LaShay (Caleb's Mom)

photography by Sarah Fleming for the Juvenile Project

photography by Sarah Fleming for the Juvenile Project

“That was our stance from a family perspective that we were going to the court and we were asking them to put him in facilities that would help rehabilitate him. We were asking about Oakley, because he had committed so many offenses it had just gotten to be a cat and mouse with him.”

Caleb’s mother, LaShay has a Master’s degree in Social Work and two other children: a 19 year-old daughter and a 10 year-old son. In her interview, she talks about her frustrations with the system, including the inherent conflicts of interest in the youth court and the lack of adequate education and mental health services available to children who are in detention.

Learn more about LaShay's son Caleb here.

Interview with LaShay, conducted by Joann Self Selvidge for The Juvenile Project (TJP) on Feb 04, 2017 at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Jackson, MS.

Joann: Tell me your name and your relationship to Caleb.

LaShay: My name is LaShay and Caleb is my son. The issue was that Caleb was getting into so much trouble, that ... That was our stance from a family perspective that we were going to the court and we were asking them to put him in facilities that would help rehabilitate him. We were asking about Oakland, because he had committed so many offenses it had just gotten to be a cat and mouse with him.

He was not accurately seeing attorneys because they had attorneys serving as guard men ... You were catching charges and you were sitting in the detention center and your charges might not come up til almost six months to nine months later. So, what would happen is because they were in a lawsuit for just ... Withholding juveniles for so long, that ... They had their 21 days, if nothing was done, then they had to release.

But what you do when you do that is, you put a child in a situation where they're not receiving any accountability for that because they're being released. All their rights were being violated because he was never, ever, even as I, as a parent ... We would get their [inaudible 00:01:06] never talk to children outside of, you never came to my house. I know what a guardian ad litem would do. A guardian ad litem is supposed see a child outside of the jail. You let him go in the twenty-one day. There's no consequence for him, and the kids were like playing the system, and so what was happening is I was fighting from one end trying to get in contact with the court because I'm seeing this behavior getting out of control with everybody in this system in this, in this local area is like that's what the children are doing, they know the system, they know what's doing.

You get there, the guards got a whole type of hype. He was worse before, he wasn't as bad as he was before he started going to detention center because when he started going to the detention center you got a bunch of young guards that's working down there. And it was all about, I wasn't one of those parents. I saw the parents giving the money. I saw the parents giving the food out. You know, Caleb would tell me, "Mama, can you bring me something?" I don't buck the system. No, I can't bring you any Popeye's Chicken. No, I can't bring you anything from your stepfather's restaurant. We not bringing chitlins. No, I'm not giving a guard ten dollars. No, I'm not doing that.

And so, they were in return, telling him things against me because they would tell him things like "Your mama can't get you violated", because he would tell you out of those ten, I don't think it's thirteen, but ten charges, that he had, I've called on all of them ahead and had him locked up myself on six or seven of those because I'll violate you and I'll let them know to come get you, so, because I'm trying to save him because it's just a non ... It's the worse thing I think that I probably could have did as a parent.

Because I had tried with putting him in mentor programs, He was getting getting family counseling. He has been very healthy. I put him in a program for one hundred and one black men. They were doing things with him and stuff. Took him to college, Upward Bound, I mean not Upward Bound, NYSP program. We were using all the resources that we knew in the community to get him the help he need, but the juvenile system holds no accountability. So when I first sent him, it was a runaway. He ran away from home and stayed away from home. And he was probably like, thirteen. At the time, I was still married, his stepfather was the primary care giver in his life. Me and his dad hadn't been together since he was a baby.

