By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
"They'd make us sit motionless on blacktop in 100-degree heat for an hour," he says. "If you wiped the sweat from your eyes, we'd get more time. It was unbearable. Squatting and holding push-up positions. Some kids would collapse and get sent to the box (solitary confinement) for up to 48 hours. When it was cold, you would freeze your ass off. If you had to use the restroom between meals, you held it in or shit yourself. They don't even check to see if you're still alive."
Not all the kids in the camps were hard-core troublemakers and he recalls that many broke down under the pressure. But he said few of the youth ever filed a complaint because such an action "ain't going nowhere, anyways."
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck says the old model of "suppression" is evolving to "a more inclusive model that includes all the other pieces. Do we get there fast enough? Probably not. But are we getting there? Absolutely. Do we get people out of the system as aggressively as we put them in? No. And I think that's one of the advantages of a new look at probation."
Jesse's smile vanishes as he recalls a turning point when he was 12. He says that an LAPD officer handcuffed him, beat him with a baton and spit in his face when he refused to give the officer information about another member of a gang he was affiliated with. "He told me, 'you're nothing. That's where you always going to be. On the ground I'm gonna be looking down at you.'"
Blevins agrees, "We're battling a whole life experience by the time these kids get here. Whether they were abused physically, sexually, emotionally ... whether they dropped out of school in the eighth grade."
The Advancement Project's Connie Rice, who has a deal with the city to run the Los Angeles Violence Intervention Training Academy, says, "Our probation department is a gang factory. It's beyond incompetence. It's malpractice and it's bordering on criminal." She wants Blevins to replace the top 15 positions in the department.
Back at home, Jesse Aguiar doesn't sleep well. He wakes every couple of hours sorting through memories, trying to reconcile the things that he's done and the things that have been done to him.
Returning to his family home in Watts, he walks a fine line. He violates an injunction by having contact with former associates who are active gang members. But he shows his face "so they don't come looking for me."
He's considering his options for summer employment. He's plotting a future after graduation. He's designing his own program for young people and wrestling with a new idea: forgiveness.
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