Michael's Story

 photography by Sarah Fleming for the Juvenile Project

photography by Sarah Fleming for the Juvenile Project

"You only get two visits a week, 15 minutes, through the phone in glass. It's on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This was on a Monday. I'm not supposed to have a visit today. I was supposed to go to court today, but I didn't expect a visit. Anyway, I walk in, and my mom, I could tell she was upset. So I started talking to her, and then she just tells me, they've certified you. It was really crazy because I'm like how did they make that decision? I didn't attend the certification hearing."

“I was sentenced to 10 years in the Department of Corrections, but instead of executing that sentence, they were going to send me to DYS [Division of Youth Services], and the kicker was DYS has to come and interview me and accept me into the program, but they would only do so after I pled guilty. I was just sentenced 10 years, and if they would have interviewed me and said eh, he's not a good fit for our program, I've already pled guilty to 10 years.”

Michael is a 22 year-old college student at Columbia College in Missouri. When he was 16 years old, he was committed to a dual jurisdiction facility that serves juveniles who are certified as adults. He spent five years there, and he was released five days before his 21st birthday. 

Interview with Michael, conducted by Joann Self Selvidge for The Juvenile Project (TJP) on March 04, 2017 at the MacArthur Justice Center in St. Louis, MO.

Joann: So tell me your name and how old you are, and just tell me a little bit about yourself. 

Michael: My name is Michael... I'm currently 21. I turn 22 next month. Just a little bit about me, I suppose I should start with I'm a student at Columbia College. I'm studying political science. I switched from accounting. I was going to study accounting at Mizzou [University of Missouri], but I decided a political science degree was better, so I moved my sights to Columbia College, and that's where I'm attending school now. I managed to get a job finally, so I'm really excited. I'm starting to be less excited about it now. It was really weird. They hired me full time, or excuse me - they hired me part time, but I'm actually working full time, which I'm not complaining about because it helps a lot. 

Joann: What kind of work is it? 

Michael: I work at a gas station on the midnight shift. So I go to work, and then I'll go to school whenever I get off of work. It's actually one of the only shifts that works around my school schedule, so that's why I'm so grateful for it so it really helps out a lot. 

Joann: You mentioned that you have siblings? 

Michael: Yeah, I have two younger brothers. One, he's going to turn 18 here in a week and a half, and the other just turned 16 the day after Christmas. 

Joann: Where did you all grow up? 

Michael: I'm from southeast Missouri, like the Bootheel area, a really small town, Malden, Missouri. It's only 5,000 people. We have one of the best school districts. I know it's definitely recognized statewide. I'm not sure about national, but it wouldn't surprise me. So that was really cool. My brothers are taking advantage of it for sure. I got most of it, so that's cool. The green wave... Everybody's always skeptical of the mascot at first, but it was swampland back in the day. They cleared it all out, dug ditches and everything, so. Very southern, deep south stuff. 

Joann: So tell me - every once in a while I'm going to pause because we have traffic or sirens or such that might be going on. Tell me how you came into contact with the juvenile justice system. 

Michael: Right. When I was 16, I guess long before I was 16, I started to struggle with depression. The really weird thing is when you're 12, 13, 14, you don't know that you're struggling with depression. You don't know what the heck is going on. The whole cliché, like, what's going on with me? So there was all that going on. So I wasn't able to identify it, and then I think maybe as a result of that or maybe just because I was a teenager, I also had some anger issues. They weren't a good combination at all. I didn't put much thought into what was going on with me internally, and again, I would say that's characteristic of being younger and a kid like that. But as I started to get into 15 and 16, I also started to use drugs. I think I started off with inhalants, and then it just progressed into doing various drugs, and sometimes simultaneously, but even if it's not simultaneous, I'd have a lot of substance in my body in a very short span. So it was not healthy at all, and it wasn't a good addition to the mix. 

Eventually, it all culminated to suicide. I was really tired of my life. I was tired of everything. I was really good at putting myself in the victim stance, and so everything was just so terrible. I decided that I didn't want anything else to do with it. So I developed, I guess you could say a suicide plan. I was unable to do it, so I guess I didn't really want to commit suicide as bad as I thought I did, because I didn't. But I did sit on that for a while. I ended up constructing another plan I guess you could say, and it would have been, I think the term is copicide. That's not how I conceptualized it back then, but that's essentially what it was. That was my plan. It was to ... I had a hit list, and they arrested with me unlawful position of a weapon, Class C. It was the pipe bombs. So the rifles and everything I had, they didn't charge me with those, because they were all legal. I didn't obtain them illegally. Like my family was hunters and whatnot. I guess those were a technicality. They couldn't get me for those, thankfully. 

So I had a hit list. I know that was kind of an incoherent spiel right there, but I had a hit list, and my goal was to carry out those plans until my law enforcement contact, at which point I guess it would all be over. So fortunately, I wrote it all down in my school notebook. So while I was taking notes in chemistry, in the back of my notebook was the checklist and the hit list and an outline and some suicide letters. It was all there, present in class. One of my teachers found it. It was September 8, 2011. He found it, and I don't think he read any of the homicidal stuff. I think the only thing he found - because there was quite a few suicidal letters, as I recall - I think that's what he found. So he took it to the office, and he called my mother. I knew the instructor. He was a good guy. So he was legitimately concerned for me. So he called my mother, and immediately my mom was there at the school. She checked me out of school and was taking me to a psychiatric evaluation. Nothing serious, but with potential to be committed. It's not like SSM or anything. It's a much smaller scale. 

But meanwhile, the school was going through the rest of my notebook, and that's when they started to find the other concerning material there. At that point, they alerted the police. So the police were looking for me, to take me into custody, to question me, like why do you have this stuff written down. They were there before my mom checked me out. It looked really weird. Apparently they thought that my mom and I went on the run, but my mom and I were just going two towns over. That's all rural. There's nothing down there really. So we were just two towns over, and once they got ahold of her, she was like no, this is what's going on. I'm here. They dispatched the sheriff - because it was all in the same county - they dispatched the sheriff, and for some reason, I had to formally be evaluated. The intake process had to be completed before she could arrest me or anything. So she was just sitting there like while they're taking my vitals and asking me questions and evaluating me. But once they concluded that officially, she let me give my mom a hug, and she took me into custody. 

From which point, I was taken back to Malden, the police station. So while all this was going on, they were getting a warrant to search my house, which they did only get a warrant to search my room. Which they did work within the bounds of the warrant. They only searched my room, the police that is. That's whenever they found the pipe bombs and everything else. That's when they began to realize it was a little more serious than somebody writing in a notebook. So they thoroughly searched my room. They had a whole bunch of other material, ammunition and whatnot, and also it was all in one place. So it wasn't like they were trying to scrounge and set me up or whatever. 

So they prepared, and it was time for the interview, which they corrected me: It was not an interrogation, it was an interview. But my mom was present, and there was a juvenile officer present. There were two City of Malden police officers, and the sheriff's deputy present as well. They informed me, like they Miranda'd me, and they told me I could ask my mom to leave. It was really weird, because I'd never been arrested before, never been in trouble with the law. This was my first time ever, first system contact. Not even probation or informal diversion or anything like that. Especially with what they were talking about, what I had done. It was a really uncomfortable thing, not only to come to grips with with law enforcement, but just with my mother. 

So the first mistake of that day that I made was I asked my mom to leave, and she had to comply with that. They proceeded to interview me, and from there, then I was sent to SSM for evaluation, which was four hours away. 

Joann: SSM? 

Michael: I'm sorry. It's Sister Saint Mary. I guess the third floor is the juvenile evaluation floor. That's where I spent I think 27 days, and it was just shy of a month. Then I went to juvenile detention, and as a violent offender, with my violent offense particularly, I wasn't allowed to interact with the other people in the facility, the detention center. So what that meant, I wasn't allowed to go to school, and the school program there is if you don't go to school, you don't get school, because a lot of people, not a lot of people, but it wouldn't be uncommon for somebody to just refuse to leave their cell. So at that rate, then you just don't get schooling, they're not going to take it to your room. So there was no differentiation between that and me not being allowed to leave to go to school, so I just didn't get it. 

So right at the end of the year, almost before 2012 began, a couple days, the lady that was working on that side, because there's only two sides in that detention center, and she come and told me that my mom was there to visit me, which was really weird. You only get two visits a week, 15 minutes, through the phone in glass. It's on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This was on a Monday. I'm not supposed to have a visit today. I was supposed to go to court today, but I didn't expect a visit. Anyway, I walk in, and my mom, I could tell she was upset. So I started talking to her, and then she just tells me, they've certified you. It was really crazy because I'm like how did they make that decision? I didn't attend the certification hearing. So that really threw me for a loop, I guess you could say. As it was, I wasn't supposed to have a visitor anyway. So the lady was nice enough to give me the visit, but she wasn't going to let me sit there all day. 

It came time for my mom to leave, and I returned to my cell. Then shortly after that, they brought me my clothes because in the facility you wear all orange, orange socks, orange pants, orange shirt. She brought me my clothes, which at first was what I was wanting her to do, like just get in my clothes, let me out. It was a really dreadful feeling because now that she was handing my clothes to me, it wasn't because I was about to leave. It was because I was about to take my property with me and go to county jail. About the time I finished getting dressed, I didn't know at the time, but there were corrections officers from the jail, the county jail, and they were there to transport me. So they put the shackles and the cuffs on, then we went. It was really weird because the only juvenile detention center in that whole area is not in our county. So I was from Dunklin County, but I was in Stoddard County detention center for juveniles. So we had to go all the way to the county seat because I had to go to the county jail. 

So I get processed in. All the CO's are giving me a taste of what CO's are. I finally make it to my cell, which my cell wasn't on a pod or anything. I was in general population. So they have holding cells right there in the booking area. So JA 131 was my holding cell. It was actually my residential cell, I suppose. So whenever I get in there, I'm taking it in. It's really crazy. I always thought on TV, it's just whatever. But it was like a metal bunk, a toilet on the wall, and then the door. So I'm sitting there thinking okay, just trying to get myself prepared. I can do this. Just trying to psych myself up or whatever. A CO comes in, and he hands me a piece of paper that turns out to be my warrant, and the two charges are the Class B assault first degree, and Class C unlawful possession of a weapon. The bail was set at $500,000 cash only. And that really ... 

