Over the years many of our sisters in California have ministered in the Juvenile Detention Centers or jails. Currently, Sr. Teresa Doherty ministers to these young people under 18 years of age who are kept in cells, forced to wear a bright orange uniform, march with both hands behind their backs and have no physical contact.
Srs. Mary Christian, Margaret Farrell, Claire Fleming, Anne Giblin, Patricia Murphy, Philippa Chakabveyo, Emma Chakupalesa and the late Francis Margaret McMahon, have all served in one of these facilities over the years. Srs Una Connolly and Carmel Somers have been involved in working with interns, and Probation Officers. Several of our sisters have accompanied the kids to the Juvenile Court as well as advocated for their release. Srs Una and Carmel also followed up at the Valley Counselling Center with youth who had been in detention.
Here is the true story of Elizabeth, whom Teresa Doherty and Margaret Farrell have continued to accompany since her teens.
When Elizabeth was a young teen she was hanging out at a park with friends and left them to go to the toilet. When she returned she found that a girl had been shot dead. Elizabeth gave information to the police and cooperated with their investigation.
Two years later, there was a knock at the door. Elizabeth was nursing her 3 month old baby. Her baby was taken from her and she was arrested for a crime that happened when she was 16 years of age. Her mother would come to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall where Teresa Doherty worked and collect the milk which Elizabeth pumped daily for little Kevin.
Elizabeth was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison. It was heartbreaking and devastating for her and her family. At first it was extremely difficult for her to comprehend everything but over the years she has learned to live with the hope that someday she can be free again and be reunited with her son and her family. Elizabeth has put her energies into helping other young women like her. She has formed a group within the prison for women who were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when they were juveniles.
Over the past 16 years Margaret Farrell has taken Elizabeth’s mother and son to visit her in prison. Margaret was so struck by the first visit as she says, “I will never forget my first visit with her as I watched her sit with her little boy on her lap, she took off his socks to examine his toes and she said to me, ‘I just have to make sure that he’s for real so that I have some reason to continue to live here!’ And I’ve watched for years as she has cried so hard when our visiting time comes to an end and she has to say good bye to her son again.”
In December, 2010, a new bill was introduced that would help make California’s laws more fair, and give a chance to young people to turn their lives around. Many Sisters of Charity have signed a petition for the passage of SB 9, which recognizes that all young people, even those serving life without parole sentences, have the capacity to change for the better and should have access to the rehabilitative tools to do so. This Act would provide an opportunity for review and resentencing after many years of incarceration for youth sentenced to life without parole in prison. If SB 9 passes it will directly impact Elizabeth.
Kevin has grown up to be a wonderful young teenager who plans to join the navy and one day become a lawyer so that he can help free his mother.
* 15,000 California youth are detained in juvenile correctional facilities each year
* 230,000 juveniles are arrested each year…over 600 minors each day
* In California, youth are sentenced to life without the possibility of parole which
guarantees that they will die in prison, with limited opportunity for programs and
no chance for rehabilitation or re-entry into the community.
* Over 150 California religious congregations and organizations, including The
California Catholic Conference of Bishops and the L.A. Council of Religious
Leaders, have registered their support of Juvenile Justice Week of Faith and Healing
Watch videos by clicking on links:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fr-xRQi087g (trailer for a film)