And they were ... Weren't as close as they needed to be. When his rebellion started, it started a lot of friction because you start saying that, then, well, "You're not my Daddy" and it was tension there. And so when he started going, and I went to the court system to get him some resources, they had nothing to offer us. He hadn't committed a crime yet, running away is this and that. Then he started trickling and so it became a game. When I was using it to help and plant that theory, well, you're going to go to the detention center. When he gets to the detention center, the detention center say, "Well, he hasn't done anything. We can hold you for twenty-one days." They violated his rights of a speedy trial. They don't give these kids here a speedy trial. You sit in there until darn near those twenty-one days are up and they call you, "Miss Lawson, I'm- Caleb, he wasn't on the docket. We've got to send him home ..." OK, you send him home to do what? If I whip his butt and beat his tail, and his stepfather, his Dad get on him, then you're ready to run back to the system and say that we are abusing him, but we're trying to stop you from ... At this [inaudible 00:04:02] you're running away.

We know how it goes. You're going to be robbing, stealing or potentially killing. In this system that they have set up, because ... The system's backed up. It just takes so long to get on the docket. You've got the attorney being the judge and the guardian ad litem.

I love Doc Dorsey, grew up knowing him as a person, good guy. One minute you can't be the guardian ad litem and the next minute you're on the bench the next because Judge Skinner's not there. That's a conflict of interest. You can't do that. I don't need you to take Caleb back there and do me any favors, or any child any favors, [inaudible 00:04:35] "We're going to use all you're good stuff there, that your mama got a Master's Degree. And you go to church, and you come from a good family, and you're the only one in your family that have had this type of record. And you aren't poor, poor ..." You know, "Let's talk about all the good stuff." That's not helping Caleb. I need you to tell Caleb his rights, I need you to tell him the consequences of his actions, and I need you to help me help him ... Put him in an effective rehabilitation program that's not going to have him sitting up in a cell, kicking cell doors all day, getting beat up, being disrespectful to people too, as well, and playing the system.

It has all trickled out to this mess that we have here in Hines County where nobody is helping these kids. People gravitate to their familiar surroundings. You're going to keep doing the same things if you keep going back to the same environments. Then when they start giving these kids thirty, forty or fifty years in Hines County it's like, "Oh yeah, we're going to lock him up for life", yeah, but when he was 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 you played this game with him and you didn't let him know that this thing was really real, and so that's a child. According to Erica's developmental stages, that's where your brain is developmentally, so that's what you're going to gravitate to. And when you've got these guards down there laughing ... Like, that's what they did though.

"They go Caleb's mama ... You're mama don't play." No, I'm not coming here to 'hehe and haha', I'm coming to visitation to speak to him on some real stuff. I'm not coming here to tell you nothing, to put nothing in your books, 'cause I'm not. I'm not coming here to tell you, "I'm going to look out for you ... I'm giving you twenty dollars, look out for my son."

Absolutely not. I'm not cosigning on that foolishness. He needs correction to be ... He needs to be seen by his attorney, he needs to know his rights and he needs to know that this is not a game. And that's what they do. So, plenty ... Do I believe there are some people there ... I begged for Caleb to go to Oakland. Caleb had about three serious charges. They started talking about, "We're going to give him another chance."

No, you're setting him up for failure. Send him to this training school program. Let him get the educational tools that he needs. JPS sends a representative out there to do school. I know for a fact it's coloring sheets, like you're playing these children like true stereotype. Caleb may not have made it to the eighth grade ... It isn't because he isn't intellectually smart enough to do it. Yeah, I would stay in my cell too if you took out a bunch of coloring sheets and crossword puzzles, yeah, I'm going to be in my cell, that's nothing for me to come out and and entertain. And the rest of them that's coming out, they're coming out for the iPods and different stuff they have. There was no educational challenge. And then they knew the system. You could say you're going to commit suicide so they just stop them from- What?

That's what the kids going to do. They do the same thing. You have no resources in Mississippi. Mississippi has no resources. They have a drug and alcohol pro- They want drugs ... I was the one that would tell them I knew Caleb was smoking weed. They've got one place, well two places, Sunflower Landing, and then they have East Mississippi ... I said for drugs, A and D. Them drugs not A and D.