I guess I was thrown for several loops that day. That was awfully confusing to me, like that's half a million dollars. I did some math, and if my family, my parents were to collectively save every penny that they'd ever earned for, I forgot how many years, but it was quite a few years, they still wouldn't have enough to bail me out. It wasn't $500,000 bail. For a lot of people that would have been 10%. So you can go to a bondsman and pay them 10%, and you can get it. But it was $500,000 cash only. That really made it click in my head, this is ... like, prepare to be in it for the long haul, Michael. 

That's how that went. I ended up going to court, and my attorney, this is what throws me for yet the third loop, is my attorney was going to push for me to get the least amount of sentencing, like get you a 120, shock treatment, we can't get you probation. He was just like what can we do to get you the least. I was like okay. If I'm looking at all this, they obviously are trying to do something like that, $500,000 cash only bail, or bond. So I'm thinking okay, I understand your strategy, I'll go with it. I'm not tripping. I must have went to court six times, and every time it was continued, continued. It was essentially pointless for me to go to court. All those times I went to court, it was continued, it was of no consequence, me attending. It was nice because I got to get out of the cell, get on the bus, head over to the courthouse, but other than that, it was of no consequence. 

Then finally my lawyer was like, look, this is what they're doing. They're offering you this program at, I think it's called DYS, and what it'll be is they'll give you a 14 day furlough on house arrest, which would have been law date to law date. They'll give you a 14 day furlough on house arrest, and then you're going to plead guilty. To get all this, you have to plead guilty to the Class B. They're not going to charge you with the C. I'm thinking well that's not doing anything. They're dropping the lesser and still giving me the bigger. It's not that much of a deal. He's like yeah, but it's only one charge as opposed to two. I'm like okay. So I'm thinking about it, and I was really thrown for a loop. I'm going to stop saying that. I have to. I get on my own nerves with that. 

But I was really just, I didn't understand it because it wasn't just like me generalizing anything. It was systematic. People would go to court. They would come back. The first thing the prosecutor offered them was some off the wall amount of years, like 30 years, and they've got a Class C theft charge. So that's unreasonable. So what they would do is just offer you a crazy charge that they know you wouldn't take, crazy plea that they know you wouldn't take, get more time out of you, and then finally soften you up, so they can get you to do what they really wanted. I'm thinking, this is their first offer? They're going to give me a DYS program, I don't even know what DYS is. A furlough, and I have to plead guilty today. That's crazy. I want to see what they offer next time, if they keep going down, you know what I'm saying? 

Then the attorney informed me that's the only time you're going to have this is today, so if you don't plead guilty, there's no telling what they're going to do next time. I'm thinking like dude, that's 14 days at home. I might be on an ankle bracelet, but that's 14 days out of my cell. That's DYS. That's not prison. I don't know what the heck DYS is, but it's not prison, it's not DOC [Department of Corrections], so there's that. In Missouri, the Division of Youth Services, which is DYS, it has ... I mean it's really for juveniles, so there's facilities all across the state for juveniles, and at that time, there was only one that was a dual- jurisdiction program, which would allow me, certified as an adult, supposed to be in an adult system, but to go serve my time in a juvenile facility. That was in Montgomery City. So in Montgomery City and nowhere else because it would be irrelevant everywhere else. But in Montgomery City, the regular juveniles that go to that level five [facility] are referred to as traditionals, because they're the traditional jurisdiction [juvenile system]. Then the people that have been certified [as adults in the criminal system], they're referred to as DJ's because they're dual-jurisdiction.

So knowing what I know now, my lawyer essentially explained to me a traditional program, and what that meant was I had an eight to nine or nine to 12 month stay there. I was thinking okay, two weeks out of that cell, nine to 12. Even if it's a year and a half, that's good. I'll go with it. I'm like all right, we'll do it. So we end up getting out of the counselor room. I go back and sit on the bench with everybody else. I step up there, I plead guilty. He asks me if I'm confident and aware, and I'm like yeah, of course. I did not say yeah, of course to the judge, but that went how it went. 

And so I was sentenced to 10 years in the Department of Corrections, but instead of executing that sentence, they were going to send me to DYS, and the kicker was DYS had to come and interview me and accept me into the program, but they would only do so after I pled guilty. I was just sentenced 10 years, and if they would have interviewed me and said eh, he's not a good fit for our program, I've already pled guilty to 10 years. I was thinking, like, they are trying to trip me up. But at that point, adolescent brain development, what I know about that now is I was not weighing things properly. I mean it worked out really well, but I was not weighing things properly because that's not a very good calculated risk, honestly. Because at that time, I didn't know that the acceptance rate by the interviewers into the program was almost 100%. They very rarely turn people down, but I didn't know that back then. It was not a good risk that I took, but I'm certainly glad I took it. 

So I got out the next day. 

Joann: How old were you at this point? 

Michael: I was still 16. So I'm actually 16 ... Yeah, so I'll explain it in chronological order, and it'll make sense, because I'm trying to remember it now, and ... So I get out on the furlough at 16, and I have to turn myself in, I think it's the day of my brother's birthday. So I go back in on the next law day. I abided by the terms of my ankle bracelet. I didn't move 50 feet away from the box. I didn't consume alcohol or drugs. So that went out really well. So I return, and they didn't have everything in order. They didn't have the interview set up or anything. They said hey look, we'll give you another law date. I'm like okay, two more weeks. I'm good. So same thing, I abide by the conditions. I enjoy my time. Everybody was bringing me home cooked meals. It was great. At this point, the second time I turned myself in was April 11th because at the time, that was my girlfriend's birthday. I forgot where I was going with that. 

At that point, I turned myself in. I got locked up September 7th, right, of 2011. I turn myself in for the final time on April 11, 2012, and at this point, everybody's like it's been crazy, you've been gone this long, and I'm thinking well it's about how much time I have left, maybe a little bit more. So I'm halfway through it. So I turn myself in. A few weeks later, the interview is set up. Well it's set up a few weeks later, they come to interview me, and there were three people present. It doesn't matter. Their names don't matter. But one was the regional administrator over the DYS region from which I was originally, and then a regular service coordinator. So in Missouri, a service coordinator in Division of Youth Services, essentially is like a probation officer, but it's a lot more of a comprehensive process. It's not like come report to me and everything. I guess as the name implies, a service coordinator. 

I will say my service coordinator, he did do well. I'm not afraid to call people out where they didn't, and I will say I do appreciate what my service coordinator did for me. But at the time, I don't think I knew what the service coordinator was - I didn't know what an SC was. I didn't know who any of those people were. They were talking to me, telling me about the program, this and that. 

Joann: Who was the third person? 

Michael: So he's the guy in charge of the dual-jurisdiction program in a sense. So he was actually the one doing most of the talking and just breaking down what the facility was, what the program's about, and then he starts talking about being in until I'm 21, and I'm 16 at this point. I'm doing some really quick math. That's five years. But I'm almost 17. It's really like four and a half years, closer to four years. I'm thinking, so if I do this, I'm getting a guarantee of four years... Whereas if I take it to trial, I could roll the dice and get a 120, shock treatment, 120 days in a low level prison. I can get off on probation. He's like yeah, you could do that, and it could not turn out so well for you, and you could press your bunk and play cards every day for the next 10 years. Or you have the opportunity to come to DYS. He said MCYC, because it's the Montgomery City Youth Center. 

He said you get the opportunity to go there and really work on yourself, take a look at what you got going on, and see what you can't do from there. And I'm thinking - for four years. I get to do all that for four years. I don't know why I was so ... I'm not going to say cocky. That's just not the appropriate response to give to somebody that's basically asking me to go to the only prison alternative for juveniles in Missouri that I'm aware of. The other alternatives are not sending them to prison, but there are no other prison alternatives in the sense that if you're going to get sent somewhere, it's going to be prison, or in that case, Montgomery City Youth Center. So I didn't respond with what I now know to be an appropriate response. I'm like dude, I'm not going to do that. That's ridiculous. I'm not going to commit myself to doing time whenever I have this possibility of not doing time.

Long story short, I tried telling that to my mom, and then my mom gave me some good logic. You showed up, that's what you're doing, you ain't risking going to prison. I'm paying for your lawyer, so if you want, you can try coming up with some money in there, you can sell commissary and trays to pay for a lawyer to take you to trial, but if you don't go to DYS, I'm done. And you think about it, that's totally reasonable for my mom to respond like that. Here I am sitting in jail having my head souped up by all these jailhouse lawyers telling me this and that, and she's just trying to have her baby home. I was not considerate of her position at all, and especially when I started telling her all that, let's take it to trial and all this. So that kinda sealed the deal. 

I'm like, okay. And I made that comment, well, yeah, if I go to DYS, I guess I'll work the program and work on myself. And the guy said it's not like that, if we invite you, you're going to commit yourself to it. It's not contingent upon anything. Again, I didn't understand the gravity of the situation. There are other kids ... I'm actually doing some work right now, side note. Missouri ... this is ridiculous. I was just really ungrateful, and it was totally out of ignorance, because there are other kids getting certified with no chance of even going to DYS, and here I am like, I don't even know if I want to go. It was almost, it was just ridiculous. I'm sorry. I wish I would have known then what I know now, and I would have definitely been grateful for it. I'm not about the system throwing bread crumbs to the juveniles, and them having to grovel for it and lapping it up and being so gracious. I'm not about that. But I'm also about giving credit where credit's due. And I kind of feel like that's what that was. But anyway. 

