Michelle (The Twins' Mom)

photography by Sarah Fleming for the Juvenile Project

photography by Sarah Fleming for the Juvenile Project

“Like I tell 'em all the time, it's a choice in what you make. Whether it's good or bad, it's a choice. They're old enough to make choices and stop being around negative people. Always be around somebody positive that got something going for themselves, 'cause it's real rough on them. I always have a positive mind about life, and not a negative mind. Have your own mind, 'cause life is about choices.”

As the mother of Jalissa and Jessica, Michelle knew that she needed to get her girls out of an environment that, to her mind, increased their chances of getting in trouble or being associated with trouble. She moved them from their hometown of Crenshaw, MS up to Memphis because, “I didn’t want the streets to have ‘em, and that’s where they were headed.” In this interview, she shares her perspective as a parent on the girls’ experience of being incarcerated.

Learn more about Michelle's daughters here.

Interview with Michelle, conducted by Joann Self Selvidge for The Juvenile Project (TJP) on April 26, 2017 in Memphis, TN.

Joann:  Tell me your name and your relationship to these girls?

Michelle: I'm Michelle. I'm the mother of Jessica and Jalissa

Joann:  Okay. What are your first thoughts upon hearing them tell their story?

Michelle: Well I kind of knew. 'Cause back then they was kind of irate and rebellious and to a lot of stuff. That's why they ended up in a juvenile facility, to get some correction, 'cause they was very irate. They was had a lot of anger management problems. Just want to get them some help and stuff. Just letting them just go on out there. 'cause I didn't want the streets to have 'em. And that's where they were headed.

Joann:  What do you think contributed to that? What do you ... tell me just a little bit about what they were like before they got grown up and started acting like that?

Michelle: They was very sweet young ladies, very manable. They manable now. But they was very manable. Attitude was calm, til they got all up in age and just started acting out. A lot of it had to do with me and dad divorced, separated and stuff. And they taking it out on me, instead of just ... That's where a lot of it came from. I didn't know til later on, you know, when they told me. So now, everything is better. It's a whole lot better. 

Joann:  How old were they when y'all got divorced?

Michelle: They was five. 

Joann:  Did they continue to have a relationship with their father?

Michelle: No. It wasn't more like a father and daughter relationship. No he was absent in that. That was his choice. He was absent for a long time. Since we moved up here, it's okay. Still not were it need to be, but it's okay. 

Joann:  Is he still in Mississippi?

Michelle: No he's in Memphis. He's here. 

Joann:  Tell me about, well first tell me what it was like moving up here?

Michelle: Well I wanted to move to Memphis for a better chance for them. 'cause I just want them to get away from the environment that they was around. 'Cause they were [inaudible 00:02:48] around. If they wasn't in it, if they was there and something happened they always get called out, and they wouldn't even have nothing to do with it. That's just how bad it was down there. I wanted to get somewhere better for them to start over and to get more grown up and have more responsibilities. Knowing that is, is something better to life than to always be around certain people. 

They doing it, but you'd be the one to get the blame, because you in the surroundings. As a parent I got tired of that. They wouldn't have been did nothing but everybody said they did it. So that got old when ... like I said I just wanted a change for a better life for them. That's what I did that's why I prayed and asked God to get me to a place in a decent area, and just start over with them. And he did. 

So we've been here two years, going on three Lord stay the same. It's just been a big change. It's more ... establish up here than it is down there. They have a lot more to offer. It's education wise, to get in different activities. Something to motivate 'em and keep them busy instead of getting into mess all the time. And be surrounded by mess and get accused and all this here and they don't really have nothing to do with it. It was like said just ... it's cause they in the area. They see 'em, the twins did it. They ran out and I got tired of that. That's why they went to praying and talking to God about it. And he fixed it. We been up here since. 

Joann:  So y'all moved up here so you can help 'em stay out of trouble and stay off the streets?

Michelle: Anything, hanging around the wrong crowds. 

Joann:  Then y'all went back down for spring break?

Michelle: Yes. They went down for spring break and all this here started happening. I just had to get 'em some help. Like I said, I refuse to have the streets have 'em. And that was best for them to go get some discipline. I would discipline 'em, but they had to go to get some. 

Joann:  Were you there when all this was happening, or were they just staying with their grandmother?

Michelle: They had stayed down there like a couple days. I was at working. You know, you're home, going to work for whatever, all this had start happening so I had to go and check things out and do what I need to do and been a parent.

Joann:  So were you able to get down there when they were still ... ?

Michelle: Yes, ma'am. I was down there. 

Joann:  When they were in Crenshaw?

Michelle: Yes ma'am. 

Joann:  Okay. So tell me from your point of view ... how you feel the treatment that they got?

Michelle: When a lot of they, what they were saying I didn't know all that was going on. They were just say they good, they miss me and all that there, they gonna do better. I just took that and prayed about it and asked God to make a change for the better. 