East Mississippi, which is a twenty-eight day program. If a child is on drugs, and I'm telling you on drugs, you done took his urine, and see he's on drugs, a 13, 14 year old child on drugs is a whole lot different. That drug is more powerful on the mind of a child that's undeveloped. I'm telling you that ... You send them to a twenty-eight day program. It takes an adult ... To even come back to your senses on a drug ... And then you send them back, so why do you think he's operating like that? He's on a drug!

But they would never insist ... I'm constantly telling them that. They never insist it. The kids really need some help. If I get on a drug right now, drugs are mood altering. It's just a lot of things that they their backing these children up in a wall. I'll never take responsibility to say that Caleb was not taught right from wrong because he was absolutely taught right from wrong.

He was brought up in the church. I set the bar for them. All parents are not like you think they are. It's not just the kids who's parents who are on drugs ... I work in the system. You have more of those kids motivated to do something than you have with these kids whose parents have decent jobs and you have decent clothes, and you are taught right from wrong. It's just the system, the system is a trick. I would have really done better off if I had never started taken him to the detention center.

He started meeting more people that was doing more things and linking his self to ... We didn't even live in a crime infested area. But he started linking up and meeting these guys ... He was talking about... Outside, stealing cars. It's a bunch of kids that get together and they get together on these behaviors, and when you go to the detention center because you have so much loose time and time doing nothing productive. All y'all do is gang up about how you y'all going to get out and commit crime. He started going out on runaways. And getting into it with a coach. I remember it like yesterday.

He turned into a stolen ... You know, like, stealing cars and strong-arm robbery and always meeting up with these people because that's what they do. It's comradery in them. They're not setting up or facilitating any rehabilitation. So, once you're peers, your peers run your life. That's just with all of us.

It's neither here or there with our parents. The things I did in life and some bad decisions I've made, they were based on, "Oh, I've had a boyfriend," and my mom raised me in a church. My dad and granddaddy, everybody as active, but I decided hey, "He told me that he loved me, and I'm going to skip school today." Neither here nor there.

I just think that the youth system here just needs to be torn down and put all the way back together and come up with another plan. And it's really, really sad because there are no resources here in Mississippi, there just aren't. It's the same problem they've got in the foster care system. The foster care system for the youth is a product of parents who can't handle these kids anymore, because I've almost gave up.

Because they've tried and then the first thing they want to put the [inaudible 00:09:51] is "Where was mama?" Yeah, like, remember me. Remember me, judge .. the judge is new judge Skinner. I'm fighting on the other of side of the desk while my minor was behind there the whole time. I'm fighting in foster care ... And I'm coming there fighting for my- I don't want no special privileges. I want you to help me because if you're a parent and you have a insurance, these programs now are so court ordered, kind of like. So I can fight to put him in a facility from the outset, I can't fight them from the outside like that. They want court orders just like Oakley, I would have been got him in Oakley. They want court orders.

It's not like- They have the system set up where you can't just go as a parent like you could do old school and say, "I've got insurance," or "Here is the amount of money, I want my child in this training school." You've got to get orders from the judges. So if the judges are never advocating for these kids, they- you can't walk your children into these programs. You just can't. There are very few that you can walk them into.

They want that piece of paper. And all of this lollygagging that they do it's not for the kid's best interest ... That's just like with them, we knew about southern- [inaudible 00:10:52]. But that would be like, the stance in the community, like, "Oh, judge Skinner ain't going to do this because he's in violation with southern [inaudible 00:10:59], all this stuff was personal. You're so scared of southern in some instances, that the parents is like, "I am his witness. I'm telling you what he needs, I'm telling you. I won't be on the news saying my son didn't have that pistol or that gun." Because I ... That was the scenario that they mimicked, that was on the news of a case where a mother was saying "My son would never do that!" We don't know what our children would do, but we do know that when we see our kids advocate ... Operating in behaviors, we need help. Caleb really doesn't have that type of mom, I've always asked them for help. He should have been in a Oakley training school two years ago and he wouldn't have been in half of the trouble he was in. He should have been there, it was just ... I never went to court and it was a turnover. Every time ... Caleb is just now getting subpoenas to come to court on stuff that was done in 2014.