So I'm sitting in jail for another two weeks, and they pop the door at like 3:30 in the morning one day, and I know that's my transfer. I head up to Montgomery City. It was really weird because we actually drive right by it, and it's a big facility. It's like five, six buildings in there. Four of them are like the dorms or the cottages as we refer to them, and it's fenced in. We passed right by it, and I'm wondering why the CO's didn't know immediately that was the right building. I'm like okay, well that's still that many more minutes not in a facility or in a cell, so I'm happy. I get checked in, they did the metal detectors and everything, and the first thing I remember walking in because through the foyer, like there's a door, and then the foyer, and there's another door. Then there's the visitation area. I didn't know what the heck was at the time, of course. Straight ahead there's a gym, and there's a group in there, because we go by group. In DYS, we got cottages, which were basically the dorms. It was A through D, or was. Each cottage is comprised of its own group. That's your unit. It's all treatment, group therapy treatment. 

So there's a group in there playing basketball, and I don't know why, it's nothing dramatic or anything, but of course I still remember it, there was this big guy, we call him Big Mac, and I guess he had hurt himself, and he was on crutches. That was just my first image of DYS, looking through seeing that group playing basketball with this guy on crutches. I'm thinking okay, this can't be too bad. I make my way to my group, and it's all like traditionals. There's always juveniles coming in and out of the system. So we never know, like, unless they've been sitting in detention for a while, we're gonna get them. Maybe a two or three day notice. But apparently they had been waiting on me for a while, so they'd already processed me in as a group without me, in a sense. Like they knew I would come in as DJ, because there was always more warning for DJ's, just because it's a process. 

So they'd circled up. It's where the whole group comes to the center of the common area. We keep all of our furniture in a circle. That's the therapeutic structure we use. They started going around like hey my name is such and such from such and such, I'm this old, and whatever, so I was last to process myself in, and it was a brief discussion, just about what I'm there to do and let's get the day started. Because I got there at eight in the morning. Again, I didn't know it then, but it may have been a slightly rushed little process because everything is autonomous. They're like we're in charge of ourselves. Of course, staff will intervene if it's unsafe or unpractical or whatever. But I didn't realize it at the time, but just thinking about it, it may have been a little rushed because that was our gym time. It was our gym class. That's why nobody wants to waste gym time. After that, we went to the gym. I wasn't athletic. I was sitting in a cell for the last, like I said a couple days before January 1, 2012 to June 25, because that's the day I arrived, I was sitting in a cell. So I had no athleticism about me whatsoever. 

I guess from there from June 25, 2012 to April 21, 2016, just last spring, that's where I was, and that's about what I did. I think it was an overall good process. A lot of people attribute it to the program, and that's understandable. But I'll say the difference in who I am now and who I was ... It's not like I'm a different person or a new person, but there's a difference in who I am and who I was. It didn't come from a program. It didn't come because I went and sat in this facility. It definitely created some situations to bring about who I am today, and it did give me resources, because I went to college and received some training, like just ... actually various trainings in there, certifications, more certifications. It was a good setup because it provided you like with these resources, but it's not like it makes you anything. They can't make you do anything. That's one of the big things. You can sit in your bed. Of course, as a DJ, there was very little I could do and expect to not have repercussions, because if you don't work your program, they're not going to house you there. That's for people that want to make changes. So if you don't work your program, they're going to ship you off. Again, I don't think that's happened but maybe once or twice, three times maybe.

I'm not going to say it's easy to know everything about DJ's, but it's easy to know the history of the DJ program. Until 2013, that was the only program for which certified youth could go, aside from adult prison, and a lot of those staff had been working there since 1999, since 2000. If there was, how many people from here had been here, and as long as they knew, and that's just what it was. So it was easy to have an understanding of the entirety of the program, I guess you could say, because it wasn't even until 2015 that we had our first kid from Columbia, which is where I'm going to school right now. That was because of some work of Tracy McClard, Jonathan's Law, that extended the age, and it also said everybody had to at least be considered for it. And that's what put Boone County in the ringer because they weren't even considering juveniles for it.

I was actually in the cottage, he was in my group. His name is irrelevant, but I remember whenever he got there, we were just thrown for a loop because that's the first kid from Columbia that was a DJ that we had in our program. All the other... that wasn't the first kid that Columbia had certified, that's what I'm saying. So if they're not coming there, and they're certified, where are they going? They're not going home. They don't put you through the certification process just to slap you on the wrist. If you're getting certified, and you're not going to MCYC, it's a very safe bet you're going to end up in the Department of Corrections. 

So that was a really big deal seeing that. 

Joann: How many DJ's were there during that time period? 

Michael: I got there in 2012. I guess up until 2013, we were the only facility. No it must have been 2014, 2014. And it's only got like 45 beds there, and approximately 18 to 25 would be an average DJ population. Then around 2014, in St. Louis, Hogan Street, it may have already been level five, but it did become DJ oriented. We actually moved some of our DJ's from Montgomery City to Hogan Street, and also people certified in this region would go to Hogan Street as well. It wasn't a bad idea bringing DJ's from MCYC over there. There's kind of continuity. That's one of the reasons the program worked so well because there was always that sense of continuity. You've got new people coming into a group, people leaving. And the dynamic of course is going to change, but it's very, I just believe it's very effective. 

Joann: So the jurisdiction ends at the age of 21. 

Michael: Yeah, so at 21 or before. I forgot to mention that in my interview. He's like yeah, there is this is the possibility. This is the head guy. He says there is this possibility of you doing well, completing the program - because you're doing a "program" you're not doing time, and you can't see my finger quotations, but they're definitely present. You're not doing time. You're doing a program. But coincidentally there has been a shift where everybody's program has been completed right around their 21st birthday. That's not dependent on what time you got there. So if you got there at 15, 16, or 17, people who've been getting out have been getting out very close to their 17th birthday. 

Joann: You mean 21st? 

Michael: Yeah. I apologize. Definitely. They've been getting out very close to their 21st birthday. Mine in fact was the most extreme that I've seen. Mine was five days before my 21st birthday. That did not sit well with me. It's kind of hard to be ungrateful for getting out after almost five years. So I wasn't going to complain, but again, it wasn't exactly what it was all cracked up to be, if that's the case, you know what I'm saying? At all. 

Joann: Well, explain to me a couple things. I have some questions. So you said that your mother had hired a private attorney. Did you ever see your attorney outside of times that you were actually in court? 

Michael: No. I think I had tried to call him one time. I've tried to call him since, since I've been out. No. I don't think it was the jail prohibiting me from seeing him or the system or anything. I just think that ...

Joann: How would you describe your relationship to your attorney? 

Michael: Well, it was my prosecuting attorney - the prosecutor - not my defense attorney. 

Joann: Okay. Tell me about your defense attorney. 

Michael: Okay. I don't really have... I wish there would have been more, if that makes any sense. It's not like he was a public defender and I can complain he just wasn't doing his job or whatever, because he was a private defender, so it's like you get what you pay for. I don't want to sit here and smear his name or even say anything negative about him. But if I got into more trouble, I would not hire him. Can I leave it at that, please? 

Joann: Absolutely. You don't have to tell me who he is. I was struck by a couple different things you said, "that was the first mistake I made was when I asked my mom to leave." So at that particular first interview you had, was there a defense attorney present? 

Michael: No. Again, I don't think my mom understood the gravity of the situation. I think that's characteristic of a lot of parents with first time system involvement with their kids. They just don't know. It's understandable. But she made it clear we were not going to get an attorney. That's why I proceeded in that interview without an attorney. 

Joann: Your mom made it clear that you were not going to get an attorney. 

Michael: She wasn't going to get me one, and of course, I would have got a public defender if it did continue at that rate. 

Joann: But nobody had offered to you a public defender before ... Basically that was the point at which you were read your Miranda rights. And you were told that you could be silent, and you had a right to an attorney, I'm assuming, because that's what the Miranda rights say. 

Michael: We had this checklist, and I would initial it or check it. I don't remember. I know there were lines in the right hand column, and I filled them out as I went because she was sitting across from me, read it to me, and I checked it or initialed it or whatever I was doing. I know they went through that. 

Joann: Did you sign anything that waived your right to an attorney? 

Michael: I don't recall. I'm going to be honest. I don't recall. I contacted my attorney before and asked him if I couldn't get what was available. All the paperwork available to me, and I don't have it. 

Joann: So back when you were 16 years old, and this incident happened when your coach or your instructor in your classroom saw your notebook. That was the instigating event that happened, right? 

Michael: Okay. 

Joann: That's when somebody called your mom and said there's something wrong. 

Michael: Yes. 

Joann: So these were all just plans that you had written in a notebook, and you had some material evidence in your bedroom. How did they charge you with assault? 

Michael: So I learned really quick, and it's very interesting to note that assault is often mistaken with battery. Battery is where you beat somebody. You batter them. Assault is where you give somebody reason to feel unsafe or that their safety is in jeopardy. That's what the hit list was, was the assault. Because like I said at that time, it was all in my head. I had not done anything. Of course, I had done things. I assembled things and whatnot, because I was really angry. You guys gave me an assault charge. I was angry at everything for real, but especially angry at that. I didn't understand it. Then I can't remember where I learned that. I think I didn't even learn that until I got to the facility, until I got to DYS. It made sense, but that's how that happened. 

Joann: When you were transferred, when they certified you, and you were transferred to county jail, were you segregated the entire time you were there? Were you in a cell by yourself away from general population? 

Michael: Yeah. I was only in jail once of course, but it was bifurcated, I guess you could say, by my furlough. It ended up being 28 days out. So the first time I was in there, I was in JA 131 the entire time. When I returned after my furlough, I was actually moved over to JA 129. It was just across - the room was an L. That was really weird because over night one night, they housed another guy with me. In a one man cell. Of course, he was an older man. He wasn't really on anything, but ... He wasn't crazy or anything, but for some reason, he couldn't be in general population either. That was the first time I was in a cell with somebody else. They brought another mat in. He slept on the bunk area, and I just pulled my mat on the floor and slept, and that wasn't too bad. The only thing that made me uncomfortable was when he used the restroom in the middle of the night like it was just fine and dandy. I didn't understand that at all. 

Then shortly after that, they offered me to be a trustee. So trustees in that jail in particular are the people that make the food, do the laundry, and do the cleaning. I'm like heck yeah. Because trustee, it's a good position to have because you're in the kitchen. As long as you're not being outrageous, you can have extra food and whatnot. That's a big thing in jail is food. That's a big thing in lockup is food. It's really nice to have food, not to be hungry. So I'm like heck yeah, I'll do it. And with great power comes great responsibility, I guess, because ... I'm sorry about that.