I know it's a place they want to go back. They don't want to be away from me no more. Therefore that's why they had to straighten up their act, because I wasn't going to tolerate disobedience, disrespect, and you still want me to take care of you. I wasn't gonna do that. So it was a choice. 

Like I tell 'em all the time it's a choice in what you make. Whether it's good or bad, it's a choice. They're old enough to make choices and stop being around negative people always be around somebody positive that got something going for themselves, 'cause it's real rough on them. I always have a positive mind about life, and not a negative mind. And always be their own mind. Not go about what nobody else say, have your own mind, 'cause life is about choices. 

Joann:  When all this happened, when the incident happened and they were at the police station, what did the officers tell you? Did the officers talk to you?

Michelle: It wasn't more like talking. They thought that Jalissa was trying to keep Jessica away and all this and that. The officers just got fed up. They were getting into little stuff all the time. That's why he looked to where it got to. That's why, maybe the judgment to send them to Greenwood and even for them to go to training school. 

Joann:  Where you in the court room when-?

Michelle: Yes.

Joann:  So tell me, as a mother, that you were sitting in a court room and you were watching everything happen. Did anybody come to you as the mother and kind of explain to you what was gonna happen?

Michelle: Yes. The prosecutor that they appointed he talked with us and everything. He was saying they'd probably just get probation. That's it, you know probation, and make sure they do right, stay in school and do what they need to do or whatever. Jessica said once the lawyer, once the judge made that decision, then a lawyer, think his name lawyer Baker or somebody, he had got up and said that they gonna have to go to training school. Because they said they doing stuff over and over again. So they need some discipline. So that's why they had to go to Oakley to stay. 

Joann:  Have they ever been arrested before?

Michelle: No. 

Joann:  Okay. It's their first time.  So the lawyer that came and talked to you before the proceeding was, I guess like a defender lawyer, not the prosecutor.

Michelle: Yes ma'am. 

Joann:  He was the defender.

Michelle: A defender lawyer. 

Joann:  Okay. Did you see ... did he talk to the girls at all?

Michelle: No ma'am. Not really, 'cause all of us was together so. 

Joann:  Okay.

Michelle: They got [inaudible 00:09:35] you know they want to be on probation or whatever.

Joann:  So that guy that came and talked to you and said we want to get 'em on probation, did he stand up and speak in court?

Michelle: Yes ma'am.

Joann:  Okay.

Michelle: Because that's what the judge was going by ... what the defender lawyer said. 

Joann:  Okay.

Michelle: I said that the other attorney, he got up and said they gonna go to training school, 'cause they're not gonna tolerate the situation that they was doing in Panola county. Jalissa had went to Greenwood before, so that was like her second time going down there. 

Joann:  But you said, she'd gone to Greenwood before.

Michelle: For acting out.

Joann:  For acting out; she technically got arrested before, for acting out.

Michelle: Running away, they had a chance to run away and all this stuff. Just acting out, they didn't have a reason, just acting out. So a lot of that is in our past now. Like I said, they growing up and getting in less, now they're not just doing nothing now. Their attitudes and everything are better, I mean they are. 

I'm steady praying though, 'cause I am a praying mother, 'cause like I said, I want the best for them. I know jail is not a place for them. Lord knows I want them better. If I did take 'em to church, or we did go to church, we talk about the lord, we talk about being disobedient will shorten your days. That's the word. What I instill in them, just because I instill in 'em, it's still a choice that they have to make. 

I've seen so far, they been a typical child. They're not into a lot of mess or whatever. It's your time to get home. And when they go down to my momma, when we go down to my mom, they either at my momma's or either at my sister. Or they might go to the basketball court and play ball, hang with their little friends or whatever, and they're back in. No later than eight o'clock or nine o'clock. And that's it. 

Joann:  Well tell me ... I'm just gonna ask a couple more questions about that whole process. Right after the sentencing you got a basically a furlough. Did you come all the way back up to Memphis and then you had to go back down?

Michelle: Yes ma'am. Because we was waiting, it was a process for them to go to Oakley. So we were just waiting and everything and then the Oakley counselor at Panola county office, he called and told me what time to [inaudible 00:12:29] was in at the county jail so they can be transferred to Oakley.  

Joann:  Have you ever been to the Batesville Jail before?

Michelle: Yes ma'am, but not for them. But yes ma'am for other things. 

Joann:  Was it ... that's an adult jail isn't it?

Michelle: Yes ma'am. 

Joann:  But that's where you had to drop them off?

Michelle: They wasn't in the holding. The day that I took them that's the day they was transferred to Oakley. So they didn't stay all night in the county jail. They had to go there to get transported. 

Joann:  What was your conversation like with the girls on the way back to Memphis?

