Wabash Valley Correctional Centre: The YIA cellblock – cellblock D – Youth Unit, is home to 53 kids who are rarely permitted to leave the unit, due to the dangers posed by the adult prisoners just outside their door. Close beside the youths is cellblock M – adult unit. When these children reach the age of 18, they are transferred to the adult unit and the inmates who have eagerly awaited their arrival for months or even years. In 22 states children as young as 7 can be prosecuted and tried in adult court.The boys are on a tight schedule that begins at 7:00 a.m. After a starchy breakfast, the boys receive schooling, commence chores, shower, take part in recreational activities, and pass the time reflecting on their crimes and how they became incarcerated at all. Among them Paul Gingerich, a scrawny 12-year-old boy admits he doesn’t think about the years ahead of him, but rather meal by meal and he “tries to be good“. His mother argues “he doesn’t need to be sent to the adult unit when he turns 18 because “he is thriving in this system, he’s doing terrific .” Small wonder she argues for his incarceration in the juvenile block: Youth housed in adult jails are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than youth housed in juvenile detention facilities. Paul is locked up for 25 years aiding his friend in the killing of his friend’s stepfather, Phil Danner. They feared he might stop them from going on a trip out west. The boys stole Danner’s car, drove towards Arizona, and stopped for gas, where they met a policeman who was suspicious that they were out alone. They admitted to the killing. When Gingerich if he might have done things differently two years ago, he says, ‘Yeah, I think about it sometimes. I think I should have gone home.’
Freckle-faced Colt Lundy is 15. He is committed for 30 years for killing his stepfather. He states that “on the news they made me seem like real evil. But I’m way different than that.” Colt and his 12-year-old accomplice, Paul Gingerich (above), were caught after they fled in the victim’s car. “You don’t realize until after the fact that every decision you make has a repercussion whether good or bad.” Colt casually shows filmmakers how to make a locksock: a combination lock dropped inside a sock that is swung at the head or face of an inmate. It’s been known to kill. It would seem that Colt hasn’t really learned his lesson after all. Colt insists that after spending 5 months in county jail, had he been released then, he wouldn’t have committed anymore crimes. That would have been his wake-up call. However, it doesn’t work that way for murdering a man in cold blood. He claims, “you halfway trust somebody, because you don’t trust anybody. In here, you’re on your own. People only know prison from what they see in the movies. The food is horrible, you have to wear a jumpsuit every day, you only come out of your cell a couple hours, you gotta be on guard all the time…you don’t have any freedom. Freedom’s the worst part.”
Miles Folsom is 17. He is sentenced to 36 years for felony robbery and criminal confinement. After the verdict was read, Miles was transferred to prison, where he carved “I’m sorry” into his chest, and attempted to hang himself, but another inmate alerted guards, who removed the slip-knot from around Miles’ neck. Mike writes letters to at-risk kids on the outside to warn them against committing more crime. If he gets out after 36 years (he has to stay out of serious trouble and avoid getting stabbed to death) he will be 53 years old. Parents get angry and say how can people sentence kids like this? “Chlidren can’t be treated like adults, they have to be given a second chance,” a parent laments.
Trevor Jones was 17 when he committed his crime. He keeps his emotions in check when he says, “There’s a whole lot of life out there and you’re not a part of it.”
The severity of a sentence is determined by law. If a person is convicted of first degree murder in some states, for instance, the judge has no other option but to hand down a sentence of life without parole. Trevor’s victim, Matthew Foley, was killed when he was 15. At 14, Trevor began skipping school, by 17, he used alcohol and drugs. He got a record for several misdemeanour charges including fighting and driving under the influence of alcohol. In November 1996, Trevor saw an opportunity to make money off Matthew, who wanted to buy a handgun, allegedly for his cousin. Trevor and his friend JP arranged a meeting with Matthew in a parking lot to make the illegal purchase. Trevor alleges the plan wasn’t to kill Matthew but to fool him into believing he would be sold the handgun, then refuse to give it to him after receiving his money. He states the gun went off and killed Matthew, and he “didn’t realize what had happened.” He and JP turned and ran. Nonetheless, why was the gun loaded if there was no intent to kill Matthew? In June 1997 Trevor was charged with reckless manslaughter, conspiracy to commit robbery, robbery and felony murder. The jury found Trevor guilty of reckless manslaughter, meaning a tragic accident causing death and robbery. Because Trevor had been charged with felony murder he received life without parole. One quarter of all juveniles sentenced to life without parole have been convicted of felony murder.