There were these people that were also trustees, and they had acquired tobacco products, and it's apparently a thing to light your tobacco products off the stove, so you don't get caught with the smoke, because it's not smokeless tobacco, and you go in the freezer. Apparently another trustee with his head on his shoulders was like I'm not going to be involved in that, and he went and told the CO. The thing is I'm over there making donut holes, because we got fryers, like to fry the chicken, and we got biscuits. Then we got sugar. It was not a thing to not make donut holes. So I was making donut holes. I don't even smoke tobacco products. Not even to fit in did I smoke tobacco products. So while I'm doing that, they're smoking. While I'm doing that, and they're doing that, the other guy's going in there and telling the CO. So whenever he comes in there, we're all in there. Even though I'm not in the freezer, it actually would have appeared as though I was the lookout guy, and I was looking out for my donuts, and it's over now, I'm not getting my trustee position back. They can't send me to jail. So if I were the lookout guy, I'd be perfectly comfortable telling, yeah, I was watching for them. I would have said something if the CO came in. That was not the case at all. 

But from there, my trustee position was terminated. Then I was placed in the general population. I was placed in the G pod. No. I was placed in the D pod, and D pod was ... It doesn't matter. I was placed in one of the pods, and it wasn't G or D. It was the minor pod. Not minor, but the misdemeanor pod. Because misdemeanors wear orange stripes and felonies are black stripes. I had my black stripes on, but I was in the misdemeanor pod, and I had this cell mate, and I had a stack of stamped envelopes. That's all I did when I was in there was wrote people and hoped people would write me back. I wasn't hiding them or anything. It was just convenient because space and storage is really weird whenever you only have two bunks and a toilet and sink. So I had my envelopes under my bed, and I went back into my cell, and my envelopes were on longer under my bed. My stamped envelopes. It was a big difference. Because envelopes are like 27 cents or whatever, and the stamped envelop is like 57 cents. So there's that. 

And they were no longer under my bed. I'm thinking there's not been too many people in here, and I want to know who has my stamps, my envelopes or whatever. So I'm going around and I'm making inquiries. You can tell some people are getting uncomfortable with it, not that I'm accusing them but just because dude, what are you bringing that to me for. I get permission from everybody to look through their cells, and it's not anywhere. One guy was in the restroom, but I got permission from his cellie to look in the cell for my stuff. Apparently the guy that was in the restroom didn't like that, even though I got permission from the other guy. He came in there, and he tried to put his hands around my throat. I guess he wanted me out of the cell, but he's trying to put his hands around my throat and push me further into the cell. 

I didn't like that too much. We ended up getting out of the cell. We didn't fight or anything. But he didn't have my hands around my throat when I wasn't in the cell any longer, so I was cool with that. But I was starting to get mad because I had looked through all these cells. Somebody was really on some stuff, because that meant they had them on their person, and I'm not about to pat anybody down. I'm not a cop. So I'm getting really angry, and other people are finding it amusing, and that's making me more angry. The CO's apparently see it as an unsafe situation, so they come remove me and put me in the drunk tank, the drunk tank - the bull pen or whatever - is just a room with an unreasonably cool air conditioner and bars on the benches just in case people are being crazy. That's where you have to go for detox or whatever. So I sat in there for a while.

Well actually I missed my birthday. I missed the point when I turned 17. 

So whenever I was a trustee, and I got fired from trustee position, they threw us all in the drunk tank, me and everybody else, for like three days. This happened on April 24th. That's the night I was making donuts. So I ended up turning 17, April 26th, in the drunk tank, and that was crazy. I will say that whenever they did come and get us out. I don't know what day my birthday was on. The 26th of course. So the morning of the 26th when they come to get us out, the sheriff was present for some reason. No, he was present not for some reason, but because we had tobacco products, and he wanted to know why. So he talked to us all individually, and it came up that it was my birthday. So he ended up letting me call my mom. So that was really cool, and I was just telling her what was going on. But that's when I turned 17. 

So then I went to the misdemeanor pod, and then I went back to the drunk tank. That's when I went to the G pod. I was only in the drunk there for a couple hours, and they had me move out of that pod, because I had this problem because I still didn't have my stamps. I never got my stamps back. I don't need stamps anymore, I got emails. 

Joann: Give me just a quick time frame. Your mom was taking you to go and find some sort of psychiatric assistance, help, treatment, or just somebody to talk to. People came out to arrest you, and did they ... Tell me the time frame. So you got arrested, you were processed. How long did you spend at the first detention facility? Then how long did you spend in the adult facility before you went to DYS? 

Michael: I was arrested September 8th, and I think I told you I was in ... I told you earlier I said that I was in SSM for just one day shy of four weeks I was in there. It must have been one day shy of three weeks. I was locked up. That night, they transferred me there, and also in September I went to the detention center, and then September 25th to December, I think it was 28th when I was actually certified. So from December 28th to like, it must have been March something, I was in jail, and March something to April 11th, I was on a furlough. Then from April 11th to June 25th I was in jail again. So that second year I was describing was 2012, and the first year I was describing was 2011. Was that what you were looking for? 

Joann: Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Michael: Okay. 

Joann: So you went into DYS as a 17 year old, and you stayed til you were 21. Right before your 21st birthday. 

Michael: So I guess I was 20 years and 360 days. 

Joann: Okay. You were not present at your certification hearing? 

Michael: No. 

Joann: Tell me about your ... You mentioned your court experiences when your defense attorney was trying to figure out what sort of options you had. Were any of your court experiences at the juvenile court, or were they all post certification at the adult court? 

Michael: So I think I only had two court dates that I attended as a juvenile. I know it for a fact that I had at least three because it was a certification hearing, but I believe there were also a couple others that I didn't attend. 

Joann: Tell me about the ones that you attended. 

Michael: I guess it's over now, but the first one, what stands out about it immediately because my mom brought in, because I got to meet with her privately. We had like a family attorney, but he wasn't a criminal defense lawyer, but he was an attorney. We was meeting with him. My mom had brought me those cinnamon twists from Taco Bell, and I was really appreciative of that. At that point, he breaks it down for me. He's like look, if we get certified, because he started talking about dual jurisdiction and I had no idea what he was talking about, but he was like if that happens, if you get certified, even if they transfer him to adult court, we're going to want to play it one way or the other. We don't want to do the dual thing like that. I think it's simply because he didn't understand it because he was like but that's just not a good option. He obviously didn't understand it. He's like so we want to keep it in juvenile court. I think we're going to submit a plea of guilty today, but if you do end up getting certified because I don't think it would be too far off for them to set up a certification hearing, but if that happens, we want to play it all the way adult. 

So we go in there, this was the first one, and we submit a plea of guilty. The judge denies it. Doesn't even allow it to be entered or recorded for some reason. He sets the certification hearing. Then I go to the court once more after that. And for some reason ... so I guess I was present for part of my certification hearing. But there was also ... I'll get to that. So he sets up the certification hearing. The second one I attend, I didn't know what an SC was. I didn't know who that man up there was at the time. But there was the man who was soon to be my service coordinator attesting to the fact that I'm beyond ... Never met this man, never met me. But I'm beyond the means of help by the Division of Youth Services, and I'd be better off being transferred. And there were a couple other people. The instructor that found my material went up there, and he just told him what it was. He just told him what he found and how it happened. 

There were people from local DOD or whoever, who are responsible for discharging the pipe bombs they found. All of them just building this compelling case that I'm not going to get any help out of the juvenile system or DYS, which was really weird. So there was no decision made. I think he either wanted to get more witnesses. I mean they had a pretty compelling case right there, but I guess they wanted to get more witnesses in line or have an opportunity for ... I can't remember, but I know for a fact they were wanting more witnesses, and there was something else they wanted to do. So they set up another hearing. 

Joann: They wanted more witnesses on the prosecution side? 

Michael: Yeah. I didn't have any witnesses. 

Joann: You had none. 

Michael: It may have been an option. Maybe my attorney decided that wasn't a good idea or something. I don't know. 

Joann: At this point, had you been through the mental health treatment program? 

Michael: The very first thing I did after the interview, was I went and sat three weeks in SSM, the mental health treatment program. 

Joann: So there was no detention hearing. Maybe that first hearing was a detention hearing? 

Michael: No. My instructor found my notebook fourth hour. It takes like 45 minutes to get to Kennett [county seat of Dunklin County]. It probably takes 15 minutes for my mom to get from her work to my school, so another 45 to get to Kennett, which is where the evaluation was. Probably two hours there. Then 45 minutes to get back. Then I was transferred by the sheriff's deputy. Sat for six hours in a holding cell while they searched my room and got their case together. The interview was probably only an hour and 45 minutes to two hours. The interview wasn't very long. I mean I regret saying it, because it was like forever then. But in all honesty, it wasn't very long. 

Then after the interview, that same day, I think it may have been early morning next day, but it was still that same day, I was up in SSM. 

Joann: At any point, did anybody present any defense support for you, like regarding the issues that you had, your mental health issues, regarding your treatment, the time that you spent in treatment, character witnesses? Did anybody try to tell your story? 

Michael: I don't recall. I mean no, it didn't happen. If they did it, it must have been the same day I was certified and I wasn't present, but if that were the case, then my mom would have told me about it. So no, it never happened. 

Joann: No one spoke up for you? 

Michael: Aside from my lawyer. 

Joann: Okay. Do you feel like any of the time that you spent in three weeks of treatment or perhaps during your time at DYS, did you ever get any assistance that helped you with the depression feelings and some of the suicidal feelings that you had prior to that? Was any of that ever addressed specifically? 

Michael: So starting where I was first, the psychiatric evaluation, I told them I had problems sleeping, and he prescribed, I forgot how many milligrams, but he prescribed me a dose of Seroquel, and then of course, the depression came up, and I was on Celexa. But actually by the time I made it to jail, my first week in jail, I discontinued both because that Seroquel, the sleeping med, it was unnecessarily ... I don't know. I didn't want that. I was like yeah, so I didn't do the depression medication either.

