like i was in here i didn't really don't want to celebrate. >> could you go to college if you wanted to? >> hmm right now i'm attending- or just online classes we only take one class per a semester. i would like to get on, attend full time though. >> i'm sure you know the statistics young men of color the unemployment rates are really high. college is really expensive. >> yeah, that's why i was thinking about enlisting. i would like to do that too...
but with all my background it seems a little hard for that too and now i look back and it's like damn i really messed myself over. >> what are you going to do? >> i don't know. i just got to figure it out when it gets there. >> and will you study physics? >> yea, i want to. i want to get a degree in physics. >> you're sort of a contradiction. >> why do you say that? >> i don't know. i don't think there are a lot of 19-year-old young men who are interested in physics and a degree in physics. i can count the numbers of times i've had that conversation on one hand. you know? and yet we are having that conversation pretty much behind barbwire. >> yeah. >> in a cell. >> yea, i'm a unique case. i get that a lot. >> vincente has just one year to go on a three-year sentence. >> both keith and vicente need to keep calm or they risk serving more time. >> i dunno i just got to constantly like, maintain my
behavior because if i don't i could slip up and get another ir and possibly be extended. and just kind of start helping other people, helping myself just keeping up positive behavior, positive attitude. >> it requires a lot of buy in on the part of the kids. >> it does. and when we have a kid brand new under commitment we don't have that buy in. we have to sell it to him. >> what, what do you sell? what's the, what's the thing you're selling? >> we sell change. we sell positive. we sell future. by showing them there is a world out there. that you can be angry, yet not hurt people. we show them that there is a future that they can get these same things by being motivated enough to go out and get it. we build self-esteem. >> keith was making progress before the fight. his monthly evaluation could mean lost privileges, or even more time.
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water for coal. monday, 10:00 eastern. only on al jazeera america. in cambiar, kids progress through 4 stages: each stage gets them more privileges. >> for the most part. you've had 2 mess-ups, you know what i mean? that's part of your changing you know what i mean? you went from 30 a month to 2 in a month, so you have been work