tv Kids Behind Bars A Soledad O Brien Special Report Al Jazeera April 19, 2015 2:00am-3:01am EDT
>> 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. >> al jazeera's investigative unit has tonight's exclusive report. >> from coast to coast. >> people selling fresh water for fracking. >> stories that have impact. >> we lost lives.
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>> we will be able to see change. >> gripping. inspiring. entertaining. talk to al jazeera. 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 working on it so that's what you're talking about progress- >> so, what do you think the chances are that you're going to get moved up to stage 2 today? >> i mean, it's been 6 months, i should've had it earlier but i just barely started to wanna change. >> what made you wanna change? >> just, my family. they're just telling me that they- no matter what i do they still, they're still going to be there for me, and they support
me. so i was like, well, if they care, i should care. so then i started just doing what i had to do so i could be back with them. >> so you're nervous. it's a big deal today? >> yeah. >> you were in a fight the other day. >> yesterday. we both said it was stupid. like there was no reason for us to get mad like that. >> but you just get so mad that you can't stop and think and say like "wow, tomorrow, i'm going before this board... >> nah ... i was just .. - it was just impulse. it just happened, out of nowhere. one minute i was calm, and then the next thing you know, i was just, we were arguing. >> do you have to speak in front of them? >> yeah. >> good luck. >> i know, thank you! >> i hope it goes well. >> thank you. hopefully i get it. but i don't know- if i don't i'll just work harder, and maybe next time i'll get it. he faces staff, his therapist, and on speaker phone his probation officer.
>> i know, keith had mentioned that he would like to present for his his stage two, um do you have you paperwork ready for that? >> yes sir. >> do you wanna go ahead and present that for, to us? >> alright first i'ma start with my autobiography. alright, put this right here. my name is keith. i was born in the bronx, new york, at the bronx hospital. at the time i lived with my mom, dad, and six brothers and sisters. >> yeah, cause i wanna do good for them so, like, cause i'm always letting them down now, i wanna make them proud of me. make my mom feel like, she has like, like she can trust me and believe what i say now. cuz back then she couldn't trust me, i would steal from her, lie to her all the time. >> as he is getting close to the end of his commitment, he is starting to think and he's starting to control himself. >> my short and long term goals. first my three short-term is to work on my anger more, to get more credits in school, and to build a better relationship with my family.
and my three long term goals is to graduate high school, to start college in here, and when i get out, to get a job and start a family, on my own. >> we'll work on the specifics later. >> alright, my bad. >> oh no, it's good man. >> i know, uh, that it was hard for you to open up and share that amongst everybody else. >> um he is working now on identifying coping skills that work for each type of trigger. he's becoming a bit insightful as to his triggers, uh, who it is, but more than that the behavior in others that triggers him. >> keith's mom joins the call. >> ms. diaz do you have any comments at this time? >> yes, i just wanna tell keith that his whole family loves him, they are behind him one hundred percent always have been, uh keith needs to stop focusing on letting his family down and he needs to start focusing on how he let himself down.
he needs to do this for himself. and don't worry about how we are- you're letting us down? you let yourself down... more than you let anybody else down. so you need to work on that, babe. we all love you. >> i love you too mom. >> with the staff here, do you guys feel that he should um get his stage two, or probationary status, how do you guy feel about that? >> how'd it go? >> ahh, i was nervous. >> yeah? >> but it went alright, i, i got on stage two but probationary, so that's sorta like, i have to just keep showing consistency and keep doing good. and if i do good for a while then they'll like, then they'll show that i'm on a stage-two level. >> so you're a stage two kinda. >> kinda, yeah (laughs) >> that's the first big smile i've seen all day from you. you feel good? >> yeah, i feel relieved, just got that done. >> what was the hardest part? >> just, i don't know, having my mom listen to all that stuff. >> what stuff? >> cause like, my empathy work about me like talking about how
it affected her, just having her hear that, cause that's the first time i've said anything about it to her, so that just, her hearing that just, it just took a lotta stress off my shoulders. >> how do you feel? >> i just feel exited now (laughs) feel like i can do anything, but i'm not gonna do it. (laughs) just gonna chill. >> keith offers advice to keidrik whose own fight finds him in trouble. >> so i want to talk to you about what's going on out there with you and wyatt. >> what about it? >> like what happened? why did it start? >> he was just running his mouth yesterday. i mean, there's just those words that you don't say and he called me a lame and stuff like that. >> but you need to also not run your mouth either. like because sometimes you do be instigating stuff but just chill out, dog. >> i mean i try to just chill and just like, stay out of people's way and you see that- like i just chill- stay to myself. >> i mean i have that problem too. like i look at you and i see you as me when i first got here,
'cuz when i first got here i was messing up, you know that from stuff i told you end up messing around and get extended because i'm already on that track so... >> yeah dog i just want to let you know, keep your head up, and don't let that get to you dog. >> my friend keith talks to me whenever i need somebody to talk to and stuff like that. it's just, he's really cool with me and stuff like that. he helps me a lot. >> ay fellas, we're gonna do a quick check-in. yeah, thank you, keith. >> so helping keidrik, is that part of moving out of a probationary stage 2 to a full-on stage 2? >> it could, yeah, for mentoring him. >> do you feel like you're a mentor to him? >> yes 'cause no one else even thinks about talking' to him. like, whenever he engages with anyone else, it's just, they're talking crap to him. >> keidrik, how was your day? >> um, it was alright. >> keidrik is facing a disciplinary hearing for fighting.