I will say one of the things about Division of Youth Services, about their treatment programs, it sucks that you have to be committed to a facility, but like I was telling you earlier, it's not all that bad. I definitely see several places I'd like to change, several things I'd like to see different. But it in itself is not a flawed program. You're asking if my depression was addressed. It's heavily group based therapy, but the way we do it is we have workshops, and there's this calendar that we came up with, and so every day of the week, there's a treatment time allotted. Treatment with no distractions. You're not crocheting, you're not reading. Everybody gives their attention to the treatment.

Most of the time the treatments are presented by individuals. So it's my treatment day, I'll go ... sometimes I'll have a visual aide, like a poster board, or sometimes I'll go and talk off the top of my head. Sometimes I'll have a question and answer sheet, like the kind of guided discussion, and it's on various topics. Most of the time, it's off your ITP. Now they're CITP's. They added a word in, Comprehensive Individual Treatment Plan goals. All it is is ... it's pretty general, like substance abuse, victim empathy, depression, positive coping skills, peer selection. 

So from those titles, the service coordinator will come up with a brief description of the strategies to improve in those areas or develop some of those areas. I had like nine ITP's, and one of them was finding positive coping skills, and another one was managing emotions appropriately, and those went hand in hand. I didn't overcome my depression simply because somebody wrote on a piece of paper I need to do this. But that's the thing about it. In getting that type of structure, it gave me an area to focus, and in talking with other people and just also, I think growing up had a lot to do with it. Because I went in when I was 16. I was doing drugs. I wasn't even, I'm not going to say self aware, but I wasn't aware of what was going on. 

So I just had time to mature, to talk with other people, to learn what it means to express my emotions appropriately, to learn what it means to identify my emotions, why I still got this overarching sense of anxiety or where is that coming from, whereas it never occurred to me to try to address that before. So yeah, it's not like sitting in a circle saying I got anger issues, I get mad whenever this happens, and now I'm cured. It was discussion like hey, why does that make you angry and just getting really into what we call core issues. One of the thing that they really push in there is change, but I don't really like that. I like growth better because it's not like we're trying to ... I don't think they should be trying to change anything. I just think they should be trying to help them grow because I don't think I'm a different person. I don't think I'm a new person or there are differences in me. I've just grown really. I'm definitely not doing the same stuff or thinking the same way anymore. But I understand why people would say a new person or change. 

But I just don't go for it too much. I think growth is the better term. That's really what it's about. 

Joann: So you mentioned that you were less than satisfied with your defense attorney, the relationship that you had, and the care and attention that he gave or didn't give to your case. If this were to happen to you again, if you would go back, knowing now what you know, what would be an ideal scenario in terms of having a defense attorney? What would that look like for you, having a juvenile defense attorney? 

Michael: I promise I'm going to answer your question, but it's important to note that once I was certified and once they did transfer me to adult court, we no longer used that attorney, because he wasn't a criminal defense attorney. I don't think I mentioned this. But at that point, my mom hired a criminal defense lawyer. But knowing what I know now, I would have swallowed my pride, and right there in that moment, I would have begged my mom to have got me an attorney. I know this is probably criminal thinking, it doesn't matter, I'm over it now, but I'm almost positive had I kept my mouth shut in that interview, they wouldn't have ... yeah, they would have had this and that, but I don't think they would have had the case that they did. Honestly, I'm glad it played out the way it did, because even if they didn't get a case, and I would have walked, I would have continued to be on some ridiculous stuff. 

So it worked out well, but if I could do it all over again, I would have made it very clear to my mom that it's absolutely necessary I get a competent lawyer, like a criminal defense lawyer that knows what he's doing, and I would not talk to any system person without an attorney present. Even if he feels comfortable with me speaking, I would probably speak only minimal. I don't know. I guess it varies case to case, but in my case specifically, a lot of my case was what came out of my mouth, and I was just so arrogant and so smart that I feel like I could talk and still have it anyway. Long story short, I'd just keep my mouth shut. 


Joann: To get just a followup on that, because I think most or quite a number of 16 year olds are unprepared, think they're smart and don't necessarily make the best decisions for themselves, regardless of being in trouble with the law or anything. It's pretty standard teenage behavior. So knowing that and knowing the type of person that you are now, could anyone have done anything differently outside of you when you were that age to get you to realize that not going to trial was a good thing or all these things that you're like I don't know why I was acting like that. Is there anything that could have gotten you to act different? 

Michael: Well like I said, a lot of it was maturity, but even more of it specifically what you're asking is just ignorance. It was simply because I didn't know. If you would have put that stuff in front of me in a chart that just incoherently said that, and I was able to piece part of it together like it would have made sense. Most of the time, they're not going to sit there and have the person that's trying to send you to prison instead try to send you to the only prison alternative. I didn't know that was a thing. I didn't trust any of them. If I had realized maybe he has a different agenda, and it's not prison, I'd be willing to work with it, or maybe if I understood the gravity of if I don't accept this, I'm going to go to trial. I'm not going to win. That was not a good idea. Then I would have been more apt to go yes, I will go to DYS. I will for four years, four and a half years, five years, because it's better than a 10 year sentence in the department of corrections. 

So like yeah, if you would have broken it down to me, at least had it make some type of logical sense, I think I would have latched onto it. I think I would have latched onto anything, like grasping at straws. I don't know what's going on. At the time, I didn't know it was going to be a 10 year sentence, but I knew it wasn't going to be a fun short sentence. I knew if they were going through all this struggle, like they really wanted to do something, which is why it surprised me they proposed the dual jurisdiction. But I don't know. 

Well here, if I could talk to somebody, regardless of their case, him or her, regardless of their case, I would try to make it clear. I guess they have the situations, they have the potential to go to DYS. The only thing I would try to stress to them is this is a prison alternative. If you do not go here, even if you don't fully believe in the treatment program, even if you're not dedicated entirely to making changes and overcoming whatever it is you're facing right now, even if you're not dedicated to that, the only other option is for you to go to prison, and there is no good outcome for you going to prison. I would tell him or her, I don't know your situation, don't know your case. But regardless, there is nothing conducive to living a happy life in prison whatsoever. That's what I would make clear. 

I guess you have to talk to certain people in their own language, but I think that would kind of strike home with me. I would hope it would be a resounding message for most as well, because breaking it down, that's as simple as it gets. 

Joann: What was this 120 shock thing, what was it that you said? "I could only get 120 instead of going to the ..."

Michael: So a lot of my jailhouse lawyers were telling me that 120 days, shock treatment in a lower level prison was not an uncommon sentencing. But what they also neglected to tell me was those were for lower level felonies and misdemeanors. Not misdemeanors, but lower level felonies and not as violent felonies. So it was like trying to say we could patch your tire whenever you're out there with a gash in your tire. You don't patch a nine inch gash. That didn't line up. 

Joann: With your situation. Now when you say jailhouse attorneys, who is that, who are you talking about? 

Michael: Other inmates, other inmates that knew everything about the system. I don't mean that in a degrading way because probably some of them had much experience and was familiar with a little bit of it. I say that now, and it may sound a little condescending, but I don't know that my own attorney was too far off from the same status. 

Joann: Tell me about you, you since have done advocacy work. So I want to learn about the kind of stuff that you've been doing. But my biggest question to lead that off is what have you since learned about the differences in being treated like an adult versus being treated like a juvenile in the justice system? What does that mean? I guess especially in the instance of advocating for and protecting the juvenile. 

Michael: So like hard stats, some stuff I've learned is whenever you send a juvenile to an adult prison, they're 34% more likely to commit suicide than not. I forget the recidivism rate, but if you send a juvenile to an adult prison, their chances of committing another crime sky rocket, and it's because when you go to prison, you learn criminal behavior. Like I said earlier, there's nothing conducive to living a happy life that goes on in prison. Nothing whatsoever. I've also ... What I'm doing now, it's kind of my own project that's taking shape. It's specific to Missouri for now, and if I make much progress, it would be excellent to hold it as a national precedent, but working in Missouri, I've been breaking it down, so there's like 45 judicial circuits in Missouri. Not only... there are six circuits that are responsible for the most certification. I think six circuits hold 70 something percent of all certifications in the state, and it's understandable because those six circuits include the two circuits that are like the St. Louis region, the circuit that is the Kansas City region, and also the two counties that are the Columbia region. So it's understandable that most of them come from at least those three and three other ones. 

Joann: Those are the most populous regions? 

Michael: Yes. But another thing to consider is there's a racial disparity that goes on. I began to observe this whenever I was in DYS. So I was seeing there's a lot of white kids, and there was some black kids, speaking of DJ's. There was a lot of Caucasian certified young people here, and there's a few African American certified young people here, so I'm like why are more white kids here? Because more white kids are getting certified. That makes sense, so it's proportionate. But it's not the case. It's not the case at all. 

Actually, there are far more minority youth getting certified than there are white youth. That's okay, because there's a higher minority youth population in densely populated areas like St. Louis, but that's not the case earlier. At first I went through the Bureau of Labor statistics, and I find the overall population of minorities in these areas, and I realized that was incongruous data, and I had some help, and I found through Annie E. Casey Foundation, they have a database, the Kids Count data center, and that's just all types of statistics about youth 10 through 17, and fortunately, Missouri participate in it. 

You'll see in one circuit, there will be a 30% minority population. This is just, it's really data rich, I don't know if that's what you guys would like to hear about. But I think it was ... These are all arbitrary numbers, and if you would like exact numbers, I can get it to you, so you know I'm not making it up. But just so I'm not trying to misquote something. So 2011, circuit 13, it had a minority population of 30%, and of all the juvenile law referrals, because there's only three referrals to the family division, abuse and neglect status offenses, and you can't get certified for a status offense because it's an offense that is only illegal because you're a kid, and then law violations. Also 30% of all law violations will be committed by minorities. So that means 70% of Caucasian. So 30% minority population, 30% of all law violations are minority, but you'll look in that circuit, 70% of the certifications have been of minorities, so it doesn't add up, you know what I'm saying? 

