“I was always getting suspended. I was in a bunch of fights. I really didn’t like teachers... It was like certain people that would just tick me off and I wouldn’t like it and I would just take matters into my own hands and I would end up having a fight, an argument, a dispute or whatever... I got switched to different schools. Yeah, a lot.”
Shanasia is a 20 year old from Far Rockaway, New York. Currently she is working towards becoming a credible messenger through the Institute for Transformative Mentoring at The New School. At a young age, Shanasia dealt with a lot of anger that resulted in fighting with her peers, which ultimately lead her to being pushed out of school and into the juvenile system. In this recording, she talks about her experiences and where she is now.
Interview with Shanisia, conducted by Joann Self Selvidge for The Juvenile Project (TJP) on September 5, 2018 via phone in Far Rockaway, New York.
Joann: Hey! So, I’m just going to do a little background interview. Tell me your name and how old you are.
Shanasia: My name is Shanasia and I’m 20 years old.
Joann: Tell me a little about your background like where you grew up, what your family was like. That kind of stuff.
Shanasia: I grew up in Far Rockaway, New York. I was born and raised there. My family was, well, my dad’s side was the crazy ones. Everybody knew who they were. My mom’s side of the family, we really just started to get to know my mom’s side of the family and wasn’t really too connected with them. Neither was she.
Joann: Who did you live with when you were growing up?
Shanasia: My mother and my grandmother, my mother’s mother.
Joann: Do you have any siblings?
Shanasia: Yeah. My dad has 12 kids, and my mother has 4.
Joann:My mom is the oldest of 13 so I know what it’s like. A big family. Did any of them live with you growing up?
Shanasia: Yeah. My mom couldn’t keep us together. And my dad’s kids, no. We only see each other we when go to my grandma’s house for the summer. And that wasn’t all of us, it would be some of us.
Joann: Tell me about what school was like for you growing up.
Shanasia: I was always getting suspended. I was in a bunch of fights. I really didn’t like teachers. They always be telling me what to do. Because basically like, they be having control over my life and I don’t like that. I should have full control over my life.
Joann: What was you school environment like?
Shanasia: I mean, the school was alright. It wasn’t bad. It was like certain people that would just tick me off and I wouldn’t like it and I would just take matters into my own hands and I would end up having a fight, an argument, a dispute or whatever.
Joann: You would get school discipline? You would get suspended? Like that kind of stuff?
Shanasia: Yeah. I got switched to different schools. Yeah, a lot.
Joann: So at what point did law enforcement get involved like did you have school resource officers who were there?
Shanasia: When I first attending high school, I had a fight with another girl because she was sleeping on the bus and these other kids banged on the window and I thought it was funny because she grabbed her forehead and out of all of the people, I was the smallest one and she chose to wanted to start and fight me. And she didn’t like the outcome of it. So, we both was arrested but my principal, who my principal was, he used to be an officer so they took us back to my school and, like, nothing really happened there the first time, but plenty of times after, yeah.
Joann: So, tell me about that process. Would they actually take you down to go get booked? They would take you out of the school? Like, what would happen?
Shanasia: Oh, no. We wasn’t in the school we was outside and they took us back to the school because my principal used to be an officer.
Joann: You didn’t get.. there was no sort of.. that didn’t escalate? You didn’t actually have to go on and get reported? But you said after that, it happened again.
Shanasia: Yeah. When I started getting arrested for fights. And then I actually was taken to central booking and had to do all that. I had tickets to pay, fines. Yeah, court dates.
Joann: How old were you when you had to start dealing with all of that?
Shanasia: 16 turning 17.
Joann: So when you were 15, do you remember, was there any difference between before you turned 16 and were considered an adult in the system? Do you remember any difference from before when you were younger, like when you were 15 and having to go and then when you got older?
Shanasia: Yeah, definitely. I was 15, like, none of that really even happened. They took me to the prison and called my mother, told my mother she had to come get me and that I had to get all the fighting stuff out of my system because when I’m 16, the would charge me as an adult. I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m still 15.’ I didn’t understand that. I guess that’s how they work?
Joann: So what happened the first time you were 16 and you actually had to face the charge as an adult?
Shanasia: Oh, I was in there for a very long time and that was my first time in the bookings, that food and stuff, I wasn’t going to eat that. So I actually starved all the way until my mother came when I had a court date to see the judge, I wasn’t eating anything. I was just drinking water.
Joann: How long was that?
Shanasia: It was like approximately 2 days.
Joann: So you were just in the detention? You hadn’t even had a court date or anything? Like, when she came?
Shanasia: I had a court date when she came.
Joann: What kind of a hearing was that? What happened?
Shanasia: I got a ticket. An order of protection and a restraining order on me. Yeah. I had multiple court dates after that.
Joann: So, all these different court dates… tell me, was your mom with you all this time? Or who was..?
