Since I was a kid, I really loved school. I was always really good at it. Out of all my sisters – I have four – I had always been the overachiever. I loved everything about school: I loved my friends, I loved my teachers and I got good grades. When I was a freshman in high school, I took on everything I could – I was in acting, I was in soccer, I did sports, I was in DECA, I took as many IB classes as I could, and I had a lot of friends.
Sophomore year was just as good. I stayed in acting – ever since I was 7 years old I wanted to be an actress – and I was the main role in the play sophomore year. The beginning of junior year was amazing too, but in the middle of it I met some friends that my parents didn’t really like. And those friends ended up convincing me to steal and, like an idiot, I did.
Even though those friends were involved, I took the rap for it and by the end of junior year, I had been expelled from high school. Because I had never been in any legal trouble, they didn’t take me to jail, but I was put on house arrest.
I had no out time. School was everything to me so being on house arrest, seeing all my sisters going to their jobs and going to school, it was depressing, I felt so depressed being locked in the house 24/7 and not being able to do anything. Court dates are months and months apart and there’s no way I was going to get off of house arrest just like that. So pretty much my whole summer last year, I was looking forward, court date to court date.
I was so depressed that I cut my bracelet off. I knew I had court July 30, so I cut my bracelet off July 1. I didn’t think it was as big of a deal. I didn’t think they would take a 17 year old to jail. I ended up going to court July 30, and my attorney explained to the judge that I was depressed, that I was going through a stage in my life where I couldn’t get it together. The judge said he understood, and he put it back on me for 24/7 house arrest.
September 11 was my birthday, so you can imagine how tempting it was to leave the house again. And I did. Since my court dates were so far apart, it was like I had at least two months to live a little before I got back in trouble again. So I hung out with my friends, went out to eat, went shopping, all with my bracelet on.
A few weeks after my birthday, I was driving and got pulled over. My case manager had warned me not to leave my house again, and he ended up reporting me, so it went in the system that I bail jumped and there was a warrant out for my arrest.
Every place I went from August to October was tallied up and counted as bail jumping. So within that three-month time span, I went to 20 different places, whether it was to a store, to my friend’s house, out to eat, or across the street, they charged me with every single place. So I went to jail, and my bail was $10,000. My mom and my family were freaking out, but my attorney reminded them that the judge gave me a lot of chances and they have to take it seriously. I couldn’t make my family pay $10,000, especially because my mom has to provide for my sisters. So my attorney told me to wait it out.
I was pretty much always the youngest in jail. Everyone in the jail was coming from prison to get sentenced or to get other court stuff over with. So I would see all these new faces, people coming in, people bonding out. I had no idea when I might get out. It would either be when my court date was set, or if I was bonded out. The first three months weren’t unbearable. My family came to visit me, so I wasn’t homesick yet. I was like, OK, I’ll be done soon, I just have to wait for my court dates. But near the end of those three months, I felt like I was going crazy.
Being in there alone is scary. You wake up every day in a cell, and there are 2 phones for 24 people. And you have to share the showers. I’m not uncomfortable with my body, but for some, that can be really scary. I remember a girl who was actually younger than me was brought in and she was terrified. I told her that it gets better, but she ended up getting bonded out after about a week.
One of the scariest parts was when people who were drug addicts came to jail and then they had withdrawals. When they bring someone in, you don’t know who they’re going to room with. I never had anyone in my room who was going through withdrawals, but it was always something I worried about when someone new came in.
After three months in jail, a teacher from the school district I had been part of came to me and explained that they saw I had been a really good student and it would have been really unfortunate if I let that go to waste. Since school was everything to me, I took the opportunity to finish my senior year of high school in jail.
I had seven classes to finish, but trying to stay focused on my homework without being able to ask for help and with everything on my mind wasn’t easy. There are all sorts of drama in jail with other people and what they’re going through, and there’s no privacy. If someone’s arguing, you can’t tell them to be quiet – we all live together. I tried mostly to get my homework done at night when everyone was sleeping, but then it was hard sleeping during the day because everyone else wanted to have fun and watch TV.
There are plenty of people who would turn the opportunity to finish high school in jail down, thinking they don’t have a future ahead of them because of the trouble they got into. But I didn’t want to go back to high school when I got out. So I finished everything and I actually ended up graduating in January. My little sister always looked up to me, so I needed to show that even though I was in a bad situation, I could overcome it and set a good example.
I finally got out around March on a bond reduction. I literally watched the snow come and go. I said Happy Halloween, Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Birthday to my mom, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year all over the phone from jail. But while I was in there, I heard the same advice from people who had been in prison for most of their lives and are just getting out: Don’t come back, it’s not worth it.
When I got out, I was on house arrest again, so I didn’t get to go to prom or walk across the stage at graduation. It was definitely disappointing seeing all of my friends on Facebook and Snapchat at prom with all of their dresses and on the party bus. I had always looked forward to going to prom. And with graduation, I went through a point where I was like as long as I got my diploma that’s all that matters, I don’t need to cross the stage. But deep inside I really did want to go to my own graduation. The only way I’ll be able to experience crossing the stage is by graduating college, which I definitely plan on doing to study acting, dentistry or anesthesiology.
I really want to encourage people not to give up when you feel like it’s the end of the world. Everything happens for a reason. Never get discouraged because everyone has a past, and no matter what people say about you, you know who you are and that’s all that really matters.
Editor's note: The author's last name has been excluded from this article to protect her identity.
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