At the age of 15 I was sent to Los Padrinos (LP) Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles. It was my first time in the halls. I didn’t know much about juvenile hall other than what I heard when I was out. I’d spent about four days in LP and got transferred to Sylmar Juvenile Hall.
I was arrested for double gang-related murders, so when I got to Sylmar I was housed in four different units where they housed similar juveniles that were fighting adult cases like me.
The unit I was housed in first was W-unit. I didn’t last longer than two months because I ended up getting in a fight and was sent to Z-unit which at that time was considered the unit where mess-ups went to.
I also didn’t last long there. I got kicked out from there for multiple fights and sent to the CYA (California Youth Authority) in Norwalk, Drake-unit, where they had everybody single-celled and only one hour of program, 23 hours of lockdown. While in Drake-unit I was involved in multiple fights and three riots.
Once juveniles got sentences they would get released to the rest of the units where they could walk to chow and have recreational time to play sports in a big yard where most of the yard consisted of a track and in the middle grass, to play football or whatever sport you would like to play. Not much like Drake-unit where the yard was concrete and small, it was literally about the size of a basketball court.
I did about 19 months in Drake-unit until I got sentenced to 140 years to life in prison. I was then subject to be released to the rest of the units where everything was different from Drake-unit and I would be able to do a lot of other stuff than just sit in the cell.
But it wasn’t as I expected. I thought I was going to hang out and enjoy my time. Once the door opened and I was sent to a holding cell expecting to be released to the other units, I saw the chaplain that would always go to Drake-unit and give Mass every Sunday.
He told me that the warden called and said to send me to another CYA called YTS (Youth Training School) in Chino, a CYA that was considered one of the worse CYAs. It wasn’t much of a surprise to me considering my rap sheet.
So once I got to YTS I wasn’t sent to the regular units but to the hole, which they called The Rock. It was even worse than Drake or any place I’ve been to this day. My yard time consisted of a cage which was small, had barb wires on top, and I would go to the yard wearing sandals because we were not allowed to have shoes in case we tried to jump the cages. I’d spent my time there by myself eating food with no salt, going to yard in a cage with sandals, and with no cellie to talk to. Then I was sent to prison.
Now I’m 26 years old, been down 11 years and trying to maintain positive. As a teenager I didn’t think about 10 years from now. I just thought that I was young so I should enjoy life.
I knew when I got busted that I would be sentenced to life, so why change now, but I guess I was just too careless. I’m now participating in self-help groups as well as listening to advice from other people.
I remember when I was in juvenile hall and CYA, people coming to talk to us and give advice to us so we could change. I didn’t care about anything they said. I thought that they didn’t go through the same stuff I went through as a kid, and if they did it’s my life anyways to live it.
I remember this one day some guy from a program that I forgot the name of brought Mike Tyson, a famous boxer, to Sylmar Juvenile Hall when I was there. He mentioned his life story and how it was tough for him as a kid, and how he got his life together to be successful. I liked boxing, it’s actually my favorite sport, but respectfully, I’d cared less what Mike Tyson said, which I regret now because it would have made my progress easier.
I figured that I was wrong this whole time, and have found out that I enjoy studying about various things like science and math. And I also enjoy talking to my family more than when I was in the streets, when all I’d care was about the “homies.”
So if I were to give advice to a younger me, it would be to ask myself what I really want in life. So don’t be shy to express your feelings like true men do. So keep thinking positive.
Eddie Sorto is a juvenile lifer, now 26. He is in Kern Valley State Prison for a double gang-related murder he committed as a young teen.
This column appeared in The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth. David Inocencio founded The Beat Within in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.