Shanasia: Not through all of them. Most them I spent by myself.
Joann: Were you still in detention and having to go back and forth to the court dates? Or did you get released?
Shanasia: They released me and I had to go back and forth to court. That’s when I would get the tickets for community service if I couldn’t pay it.
Joann: What was your attorney like? Did you have the same attorney?
Shanasia: First of all, those people didn’t even know how to defend everyone because they have so many cases. And they was just horrible and they would come and act emotional and act like they didn't even want to have this case because they had an attitude form the previous case they just was working on. That’s not my fault. You shouldn't be a public defender if you didn’t want to have that job… you basically signed up for it.
Joann: Were there any relationships that you had? Were there any social workers? Was there anybody in that experience that you felt like was listening to you or wanted to help you?
Shanasia: No, not at all.
Shanasia: Not at all, no. I feel like I could have defended myself better than that.
Joann: You probably could have. So, that was when you were 16 and you’re 20 years old now. So, tell me about what's happened between that time and now in your life.
Shanasia: Still fighting and getting arrested.
Joann: So have you ever actually gotten any sort of a charge or sentence that was serious enough that you got sentenced to jail time?
What kind of legal consequences.. So you had tickets? Community service? Tell me what’s the average, just because I don’t live in NY and I don't know… when you say a ticket, how much is that? How much in fines did you owe by the time you were 18 years old?
Shanasia: Well, I know one of them, one case alone, I had to pay like $320.
Joann: How did you get the money?
Shanasia: I was working at that time.
Joann: What kind of jobs did you have?
Shanasia: Well, I was a teenager, I was working at Taco Bell. Of course it wasn’t full-time, it was part-time because I was still in school.
Joann: How long did it take you to save $320?
Shanasia: Uh, It took me… well, being that I didn’t really have to pay rent and stuff, it really didn’t take me that long so I was able to get it. But by the time they wanted it, because they give you a set time to pay it. They were all, like say if something happens to me, they would give me until like November-December to pay it. That’s the only thing that I thought was fair, they giving me time to pay it.
Joann: So, they recognized that you had to earn it in order to pay it?
Joann: For the times you had to spend in detention before you got released, did your mom ever get billed for that time?
Joann: Okay. They do that some places.
Shanasia: (inaudible response)
Joann: Tell me how you got involved with Five. Are you in the ITM class right now?
Shanasia: It’s over right now but I got involved through a program in Far Rockaway called Rockaway Street Sheltering Arms. My mom has a friend in there who knows me and seen that I was in a lot of trouble and I started going to that office to help me fill out for college and jobs. Then they put me in the ITM program to start working with them permanently so I could be an outreach credible messenger. So, I had to do some of these courses so that’s how I got involved with that.
Joann: So, tell me about that. You said they helped you with trying to figure out about college and jobs. Tell me about your process with all of that and how it’s going.
Shanasia: They had me fill out applications.
Joann: So, tell me about your high school. Did you finish up high school and you’ve going back and forth and back and forth, you were working…?
Shanasia: No, I finished high school on time. I graduated on time.
Joann: So, a couple of years ago?
Joann: Had you tried to go to community college or were you doing that at all or were you just working after you graduated?
Shanasia: I was just working. I was going to go but I don’t want to.
Joann: You don’t want to? That’s not your thing?
Shanasia: Yeah, I don't want to go to college.
Joann: What do you want to do?
Shanasia: I wanted to be a lawyer but that involves going to college so, that’s kind of like, hanging out the window. I also used to box and I want to learn UFC. So, I feel like instead of fighting in the street regular, I could take that talent and use it for a professional use.
Joann: Have you started doing any of that like any mentorships? You said you were working with… what’s it called? I didn’t write it down but you said you were working with a group out of Far Rockaway.
Shanasia: Rockaway Street Sheltering Arms.
Joann: Yes. So, what do you like about that kind of work? Are you…?
Shanasia: I didn’t start yet. I am still in the process of training. That’s how I got with Five.
Joann: Gotcha. So, is this something where you will be working with younger people or high school kids? What would the job entail?
Shanasia: Both, and older people as well.
Joann: What kind of stuff do you do in the job?
Shanasia: Talk to teenagers, younger and older people. Basically give them the perspective of what not to do or the route they don’t want to go.
Joann: What kind of stuff are you learning.. Or what’s the most interesting part about the classes that you’re taking? The ITM classes.
Joann: Patience with who?
Joann: What about patience? Like, are you…?
Shanasia: Like, I don’t have patience. At all. I want some.
Joann: What kind of techniques do you learn to help you with patience?
Shanasia: Um. Like, talking to people and, well, talking to people is one of them. I don’t have patience like that - talk for a very long time. I don’t like to do that. And then patience of letting them express themselves without giving them my full attention and not like dilly dallying on the side.
Joann: It’s hard.
Joann: In addition to patience, what are some other things you are learning through ITM that you think are interesting?