I didn't just pop into my head when I was in there. So when I was there, I was thinking so what's going on here? I'd also hear people tell me yeah, I was in ... Because a lot of times when you're certified, how they took me to the trustee pod, that's not an uncommon practice. A lot of times they would go to work release pods and other places and trustee pods just because those are people with lower temperaments because they're trying to keep their positions so they're not inclined to do anything to the young person in the jail. 

So like yeah, such and such on the pod, he was certified before me or after me or all three of us certifieds were doing this, and it's really weird because of all those people they're describing also being certified, they're the only one there, you know what I'm saying? I told you if you're going through the certification process, they're not doing it to slap you and the wrist or to give you probation or to send you home. They're doing that because they want time out of you. They want time in the prison system out of you. 

So that started to correct me. If you're one of all those people on the pod, and you're the only one here, again this is the only ... At that time. 

Joann: Only what? In terms of race, like African American or white, like just one person? 

Michael: I'm kind of changing tracks off the minority disproportionality because I think that case was, I don't need to sound arrogant, but I think that case was slammed shut because of the numbers and why on that. So just moving on to the fact that we're sending too many kids of any color. I mean it just happens to be that there are far more, a disproportionate rate of minorities. We're just sending too many kids period to prison. Whenever we have a viable prison alternative, and in fact, like I told you earlier, there's cottages A through C in Montgomery City. Currently, there's only two cottages. So it's a 45 ... So 48 would be each cottage being 12. One holds two less, and one holds like four more. So that's why I think it's actually like 46 beds, and D cottage is the big one. D cottage is closed down. It's been closed down since I've been there. Since I've left, another cottage is closed down. So that means they're operating with two empty cottages. So instead of sending these kids to prison, you send them there. 

Then the pushback on that would be well maybe they belong in prison. Maybe they're not ready to dedicate themselves to treatment. Well you know why they're not open to the idea? Because they're surrounded by just that culture. Of course, if you're in a prison culture, that's what you're going to be geared to. You put somebody in a different setting, and you show them there is a light in the tunnel, you show them they're not corrupt, because that's all the system does. Even though they're not saying it directly, that's what they're telling the young people is that this is what you're going to be, you're bad. There's inherently something wrong with you, and this is all that you can expect. 

If you put them in a different environment, then they're going to start to have a different perception of themselves hopefully. So I just don't understand why we can't have ... I don't know what's going on in the Kansas City one because Kansas City has a DJ group, and I don't know what's going on in Hogan street. I just don't understand why we could be sending kids to prison whenever we've got two entirely empty cottages. 

Joann: So what you're saying is if a kid's got to be certified, why don't you automatically place them in the DYS [dual jurisdiction] facility versus sending them straight to prison?

Michael: Yes. That's kind of ... Like I was telling you, what I'm working on right now. Let me give you an analogy. Say there's this president, and he issues these executive orders, and they're just crazy. So he executed that, but there's also another check and balance. There's the judicial branch, and they interpret it, and if they interpret it to be unconstitutional, they don't have to enforce it. They don't have to ... then it doesn't stand. So there's a lot of work in Missouri. I wholeheartedly believe in it, but it's very legislative. While it would be really helpful to narrow the scope of those that can be transferred to adult court, that would be helpful, but the thing is as long as you're just telling the judges and the prosecuting attorneys they have to do it less, they're still going to do it. 

What I'm aiming to do is work with them and help them develop an understanding of like, look this is what you're doing whenever you're sending a young person to prison. If you're concerned about safe communities and recidivism rates, this is not the way to go. The reason bring that up is because like you said, if you have to certify youth, don't send them to prison. Send them to DYS instead. That is one part of it. But my thing is that's my backup plan. My plan is to create a culture in which certification is not the go to. Yeah, it's on the table, but it's not a viable option. 

Joann: Could you tell me a little bit more about, you had mentioned Tracey McClard and I forget the name of the act. 

Michael: Jonathan's Law. 

Joann: Jonathan's Law. But I'm assuming that you had a kid from Columbia who came who was 17 or older, who would have been treated as an adult in adult system, but he was given a DYS option. Is that the case? I don't know if you know. But tell me about Jonathan's Law, what is that? 

Michael: Don't allow me to butcher it. Tracey, please forgive me if I do. But as I understand it, it moves the age, because you're not eligible, you were not eligible for the program past the age of 17. So what Tracey did is she pushed, and she got that age extended from 17 to 17 and a half, so that gives us an additional six months. So you're thinking six months, it may not be that much, but if the prosecuting is continuously continuing your case, six months is quite a bit. That's at least 12 law dates. That's a significant change. It increases the odds of them at least being considered for it and having the time to get into it. So it sounds a lot better than what it is. 

But the other part of it as I understand, is everybody has to at least be considered. This is where the guy from Columbia came in because everybody has to at least be considered for it, and if the judge decides to not give it to you, if the judge decides to not allow you to go to the program, then he has to note the legitimate reason why. Because like I said earlier, I pled guilty to class B assault. That was 10 years. I could only go to DYS if the people that interviewed me accepted me, but that was not the full truth. So I could only go to DYS if the people that interviewed me accepted me and the judge sentenced me there. So that was like a two part thing. If that does happen, so everybody has to be considered. They've been interviewed, they've been accepted, and the judge decides not to send us to DYS, he has to put in the file a legitimate reason why. 

That's the other part of Jonathan's Law, and that's what got the guy up from Columbia. Now that Boone County has to mandatorily consider people for it, even if he was a token. He was a good fit for the program, so I'm not taking that away from it, but I suspect, it may have been a little bit tokenistic like okay, this legislation has been passed, I have to send at least one over there. But even so, it's groundbreaking because he was the first one. Even if it was tokenistic, it was still a result of that legislation. That's why I liked that a little bit. I didn't even know it at the time. I didn't even know why he was there. I just thought it was really cool that Columbia started to send kids there. But now putting it all together I kind of see that. 

Joann: So tell me a little bit about the work that you've done since you were released and specifically this juvenile justice advocacy work. 

Michael: Well I'm going to change the parameter of your prompt. 

Joann: Okay. Absolutely. 

Michael: Because I initially became involved with Annie E. Casey Foundation while I was still in the facility. So the facility, dying to have approval from a national organization, Annie E. Casey Foundation, they made all types of accommodations to have me participate, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation sincerely being interested in having my voice heard, they were also willing to make accommodations to have me participate. So it was all like teleconference. 

Joann: Tell me about the program, what is it called? 

Michael: The Annie E. Casey Foundation has their Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, and collectively they decided to create a Youth Advisory Council. So as they do their work in juvenile justice reform, they can do so with a meaningful youth voice. Whenever you construct a council like that, it's very organized and structured, so they're not like seeking out. So it was really beneficial for them, and it was also a good opportunity for us to develop into advocates. Because to be honest, I had no idea what it was to advocate or what it was to be an advocate. So working with them helped me develop that. I didn't think - I'd even say integrate that into my identity. 

But since I've been out, I think the first trip I made, because we have conferences every four months because there's three a year. So we went to California, and we worked with the Santa Cruz juvenile detention center, because they're a JDAI model site, and we worked with another grassroots organization there. 

Joann: JDAI? 

Michael: That's a Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative. That was also implemented by the JJSG back in the nineties. I'm not sure. That's the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group I mentioned. So it was like Annie E. Casey Foundation, juvenile justice strategy group, they implemented the juvenile detention alternative initiative back in the nineties. I think it was like '95. Don't hold me to that. Then just recently, they created the Youth Advisory Council, the JJSG, under the foundation. 

Joann: How did you find out about this program? 

Michael: Like I was telling you about the structure of the facility, we have groups, so in each group, there's always two staff on the floor, and then we have the manager of all the staff is the group leader. My group leader, I guess somebody sent the newsletter to her or an alert that they were doing, and she printed off the application for me, and I filled it out, submitted it. And through the interviews and everything, they admitted me. Which was really surprising. I thought I'd be at a great disadvantage being in a facility, but thankfully they were able to work around that. So I went out, and attended my first conference just for the Youth Advisory Council and the JJSG, like I said, it was in California. Then shortly after that, I went to Virginia, and that's because they wanted me to work with Virginia. 

Virginia, their DJJ is in the process of entirely doing their ... I can't remember if it's division or department of juvenile justice. So they're trying to take a more treatment or therapeutic model, and they're doing a community model in their facilities, and that's a big change, so that's a step in the right direction for sure. The reason that they had me go out last time is because they wanted to learn a little bit more about our reentry model. I guess Missouri is pretty unique in that the youth, we ourselves are responsible for creating our release plan. Obviously, we don't say hey, I get out today, but whenever I do get out, this is what's going on, I'm going to attend this high school, I've got this in place, if I take medication, I know I need to do this. I know I'm going to take my medication, I have a schedule. I was hanging out with such and such back in the day, that wasn't really too good, probably not going to hang out with him. Also this space is really conducive for me to study, this space is also really good for me to stay the heck away from. So just really overthinking your life. That's really what it is.

So they had me go out there. I'm also about to go out there again, and this time it's not going to be so much a presentation material wise. I'll be giving remarks in general about it, and this time, it's really interesting, because I'll be in one of the detention facilities and I'll be speaking directly to the youth that are in the facility, so that's going to be my audience. I'm really excited for that. 

One of the things that I'm going to tell them about, specifically about reentry is yeah, this is what we did in Missouri, and it worked out really well. My life's pretty great. But this is your opportunity to take it and make it better. The reason I'm putting it in their hands like that is because in Missouri, we were pretty autonomous, as I described, but from what I understand, in Virginia, they've got their own student government association or whatever it is, and they - talk about autonomous - they have it in hand. So I think they can take that because they have enough [inaudible 00:22:18] they can take that, and I think they'll be able to make it very meaningful. 

So some of these various things like that. I've worked a little bit with FORJ [Family & Friends Organizing to Reform Juvenile Justice]. I talked about Tracy McClard, because again, it's not that I don't think the legislative piece is insignificant. I just think there needs to be something to complement it. Now that we got the law in place, there's also that soft skill as well. 

Joann: What do you mean?