... You just go and they just ... The docket is so long. It's so many kids that are in the system, they may get to you a year later. Or they gotta let you go because they ain't got to you on the docket so you're letting somebody out that ain't been rehabilitated, and the person that is still a child is out like, "I'm out!" So there no consequences or repercussions. And then the parent is still ... We can say ... It's a joke to them because you're letting them out.

He has the right to a speedy trial, not just for the fact of him having that right, he needs that to get ... Kids need that. You needs reward and consequence, you need consequences and rewards. And these same kids in the youth councils always say stuff like, "We hate to see what ends up happening to these kids." Because they just keep dropping them out, and then the news is hyping it up.

Every time you turn on the news, 14, 15, 16: Armed robbery, killing. There is no consequences for that, and is it the children's fault? No, if I never raised my child, and ever showed my child any consistency or structure, what do I expect? They have no consistency and structure in this system.

And it's a set up for failure. There may be some good things about it, but all of that ... I would see them judges and they would be like, one minute you're an attorney and you're the guardian ad litem, and the next day you're the representative because you've got ... You have the privilege of sitting on the bench, I guess. But that's just totally conflicting, we'd be like, "You just ... You're my guardian ad litem, but you're the judge today." I couldn't even take that seriously, when I was going in on the foster ... It's the same system with them, you're still the same ... The same detention youth is the same thing for the foster care, we go before the same judge.

I can't take you serious. So I feel like the system has failed him. They failed him because everything we ... We came from this end trying to direct him to you when we saw that whipping your butt is not getting it with you.

If we whip your butt the way that old school would whip your butt, then we'd be catching a case with child abuse because you're doing stuff that will get you killed out here.

When we really want to put something on you, we're going the right way ... And he hated me for it, because they was like, "Your mama is the police". I'm the mama that's coming out there and telling him ... They're telling me, "Ain't nothing we can do." I'm calling you on the phone and telling you that he violated his probation.

JPD is so lazy. "Ma'am, we can't walk around and police your child.". But you're telling me that this piece of paper says that he's on probation.

Joann: Can you talk a little bit about when he would come home and he would be in the community, Other than AOP, what kind of services were available in the community or even offered?

LaShay: I know that ... We had did a session with Marion Counseling, and they always ask you ... That is one thing that the counselor would do like, referrals. This is how the refer, because I do refer, this is how they're referral system would go. "Are you already seeing someone as far as getting him some counseling?" Yes, he's seeing Marion Counseling. Or yes he's seeing ... We'll just following up with them. But have I ever seen them actually doing- I know that because I have a social work degree, a Master's in social work. I'm a part of the community. But it was never them setting the thing up.

It was, "Who are you seeing?" I'm always having him seeing somebody. They recommend medication. They do that type of stuff, but actually putting in the legwork to independent, individualized service plan for him? Absolutely not. It was never individualized. He was put in a category just like every other youth was. And that's not how the judicial system needs to work. He's an individual, first. These are his individual needs. None of that was ever set up. It was all based on, "Well we sure hate it Miss Lawson, but we know if such and such ..." The days was always a thing, being the days, the twenty-one days, and the forty- "We've got to release him", or "We're trying as hard as we can to get him on the docket, you know the docket is so backed up, if we can get him on the docket and get him a court we can keep him here and we can try to send him to Diamond Grove or something like that." They might throw it out there, but they worked specifically on that timeframe of 21 days, and if he hadn't gone to court in 21 days he's back out in population and here we go again.

His stuff was so repetitive, where it was back to back, almost as if I wanted to go down there and knock on the door and say, "Please." Even with the stuff that Caleb has going on now, it was eight days prior to that I begged them to send him to Oakland.

