Incarcerated Philadelphia youth share experiences hoping to help future generations

- Some young people, dealing with incredible pressures, are desperate for someone – anyone, to hear them. They hope that by sharing their pain, they can make things better for those who come after them.

Qilah David has been through a lot at a young age.

“Everyone has a story. You don’t know how this child is being brought up, you don’t know what struggles they have, what problems they’re experiencing,” said David.

Everyone has a story, but too often, young people like Anahi Figureroa, who have been involved with the juvenile justice system, never get to share theirs.

“Youth get sent to placement for various little reasons like truancy. Why is youth being placed in a placement for not being able to go to school? They don’t know if they have car fare, they don’t know what’s going on at home. So, we’re sending them away without really knowing what’s going on,” Figueroa explained.

It’s rare that television interviews are granted with young people involved with the system, but in this case, the Juvenile Law Center and others are working with a group, Juveniles for Justice, to explore ways the system needs to improve. Qilah says those questions are just the first step.

“Ask questions. If someone would’ve asked me, I would’ve let them know that I had so many problems at home that I can’t make it to school on time. But, no. We see that you’re late, you’re late, you’re late, you’re late. Truancy court,” David stated.

They share difficult experiences through their art work and community events. Many of the stories should and do strike nerves.

Anahi spoke of isolation.

“Solitary confinement. A lot of the youth are placed in the cell for long periods of time,” Figueroa said.

While Qilah pointed out that the current methods simply don’t work.

“People think it’s changing for the better, but it’s only making youth come out worse,” David explained.

At the latest event, Imaging Justice, at City Hall, Juveniles for Justice got to speak with the police and elected officials and continue to learn that their past doesn’t disqualify them from being a voice in the future.

Anahi pointed out their goals.

“We work on different problems and try to find solutions to the problems, but it’s not just for us,” Anahi stated.

Qilah says she is setting goals for the next generation.

“I just know that there’s another young girl who is feeling the way I felt. Maybe she doesn’t have a voice right now,” Qilah added.

Many people will say if a person doesn’t like the treatment, then don’t do the things that will create a reason to be sent there. But, consider that virtually everyone sent to juvenile placement will be back in the community, at some point. So, should society ignore their pleas, or listen and try to help young women like Oilah?

“I’ve been hurt so much. I feel like a lot of my life has been taken away from me, so I just build,” Qilah said.

And, now they’re hoping to help the next generation for goodness’ sake.
 

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