Michelle: I just told them that they just gonna have to do better, 'cause I want the best for 'em. I love 'em, and I said everything happens for a reason and y'all needed that to get your attitude adjusted. 'Cause they attitude was irate. Most mother's or whatever, want to give up on their child, but I refused, 'cause I know God got something better for 'em. 

Joann:  Were either of them scared or sad? Were they upset? Do you remember what they were feeling like before you had to leave 'em there?

Michelle: Yes they were sad and emotional and we all crying. That's about the hardest thing that I had to do. Is to walk away from them knowing that they not gonna come back home with me, in a certain amount of time. I prayed and talked to God he gave me more strength each day knowing that I will see them soon. We talked everyday once they got everything in order. Then the counselor told 'em when they were gonna call and all this here. They were showing 'em favoritism 'cause they would call and talk a long time and everything, 'cause they loved 'em down there in the Oakley facility, they was crazy about 'em. Then they time got reduced more and more because they was doing good. 

Joann:  Do you remember what happened, like tell me about the visitations? Because she said at some point your mom and- 

Michelle: Well they have certain people, the mother, the father, the sister, and the brother could be on a visitation list. The aunts couldn't. The uncles couldn't. The cousins couldn't. But the grandparents, and the mother, and the father, and the siblings could. That's why that came about. At the time my dad was ill so I didn't put him on there, so that's why he couldn't. He had to sit in this office, while we got through. But other than that, everything else it was like the way it should be. 

Joann:  How 'bout you, you said, what kind of work do you do?

Michelle: I'm a security officer in Baptist Desoto Hospital.

Joann:  And that's what you've been doing since you moved out to Memphis.

Michelle: Yes ma'am. Well I started transportation ... yes I started ... no I didn't, I was, yeah, I was already security before I moved up here. I just changed over, 'cause I've been a security two years now at Baptist, so yeah.

Joann:  So, uh-

Michelle: What else? Did I just come ... or you gonna do, oh ... putting the thing through buddy. I'm sorry.

Joann:  No that's fine. What do you think has been ... What was the ... you said the hardest part was probably dropping 'em off. 

Michelle: Yes. Dropping 'em off and leaving 'em. 

Joann:  What was it like to get each of 'em home? How was that transition for y'all for all of y'all?

Michelle: It was good. It was good. I had to go down there and get 'em at the Oakley facility. But it was good. They gave them a full physical and everything they had, everything up to date, their schooling, like I said you know the paper was good. 

Joann:  We're you surprised? Obviously Jalissa came home first and she was taking this medication was that something that y'all have ever talked about or you had to learn about it?

Michelle: No, 'cause they diagnosed her down there, but the doctor, the nurse she did call and told me about it. She was talking to a therapist down there, so just how they diagnose her with that. And they put her on medicine, she been on it ever since. 

Joann:  Are they able to have somebody to talk to up here? Was she able to continue seeing somebody?

Michelle: Yes. We go to Regional 1 and her [inaudible 00:17:43]

Joann:  So like once or twice a month?

Michelle: Once a month.

Joann:  Once a month.

Michelle: 'Cause she been doing so good, so. 

Joann:  That's good. Do they have somebody now at school that looks out for them? Or do they have any sort of good relationships at school?

Michelle: Yes, they have like a social worker. She'll talk, come talk with 'em or whatever on Tuesday and Thursday. But now since Jalissa been home, she don't have anybody to come talk to her, 'cause she, 'cause the social worker just strictly for the school. 

They doing good.

Joann:  Tell me just briefly why she was home, and?

Michelle: Oh. Because she had her leg broke. She had to do the home bound, the principal of her school said to recommend her to do home bound, because they had stairs at school and she couldn't climb 'em. She had surgery, she broke that fibula and tibia, and quit rising her leg and all that there. At the time she couldn't climb the stairs, that's why they referred her to be a home bound. To still get her schooling. A teacher come out here every Tuesday and every Thursday. Now since the state testing, she come out more to make sure that she get all her curriculum. 

Joann:  Is anything ... tell me what positive things have come out of this?

Michelle: Like I said, they growing up. They let a lot of foolishness go. They realizing life is about choices. So they making better choices, they get home more. They do what they need to do. Do what they suppose to do. And like I said, they just being a typical child, like any child. But it is better, I regular thank God for that. We just take it one day at a time. 

Joann:  Is there anything else you want to add?

Michelle: The only thing that I know to add is being a parent you always praying that God to cover your children, and give them faith. A lot of time, we get as adults don't know how to pray, and a lot of time children don't know how to pray. That's why we have to stand in the gap. To make sure that God, hearing the answer to our prayers. And he do just that. He takes care of us. Undercover, they get out of line every now and again, they're not perfect. But they get out of line every now and again and I just wish for praying God put it back into order. That's when I, for believe faith in God, and he gonna do just what he said. 

Joann:  Thank you.

Michelle: Yes ma'am.