I don't care what he's saying about, all this stuff about ... What he was saying about what they didn't do. Your job is to help the child. Know what I'm saying? Period, point blank. And even if you were going to commit suicide, let's keep it real.

Why won't you get somebody to come in there and do an assessment and get my child somewhere where he can be assessed. If he said he's a threat or harm to his self or others, then you should have somebody to come in there and not just keep him there and say, "Well they ain't gonna take you at Oakland."

Did you send him to Brentwood? Did you take him to UMC to get a suicide assessment? No. You left him in a cell and you discharged him two days later on a ... Twenty one days because you couldn't hold him.

I think it's a set up for failure and I think that there's so many people outside of him that are being affected by that because they're not rehabilitating. And they have such a cookie cutter form, like, everything is the same for each kid. You cannot do that.

And even what he was saying back there, that system in the back, I have notice that so much and it's other parents are saying ... When they get back there with the guards, they have a sixth sense of ... Like I used be telling him what we're going to do, and I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that.

Well they say, "You can't do that". The guards are on a whole other system. First of all, you're not the attorneys, you're not the judge ... You shouldn't be back there if you're a guard having any conversations with anybody about their cases. "Oh, no man you know what I'm saying ... I just seen it happen man ... You ain't gonna get but such and such amount of time ..." It's just the same standard. And they make them misbehave and because ... Yeah you're not going to go down there, going ham and act a certain type of way, because they basically letting you know, "You do what I tell you to do, you know, you do this, you going to be on this side." You're causing safety concerns. And then you also, causing these kids not be obedient to their parents. The bottom line to me is the way they're dealing with ...

Caleb: Hold up, we need to cut off and talk about this ...

Joann: Okay we can.

Caleb: Okay.

Joann: Okay, finish your thought.

LaShay: I just think that they're not doing justice to the kids to come, and nobody else. I just think the system ... And it is. If they know the system down here is pretty much, like, it's no good. You just can't operate like that. Even if it was a lot of things that I know, that I've heard in the past that they were doing in violation of youth here. And they did get sued. But when you get sued ... You still can't work just for the lawsuit. You're trying so hard not to get caught up in the trouble that you were in. You still have to give a service to the kids. Our job is not just to say, "Make sure we ain't in violation of that lawsuit that they got over our heads." Caleb's not based on that lawsuit.

You've got to individualize this thing. And it's openly said that they want to do more. But because there was a season, I guess when there was a lot of mistreatment of conduct of children, and children did they say get abused, and mistreated and their rights were violated. You're still violating rights. But the big difference is, you're making sure you don't meet those 21 days, because in 21 days you got to go. Like, you coming to get your child. They have called me and I have said, like, "I'm not coming because I know when he gets here that he's not going to obey us, and I'm telling you he's going to be a threat to himself and others. I'm telling you that. I'm telling you I've seen the behavior get so bad," and I said that he's not going to stay at home.

He gets home, he's laughing at us. That's the thing, you know, I'm out. He comes home and I'm laying on the phone, like, he leaves. I used to have [inaudible 00:19:09] where I drove around, I'm not doing it anymore, I'm not driving around the city looking for you. I have two other kids, I have work and responsibilities. You can't do that. You call the police, they never respond. And the next time they call you, "We got such and such down here." Yeah you got him now but who called you? Who called you and told you, "He's in violation of probation. I promise you if you come get him, and you test him, he came in last night at one o'clock. He looks high. Come get him." They won't. But then, you get him down there and they'll hold him ... Can't get in the court room, 21 days. Deuces. Come get him, if you don't come get him we're gonna call and make a DHS report on you. For what? Neglect.

So I've even kept him down there a couple days and it was kind of like the phone call, do what you gotta do then. And I eventually came and got him because they said that's neglect. Because you're not coming to get him.

But I'm telling you that he is not concurring to the behaviors, why? Because there is no accountability. I'm done.