under this new system, he'll get to cool off with a counselor. >> hopefully everything goes good, i mean i was the victim, so i'm hoping that i don't get found guilty for battery on a client, because i didn't do nothing to cause it. he came at me so, hopefully everything goes good. hopefully i don't, i don't get charged with anything. >> under cambiar there are stages including loss of privileges for the offenders and the unit. >> al jazeera america, weekday mornings. start your day with a view of the world. catch up on what happened overnight with a full morning brief, a fast paced look at the stories shaping your day. >> sending a strong message to the rest of the world. >> stories with impact. news with importance. >> people gotta have water. >> get a first hand look with in-depth reports and
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keidrik faces a disciplinary hearing for fighting. at risk: a longer sentence. >> psh, i could get extended. i could get an extended sentence. it's kinda- i'm kinda nervous right now 'cuz i really don't want to get extended but if it happens it happens... and here he comes. >> none of these kids want to go to the penitentiary. and sometimes they act tough. "i don't care if i go."
but you know what? they do care. they care a lot. and they don't want to end up like friends and relatives. and they don't want to end up dead. >> he comes out the hearing with the weight of the decision on his shoulders. >> psh- i got found guilty for it. >> i thought that [bleep] rushed you? >> he did. that's bull [bleep]. i'm putting in an appeal for it right now. >> i'll help you do it alright? >> alright. [bleep] man. this bleep]ing [bleep] made that [bleep]. >> i mean i don't really think this program's helping me. >> no? why not? >> it's not something that i need. >> is part of the theory that if you think about it and talk about it and kind of work through it that you come out the other side better? >> honestly, i think this place has just made me a better criminal. >> how do you mean? >> i've learned more stuff than i would learn on the outs.
>> the measure of whether cambiar works will be kids like keidrik, vincente and keith who finally gets to see his family for his birthday. >> oh, today i get to visit all my mom, and just all my family. i'm kinda anxious, cause i haven't seen them in a while so. specially my niece and nephews so i'm kinda anxious to see them. i got a haircut, looking all fresh. gotta look good for my family, so. >> he joins them in a room off campus, with guards, shackles, and chains. >> is there an up side to being here? >> yeah, 'cause, i'm more safe than i am being out. >> safe? >> i'm not, using drugs anymore, so that's a positive. i'm not fighting as much, 'cause on the outside, [i'd] fight every day. so it's just, uh, that i'm not getting in as much trouble. i still am. but, i'm working towards being more positive.
>> oh i love you! >> i love you too. >> being here celebrating keith's birthday was just our way of bringing him a little bit of home. i see a big difference in keith now compared to the other times. he would still look hard and withdrawn. you know? he wasn't as outgoing but we would go visit. and um, now, it's totally different. because he's never done that. he's never opened up like that before. he has literally cried on the phone, talked about the counselor. talked about his mentor, and the guards, and so yeah i think this time is for real. >> [singing happy birthday.]
>> vicente believes it's not cambiar who is being tested here. it's him. >> i've talked to other people here who say listen i'm just learning to be a better "bad guy". >> nah that's not for me. >> is that possible here? >> it is possible. anything is possible in here. like, if you want to come here and learn the negative things of course we have negative things- the drugs, the fights, the gangs- we do have all that stuff here too. >> were you a member of a gang? >> yes. >> what's with the shrug? is that like a no but a yes? >> i've just been doing it my whole life but then, you know, i don't wanna do it no more. >> can you just quit?
>> i could. i would say. >> they were telling me you're thinking about getting your tattoos removed? have you gotten some removed already? >> yeah i'm in the process. my fingers are already gone. >> i can see little bits of ink right like...there's that and there's that. so it covered your whole fingers basically? >> yes ma'am >> wow you have a lot. why do you want to remove your tattoos? >> like, honestly, i want to join the military and you can't have nothing that shows. >> so when you get out and you go back home. >> well i really don't want to go back home, but. >> can you go some place else? >> i'm gonna try to do the independent living. and if that don't work out, i could stay here in las cruces or albuquerque somewhere. what he doesn't want is to return to the lure of drug, gangs back home. cambiar's biggest test would be whether kids like him can make it on the outside. >> when he is in his world, you sit there and wonder why he was ever committed. if you didn't know his history like, what's this kid doing here? he is so talented. i think he is gonna make it.
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