Shanasia: How to work on myself. We learned our history of black people, the black race, really, African American, learned our history in that and how we was able to get privileges and how we're able to do certain things to this day.
Joann: Mmhmm. Is it hard going through, I know part of it.. I mean, I think from what I have heard, is that part of is it trying to figure out how to tell your own personal story?
Shanasia: Um, no, not really.
Joann: Not really?
Shanasia: (inaudible). Some people probably do. I mean, that’s not really like me (...inaudible…).
Joann: So how do you feel about all of that? Are you halfway through the course is it over?
Shanasia: Yeah, it’s over.
Joann: It’s over now? Have you been able to put it to use at all in other situations? I know you're still in the process of applying for the job but how have you been able to put it to use?
Shanasia: All of the programs is over right now. I have to wait until October so I’m just hanging out right now.
Joann: You have to wait until October because of.. Is it related to supervision for a case?
Shanasia: No. For the ITM program?
Shanasia: I don’t know what they’re doing. I am doing something different form them. That’s why I have to wait until October for the job to start another training.
Joann: Oh, for the other organization. You have to do a separate training?
Joann: Gotcha. In terms of all of the stuff you were talking about, in terms of the system involvement, do you still have any hangup where you’re having to… like, do you still have any leftover fines or any sort of community supervision that you’re still having to deal with?
Shanasia: As of right now, no, not that I know of.
Joann: Well, that’s good! When was the last time you had to deal with any of that?
Shanasia: That was May. I had my last court date that was in May. The May that just past.
Shanasia: Yeah, that was my last court date.
Joann: In terms of the charges you got, did you ever get charged with anything as serious as a felony charge?
Joann: Okay. So, that’s not going to be hanging over your head while you’re trying to apply for work.
Joann: That’s good. Tell me, what is your perception of of the justice system? What do you think about it? What do you think needs to be changed about it?
Shanasia: Well, a lot need to be changed. I think all of it should be changed to be honest. Like, all of it.
Joann: What about the education system? I mean, because obviously, they’re interconnected, I guess.
Shanasia: You said inside there? Like, they have education?
Joann: No, I was just saying that in these situations where you have an educational system and you have law enforcements officers who are in the educational system, that connects it directly to the justice system. So, you have this interconnectedness between these different systems.
You know, they call it the ‘school to prison pipeline’. It happens with other systems too. So, like if kids are in the foster care system, a lot of times, it’s a really... those are interconnected with the justice system, as well. So when you say these certain things needs to change about the justice system, it’s like well, yeah, well there’s the justice system but there are all these other systems and so there’s lots of different changes that need to be made so people don’t get there in the first place, right?
Joann: So, if there was something that should’ve happened differently that would have prevented you from getting into that system… I’m just curious just about your thoughts about your perception about…
Shanasia: I honestly don’t even have a thought about that right now.
Joann: Okay. That’s fine. I was thinking kind of if you were thinking back on it, but if you’re not there, that’s cool. So, right now, what are you goals right now in your life? What are you thinking about right now?
Shanasia: Getting a house.
Shanasia: Yeah. I’m working towards that now.
Joann: Are you staying with family now? Or are you…?
Shanasia: Not really family, but they are helping me.
Shanasia: Yeah, I don’t really talk too much to our family. I’m isolated. I don’t… once you cross my line, you're not coming back over my line. That’s just how I am. And a lot of people crossing the line.
Joann: When you say you’re wanting to get a house, what does that mean?
Shanasia: Not an apartment. I want a house.
Joann: You want a real house?
Joann: Cool. You know, when I think of New York, I think of apartments. I don’t think of houses but I guess Far Rockaway is different.
Shanasia: They do have houses and apartments here.
Joann: So, what’s it going to take? What do you need to do in order to get there?
Shanasia: One, I’m building my credit so I can get a loan. And then I’m just working, too.
Joann: What’s your dream job? If you can’t be a lawyer because you don’t want to go to school to be a lawyer, what’s your dream job?
Shanasia: A GYN doctor.
Joann: That’s a lot of school.
Shanasia: I know.
Joann: That’s even more thank going to school to be a lawyer.
Shanasia: I know. That takes extra time.
Joann: Well, I’m going to check in with you in 10 years and I’m going to see if you're a GYN doctor. You probably wouldn’t be done with school by then it takes that long.
Well, I’m really glad that you wanted to share your story because your story is unique but you also share a lot with a lot of people that I talk to. It is not a unique occurrence that young girls get pushed out of school the way you did. It sounds very much like a lot of the stories I have heard. But it sounds like you know what you want to do and you’re working towards it and I commend you for that.
Shanasia: Thank you.
Joann: Yeah. And I wish you all the best luck and good wishes and I want to keep in touch. If it’s cool, I’d love to share your story on the website.
Shanasia: Yeah, sure.