Michael: Like I told you earlier, I want to create a culture or this environment in which certification is even to the judges and the prosecutors, I want them to view it as a detestable practice. I feel like that's an achievable goal once they realize what they're actually doing. Okay, they know that they have to do all of this to get the kid into adult court, and then they have to do all this to get them in housing until he's of legal age, even though he's in the prison, but until he's of legal age to actually be with the general population. So I'm sure they know what they're doing. But on the other end of that. 

Joann: So it sounds like basic community education and awareness about the impact of the legislation. 

Michael: Yeah. For sure. Because now that we've got this new law in place, this is what it means for you. Can follow to a T and not change your practices, but this is what comes along with it, I guess you could say. 

Joann: So how involved are you with the Raise the Age campaign, or you mentioned that you were on television, could you tell me about that, what that was like? 

Michael: Oh man. That was actually my first engagement with FORJ. Because one of the members of the JJSG that I mentioned earlier, had worked with Tracy McClard before, and I told her I wanted to become involved with local, meaning just Missouri-related movements, relating to certification, so she made the introduction to Tracy. Then she came and said hey Michael, we're really happy to work with you, and then the opportunity came up to speak at one of their press conferences, because Senator Wallingford is championing the Senate Bill 40 right now in Missouri, and so he was supposed to attend. I think he ended up getting sick at the last moment. But he was supposed to attend and give the public an idea what it means and why he supports it. 

Joann: This is the Raise the Age bill. 

Michael: Yeah, RTA-MO 2017. So, she also invited me and a couple other people to speak, not as in depth, but just a little bit what I was talking about earlier, my experience with it, and why I feel like it would be important for more 17 up until 18 year olds to be in the juvenile justice system, because sending juveniles to the adult system, I spoke on a little bit of what that meant and why it's not a good practice. I think it was televised, I think it was cable news 17 there in Columbia or Jefferson City, actually. It's a network, so it really confuses me sometimes. 

It was just really interesting because I didn't realize that there was that much, not necessarily people being receptive to it, but just that many people being interested in it. Of course, if you get in the juvenile justice reform field, everybody goes nuts about it because that's their passion. That's their interest. That's their job. That's what it is. But outside, I didn't realize it had such a presence. 

I think it was also really good because it kind of developed visibility, not only for that legislative piece, but just for the fact in general that there's reform of the juvenile justice system going on all together, and this is just one piece of it. That was really interesting. 

Joann: Could you talk a little bit about the personal stigmas that you may have faced becoming a college student, talking with your roommate, realizing oh wait, if I start doing this, people are going to know the history? 

Michael: I'll actually start with becoming a college student. That in itself presented a struggle because as a violent felon, it's illegal to not disclose that whenever asked. So on my application, I told them that, and they responded very generically and told me I would not be accepted into Columbia College because of that. Because I was a transfer student, like I said in DYS. I think I had like 27 credit hours, a 4.0 GPA. They didn't even take any of that into consideration once they saw the felony. So I asked, I was going to give up right there. I was like dude, it makes sense. I'm a violent felon. A big stigmatism of that, especially in a school campus. I understand why they wouldn't want me there. Even though it's not who I am, they don't know that. It's kind of like, but once you start making concessions like that, then you're really just paving the way for how it's going to go in the future. 

You may have heard that you treat people or you teach people how to treat you. At that point, I was kind of teaching myself how to treat myself. If I would have allowed that to happen, then A, it wouldn't have set well with me. I just wanted to go, is college a thing that I even value doing better? So it was all this going through my head, and I'm like no. 

So I called her back, and I'm like is there any way I could appeal this, and she's like yeah, we have an appeal process, this, this, and this. Really what it came down to is I had to write a letter of explanation maybe, whatever term you came up with, saying hey this is what happened, this is why I feel like I should be able to go. And I had to come up with letters of character support. So again, going back to JJSG, I had started talking to them that same night, talked to a couple colleagues from the coalition of juvenile justice, and we only needed three, but the director of the JJSG said maybe we should just flood them. Because I had to provide three, but I gave them ... There was a lot of support going, and I think that had a really big impact. 

And that happened, I was denied on a Friday, no, it was Thursday. I did all of that, all those people came up with legitimate well written letters of character support over night. Like literally overnight. So by Friday, I had everything submitted. Monday morning, they called me, and they told me that the board had decided, they didn't admit me, they just said they had decided to overturn the original decision. I think it was Tuesday afternoon, they called me back and told me they had accepted me. So that was, in a sense, it was really cool, and then also in a sense, it was like yeah, that's how it's going to be. 

To get into that a little bit more, getting a job, even fast food, like a delivery guy at a Casey's Pizza, it's all been a struggle because of that felony. I'm going to be honest, the most frustrating thing about it is I'll be in the interview, and I'll have it, like okay look, we're going to look at the paperwork, the schedule's open, so I could probably get you started Monday, just going to run the background check and everything, but a guy like you doesn't have to worry about anything like that. And it's at that point that I'm like well actually. One of them, two of them were really surprising because they were very progressive organizations. One I was going to go canvass and help with visibility of something that was going on, and another was very similar to that. They were very progressive, and it really threw me for a loop that I got that response. 

I mean it's all worked out now. I started on part time at this gas station, and I'm now working full time, which is fine by me. I think you kind of mentioned earlier, even on campus, it's been something. Like with the felony, because it's not like people know me anyway. It's not a huge campus, but also, I'm only there like to go to school and sleep, it seems like because I do work right before I go into school. Also, I'm in the chess club because I go whenever I can. So I think that still means I'm in there, and we're going to be starting a philosophy club, so that's really cool. 

But the thing that was concerning was having this on my background and somebody finding out and it being an issue. Like I was saying earlier, that's a legitimate thing. Can I step away for a moment?

So yeah. It was just really concerning to think about what would happen. I'm not one to worry about people judging me, like oh my gosh, you could be taller, you could be more attractive, you could be more this or more that. But that's an entirely different nature of judgment, and I don't think I was ready for it at first. I kind of kept it close to my vest. 

Of course, I have a roommate, and moving in with him, I didn't know anything about him, and he didn't know anything about me, but I would have felt like I wasn't being true to myself, I guess you would say if I didn't let him know that I had a felony, and now because ... I don't know. I always just think if I were not a felon, if I wasn't exposed to everything I've been exposed to and know what I know now, I probably would be carrying around the same stigmatisms, like oh my gosh, violent felon. I wouldn't have felt comfortable to keep him in the dark. So of course, I told him about that, and I didn't even get a negative response like oh my gosh or anything like that. He was pretty cool with it. 

That gave me the idea, it's not the end of the world yet. But what really made me embrace it fully and just be more comfortable with it, and it's not that I go around and air it around, like hey everybody, guess what, but I don't go through such great lengths to keep it a secret, but what made me embrace it more was what you were talking about earlier, being on TV and whatnot, because it was aired locally. So I'm thinking I can choose not to contribute to the effort or the movement. I can choose to withhold my voice, and you know, potentially withdraw any progress I could make just because I don't want people to know I'm a felon. Or I could just continue to do what I do and just get over it and maybe for, I guess you could say, the greater good type of thing, which is not how I conceptualize things normally, but in a sense, in that case, that's what it was. It's like yeah, I might have to take on hell, but overall, it works out really well because it's a little bit bigger than just trying to keep my felony a secret. 

So once I realized my face was going to be on TV, I guess ... I've said it before, I feel like almost it's like I'm coming out of a closet, because that as a really big thing not too long ago. Very similar to that is hey, I'm a violent felon. I keep referring to myself as a violent felon, but it's odd because that's not how I look at myself. At the end of the day I stop and think about what's going on. I don't think so I'm a violent felon and then just proceed from there. I just think in this context, it's kind of important to know. 

Joann: It's interesting that you say I don't think of myself as a violent felon. I mean you served time for a felony charge, but what's so interesting to me is how people choose to refer to themselves, and you can choose to label yourself, or you can choose to not label yourself, and just let it be of face value. So it sounds to me like you're figuring it out.

Michael: Right. I think one of the things is because, I keep saying this, I understand this whole new person, different person thing. It makes so much sense. I would definitely characterize myself as a violent person from 2008 to 2012, 2013. Not that I was getting in fights or anything, not that I was violently assaulting people or violently doing anything. But I think violence is a big part of who I was. The disparity between that and now is kind of odd. 

I say that because when I look at myself, I don't look at myself as a violent person. I don't look at myself as one who sees violence as a legitimate option. The reason I say that is because it's just that it doesn't seem to get me to where I want to go. Because I saw where it got me, and it got me in a cell, and that's not where I want to go. But even further than that, just who I am now, I just don't see any place in that for me, and I guess it's just because of where I'm going and obviously, to be cliché because of where I've been, but really because of where I'm going. Yeah. That sums it up. 

Joann: Well, I don't think I have any more questions. But you're welcome to add anything you want if there's anything you feel we didn't talk about today, you can speak to that. 

Michael: So I actually work with quite a few people regularly, and they're kind of starting to notice, yeah, we'll get back with you in a couple days. Because A, putting me on the spot like that, my mind just goes blank, and B, the more I have to go through things again, because that's all I'll do. I'll be thinking about this or whatever I've got going on and oh, I should have mentioned that or oh I should have asked this because I still don't know that now. As it stands right now, I don't have anything that comes to mind, and it's not to say that there aren't more important pressing matters that I don't feel the need to acknowledge. It's not because I don't want to say anything else. It's just because that's kind of the way I work, for better or for worse. 

Joann: Well, if something comes up, you can email it to us, and we can add it to your story. 

Michael: Awesome. 

Joann: Awesome. 

Michael: I feel comfortable with that. It'd be a lot better than just having something, like oh I should have said that, and it's a glaring missing piece. 

Joann: Well you're welcome to add anything you need. Thank you so much. 

Michael: Thank you. 

Joann: I appreciate it. 

