After spending three weeks at Rikers last year for beating a girl up, I promised myself I would work on controlling my anger so I wouldn’t get in any more fights.
For a while, I was managing my anger well. I was walking away from confrontations, going to therapy, and successfully using the strategies I learned there. I was interning at YCteen, going to school, and applying for part-time jobs.
Then, I walked into trouble without realizing it.
I was heading to my internship after school and a girl began following me with her two friends. She and I used to be friends but lately she was jealous of me because I’d started seeing a cute guy who she liked too. She came up to me, smacked my hat off my head, and came toward me to hit me. I pushed her away.
We went our separate ways and I thought that was the end of it. The next morning when I went to school I found out she had pressed charges against me. I think she was looking for a way to make trouble for me.
Even though I felt I hadn’t done anything wrong, because the girl pressed charges, I had to turn myself in to the detectives. One was impressed that I’d come in voluntarily. “It makes my day to see a young lady like you take responsibility like this.”
The other detective who was assigned to my case was kind to me too. He brought me a Philly cheesesteak sandwich and my favorite dessert: strawberry cheesecake. He also gave me about five dollars in change to make phone calls. He showed me pictures of his wife and kids and gave me a good lecture about not getting locked up again.
A Small, Dirty Cell
I had to wait in a small, dirty cell with an older lady who didn’t stop talking. It seemed like she had mental problems. I was tired and cold. I was there all night and couldn’t sleep because I had to share a bench with the lady and she took up most of it. In the morning a policeman drove me to the courthouse to appear before the judge who remembered me from my past infractions.
I came before her once when I was arrested for shoplifting and jumping a subway turnstile. This judge was pretty, but she was mean and strict. This time, I was polite and told her I was done getting locked up and that I’d been working hard to change. But she didn’t think I deserved any more chances. She sent me to Horizon Juvenile Detention Center while she reviewed this case and other past and pending cases against me.
Behind Bars Again
Being in a correctional facility is the worst. I had to go to bed really early, wake up really early. It seemed like I had about four minutes to eat my breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If I wasn’t finished, the staff would sometimes snatch my tray and we would all have to leave so the next group could come in to eat. Showers and toilets were unclean. It made me feel angry and disgusted.
I was so upset at being locked up, it was hard for me to control myself. I got into a few confrontations in the beginning. But I wanted to go home and I knew I had to use my anger management skills to help me.
I was in a juvenile facility. At 17, I was one of the oldest girls there. Many of the younger girls were immature and in my face. Others I wanted to help. One night, I took a blue marker from one of the younger residents so she wouldn’t get in trouble. She had taken it and written all over the tables because she was mad about something that had happened earlier in the day. I felt sorry for her because I remembered how I felt at her age and I didn’t want her getting in even more trouble for stealing the marker. I threw it in the garbage.
Later, I was accused of drawing on the table. I felt like I was going to lose my mind. One of the correction officers said I had destroyed state property and that it was going to go on my record. Hearing those words, my anger built up and I wanted to hit someone. But instead I just went in my room, took deep breaths and lay down and read a book.
I knew that if I got into any altercations, it would go in my file and the judge would see it. That would keep me in there even longer. So I refused to respond, even when provoked. There was one girl who talked badly about me while I was sitting right across the table from her or she’d just stare at me and laugh with another girl. It would really upset me, but then I’d remind myself that I had to let these little things go if I wanted to go home.
“I only have 10 days until my court date and I’m not going to let you ruin it for me by losing my temper,” I said to her.
Connecting With Correction Officers
I was in school from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; then we had some free time. I would have preferred to be by myself to avoid confrontations with the aggressive girls, but I had to think of how my behavior would be perceived. If I just stayed in my room, the correction officers might report that I was too quiet and should be psychologically evaluated, and that would affect a court decision.
Some of the correction officers (COs) antagonized me too. For instance if I did something small such as play with a younger girl’s hair or help one fix her shirt, the COs might try to misconstrue that as gay behavior, which is prohibited in the detention center. I didn’t get punished, but they would threaten me, saying things like, “If you continue with this behavior, I will lock you in your room all day.”
I also felt like some of the COs intentionally tried to antagonize me. I remember a time I was sitting in the hall minding my own business. “What’s your problem? Why do you look so mean like you’re going to start something with somebody?” one asked. I said I was fine, but she said, “I don’t care if you hang yourself up, I’m still going to get paid and keep my job.” I knew better than to engage with her because at the end of the day I’m locked up, not her. It’s up to the judge when I get to go home.
I stayed in control by using a strategy that was already working for me before I was remanded: killing them with kindness. I would either ignore their remarks or agree with them, laughing along. I guess I gained their respect because I eventually developed a close bond with several of them who became supportive and helpful.
Also, I also knew that positively engaging with the COs would help keep me away from the other inmates and as a result, reduce my chances of getting into fights. I needed a good report for when I had to stand before the judge again.
Picking Up Where I Left Off
After two months I went back to court so the judge could decide whether to let me go home or keep me locked up. I tried to look decent. I wore my hair in a bun. But I also wanted to be comfortable in case the judge sent me back to bookings, which is one big cell with about 20 girls. So I wore sweatpants and a sweater. I was relieved when the judge reduced my charge and required me to complete a four-month therapeutic program for teens who have been involved in the juvenile justice system.
“This is the last chance I’m giving you,” she said. “Next time, you will do 18 months upstate in a prison.”
Now that I am out, I watch who I surround myself with so I don’t find myself in a situation like I was in with that girl again. I only hang out with people who are focusing on graduating, getting a job, and going to college.
My priority is to finish high school. I have one more year; I know that I am capable of doing it. A lot of times I feel fed up but I try to fight it off and stay positive.
I still think I was unfairly punished, but some of the effects were good. Now I am even more determined to stay away from trouble. I’m much better at ignoring certain things and letting them go. I take deep breaths and think of something positive which calms me down. I was innocent of this particular charge, but because I’ve lost my temper so many times, it is especially important to learn how to keep it under control.