Michael: So I mean it didn't really come up with what we were discussing earlier, but one thing I feel is important to address is a lot of the work I do ... Excuse me. All of the work I do now is very future oriented. So like it's like the future of detention for youth. So what I mean by that is 100% of anything I've ever done and anything I foresee myself doing will have no retroactive repercussions. It's not like I can do this, and I'm working low key so I can get my felony expunged. Because as it stands, I'm a violent felon, and there was really no option for that off my record, and I've come to grips with that. It is what it is. I'm actually going in a really good direction even with that there. So like I said, I've come to grips with it. It's not that imperative that I get it off. In fact, it's not even on my mind. 

The reason it's come to my attention is because there have been a few people that when I've discussed what I do, they misunderstand it, like wrongful conviction type stuff. Don't get me wrong. I understand there are several wrongful convictions, and I'm not going to burn bread on people that are fighting wrongful conviction cases. I just know that when I was 16, I made a mistake and I acknowledge it. It was not wrongful conviction, and not in any sense am I trying to fight to make a better outcome for me. 

As I was mentioning earlier, at one point, it occurred to me whenever I was in DYS, that, it occurred to me here I am sitting here in a youth center as an adult. I think I might have been 19 at that time. But here I am sitting in a youth center as an adult, and there are 16 and 17 year olds going to adult prisons. They're going to have to be in some special pod because they're not old enough to be in the adult prison, but they're there anyway. So like I said, it's not so much about ... It's not anything really about me. I'm not trying to sound noble or anything like that. I'm just saying, it's an issue. It needs to be addressed. I have experience that helps with that, and that's exactly why I'm doing what I'm doing. Because I don't agree with that. 

Sarah: So how did you get out of jail?

Michael: Yeah, we didn't talk about that. So the way the DYS program works is after you've completed your program ... I started to get into it, but I distracted myself. So after you completed the program, however long it takes you, there's actually a DJ review board, as we referred to them, and it's composed of the guy I mentioned earlier that interviewed me, the guy that was in charge of it. And whatever facility you're in, you'll have the facility manager and facility assistant manager present, your service coordinator present, family members present, the regional administrator present, and the assistant regional administrator present, and then they'll be somebody doing minutes there from the facility or from wherever. But it tends to be from the facility in which you're housed. 

So for six months, you'll go before them for your DJ review, and just present your progress. Like I mentioned earlier, there's a reentry process, so you'll submit your reentry plan. Whenever they feel comfortable that you've completed your program, or that you're not making any progress in your program, they'll set up a court date, and at that court date, after you've completed your program, it's very binary so one of two things are going to happen. You're going to be released on probation. Not parole because you didn't go to prison. So it's a really influx type of thing there. So you'll be released on probation, and in Missouri, the maximum probation sentence you can get is five years. Or you'll be sent to the Department of Corrections to serve your sentence. Because earlier, like I mentioned earlier, I had the 10 year sentence, everybody that goes has what we call a backup hanging over your head. So if you don't complete the program, you're going to go do that. Or if you do complete the program successfully, and your judge decides to send you that way anyway, they don't feel like you've completed it, they have that option. 

So the review board is really picky whenever they make that court date, because they know that's a possibility. The judge can say we're not satisfied with how you completed it, even though DYS is saying you're doing well, you can released right now and do fine and dandy, I'm still going to send you to prison. He has that option, but notably, DYS is very quick to brag that it doesn't happen, and understandably so. It doesn't. The judge just pretty much listens to DYS, to the review board. So that's how that goes. Whenever they scheduled mine, I was informed of it in like January. Because there was two cycles of reviews, so they're there every three months actually, but the reviews are every six months. It just depends which rotation you're on. Then towards the end of your release, you get put on a three month rotation, so you're seeing them more often.

So I was informed in January that my court date would have been April 21st, so that's whenever I realized I was getting out five days before my birthday. It was really weird because I was eligible to do the Annie E. Casey Foundation, they told me I could do that because I'm doing so well in my program. There was a lot of opportunities I have, like 27 hours worth of college credit hours in there, which I could only do up to six hours per time. So it sounds like only one or two semesters, but I actually started in 2013, and I did college every semester at three or six hours, depending what they'd let me do. 

So I was eligible for all those opportunities. St. Charles Community College came in through the MoManWins, like the Missouri Manufacturing WINs (Workforce Investment Network) program, and I got certification in quality control, production, safety, and manufacturing, I think. So basically, I'm not bragging at any point. This again, this is also rather frustrating. All that stuff was not necessarily coming my way, but I was eligible for all that stuff because I was doing so well, and I didn't get out until five days before my birthday, which again, release is not only contingent upon your progress in the program, but it's directly related to it. There should be no differentiation between release and progress or completion, release and completion. 

So that was one thing. There's definitely room for manipulation there. Like yeah, again, it being so minor, you could either go to prison or go home. And so we're just going to wait. We're going to wait until you're definitely ready, make sure community is ready to receive you, your judge is ready to see you, and that's how people end up staying there until they're 21. Again, this is not my crusade, because I'd rather, again, it may suck, but it's 10,000 times better than sending somebody to prison. But I don't know if they reverted to operating like that because of some type of funding. I'm not sure how the funding works. But that just seemed like too obvious an answer. It wouldn't be that. Or because I know for a fact Missouri's really concerned about its numbers. You can look up their methods, and you guys know, you can make numbers say whatever you want, or you can accurately report numbers and have them accurately reflect what's going on. So it's all really what you want to do. Missouri, number one priority ... Missouri really values their numbers, their stats. 

So I suspect that one of the reasons they release you so close to your birthday is for those numbers. If they do end up going, and they jump the gun, and the judge is like you're going to prison, that only reflects on one young person going to prison after having completed the treatment program, but it also reflects on their overall numbers. That can't count as a success. So I think that plays a big part in it. 

I don't want to get so wrapped up in trying to attack and re-create a system that does work, but could be improved to the point where detractors from my overall goal are like well look, if you have to go and pick it apart, then why are you even supportive at all? And my response would be because it works, and just like anything else, it could be improved. But I don't feel like it's that. I think it doesn't outweigh the potential it has. Does that make any sense? So there's that. 

I usually don't jump into that spiel. I'm surprised that I actually did. I guess I must have felt it was important. 

Joann: So there's not a prescribed program, one, two, three, four, five, six, you get to seven, it's done. 

Michael: Yeah, so believe it or not ... I do not mean to sound full of myself, but I had a hand on the program. I understood how it worked. I understood what was supposed to go on. Apparently, I did well. Whenever they decided to institute a level system, they called on me and another guy that was in my cottage. He was also doing really well in his program. So they decided to call on us, and we had a large hand in implementing it. The same for student government. We had one of those, and we actually formed it in a way that we wouldn't even participate on it, as a president or have any position. We would just be like hey look, we're fixing to get out, and you guys are going to be the ones who are going to deal with it, so we created it in ways where everybody else could determine who was going to be in it and even gave them a large, I guess you could say ... We left it up to them how it would overall go, but we just set it up knowing how things do work already and how it would fit into it. We could lay the groundwork for it. 

That was kind of a tangent, but really what I was getting about was the level system, like you said, yada, yada, yada. So we instituted that. But the thing is it starts off on, oh, which is orientation, and it goes one through four, and then you get transitioned, and then you get release. That's the levels. Release is like, you're going home any time now. Again, it's more geared for traditionals, because it's kind of a gip for some people because your privileges became dependent on your level. So this level, you don't have your CD player, this level you don't control the remote, this level you don't get to play the Xbox. 

So they can't space it out because there are people that are there for four and five years. So you're still in level three, like you can have a CD player, but you can't play the Xbox. So like it wasn't ... Not everything has to be one size fits all, but it wasn't comprehensive, so it didn't really meet it. Because at that point, then you'd have somebody that's going to be there for four and five years, and they get level four, which is one before transition, which is one before release, they get that in eight, nine months, which is how long it would take a traditional to get. So they're stuck there. So level system doesn't really mean anything because they're going to be on level four until they get out anyway, closer to 21st birthday. So what does it really say about that? That's why after I saw how it played out because that was instituted maybe a year, year and a half before I left. So once I started to see the way it was going, especially for me, I just lost faith. Again, it sounds good, it looks good on paper. We tried hard to make it good. But it wasn't what it was supposed to be. 

Because at that rate, just as traditionals get to level four in eight, nine months, and released the next month after that, the DJ would be on that for two and three years. It's just what it is. 

Joann: And there's always room for improvement. 

Michael: I have to agree with that. 

Sarah: I'm curious about your advocacy work, you mentioned that you're talking to Virginia and some other places about the future, moving forward, how things should look. Do you see yourself addressing or trying to tackle any of the racial disparities? 

Michael: I mentioned that earlier. I'm currently building up my own organization, Missouri Miles of the Future Detention for Youth. In a way, it's contingent upon a fellowship. But regardless of a fellowship, I'm making progress with it. I'm moving forward with it. So what that is is it directly addresses that... I was in DYS. I was in the only facility that any certified young person can be in. I was seeing that out of the population, from anywhere from 18 to 22, 23, DJ's, there are quite a few Caucasian DJ's in there, certified transferred young people. Then of course there would be some African American and some Latino. 

I'm thinking okay, that's just because more white people are getting certified, so there's going to be more white people in the only prison alternative in the state. But that's not the case. Minorities are being transferred at a much higher rate ... Overall, statewide, and I got an Excel sheet, so I broke it down into circuits as well. So statewide and circuit wide, per circuit, of all the 45 circuits, I'm not going to say all the 45, but I'll say the top six circuits with the highest overall certification rates. The whites are not being certified at a higher rate. There's more minorities being certified. So there's more minorities being certified, why are there more whites in the prison [alternative, DYS]? [You could argue,] "well that's because more minorities commit crime, so they have a higher crime rate." No. "Well, that's because minorities have a higher population." No. So all these arguments saying that, "yeah, it appears that there's racism in the system, but it's really not." They try to shove it under the rug.

You go onto any public site that has any type of relevant data, put together something, and you can see that that's not the case. I didn't just slap stuff together and try to compare apples to oranges. If you guys would like, I can share it with you, and I'm still in the process of gathering more data. But it's like it's easy to say well yeah, we got more African American kids from St. Louis because St. Louis is a densely populated area, and densely populated areas have higher crime rates, and they also have higher minority youth populations. But, it just... It doesn't fit.