Jacob Ind is in a Denver, Colorado prison for life. He committed a double homicide when he shot his mother, Pamela, and stepfather, Kermode Jordan, to death. Jacob claims he lived in an abusive home. He and his brother Charles lived in fear of both parents. Jacob’s brother Charles became a therapist while Jacob became a killer. Jordan physically and sexually abused both boys almost daily. Jacob finally “broke his code of silence” when he told Children’s Services about his plight at home. Children Services assured Jacob they would conduct an investigation. They did not. The defence attorney states in the documentary, “The problem is child abuse is the perfect crime because parents who do it seal their own protection because they know the kids will typically (a) not going to fight back and (b) typically not report. The extreme abuse of the child is reflected in the homicide. they have to use the baseball bat several times, they have to stab numerous times, they never fire one bullet from the gun they fire the whole barrel.” Jacob was conceived to repair Pamela and Jordan’s marriage and when that failed he became Pamela’s hated scapegoat. Jacob became a cutter, typical for abused children. In spite of Jacob’s suffering the jury returned a verdict of first degree murder. If you are interested in reading about a petition to free Jacob Ind click here.
Erik Jensen and Nathan Ybanez
ErickJensen has been in prison for 8 years. 15-year-old Nathan Ybanez came into Erik’s life as a guitarist in Erik’s band ironically named Troublebound. Erik’s mother states “Nathan was a really nice boy, well-behaved….there was something about him when I first met him that made me a little uncomfortable.” Julie, Nathan’s narcissistic mother, treated Nathan like a toddler and a lover. She pleaded with Nathan to stay at home with her. Julie followed him to school dances and spied on him. She insisted her son curl up in bed with her while she wept and vented about her life, then sexually abused Nathan, trying to seduce him. Nathan’s helplessness and rage grew. “I felt like I was in a small box that was shrinking and it had sharp things in it and it started to cut me,” Nathan states. At 16, Nathan beat and strangled his mother to death. Erik’s involvement was in entering the home with another bandmate, Brent, and seeing Nathan strike his mother. Erik claims that after 15 seconds the fight was over. At trial, Erik claimed it was 45 seconds. He found Nathan’s mother dead, “There was blood everywhere. ” Erik said he fainted in the documentary but he didn’t state this in court. Later he claimed “I’m sure there was a lot I could have done.” Erik helped Nathan to clean up the scene before police arrived, resulting in his arrest for destroying evidence. Brent changed his statement after his arrest, copping a plea when he falsely implicated Erik in the murder. Erik was convicted of destroying evidence and conspiracy to commit murder. DA Mitch Morrissey states, “I have been in these murder scenes…we are talking about juvenile offenders that are some of the worst murderers in the history of the state of Colorado. I don’t think their age has anything to do with it. These are horrendous crimes.” I tend to agree with Morrissey in Erik’s conviction: he must have known Nathan was going home to attack (if not kill) Julie. All 3 boys entered the house and even cleaned up after the homicide. This isn’t an innocent teenager.
In July 1999, Colorado Springs, Christopher Lohrmyer was leaving work when 3 juveniles, 15-year-old Andrew Medina, Michael Brown, 17 and Derek Miller, 15, shot Lormyer in an attempted carjacking. Brown and Miller made a deal for second degree murder by implicating Andrew, who was then charged with felony murder. Andrew grew up in a difficult situation: a learning disability, a difficult, alcoholic father, and an overwhelmed young mother. His original defence lawyer directed Andrew to write a letter of apology to Christopher’s family. The letter was introduced in his trial as evidence of his guilt, although there was no written admission of actual guilt. The attorney for his appeal claims this was a legal error that shouldn’t have happened and has based Andrew’s appeal around the admission of the letter into court. Andrew was transferred to the SuperMax Prison in the Colorado State Penitentiary. In 2004 Human Rights Watch interviewed him and he admitted he was involved in a gang. Andrew was accused of leading the gang to riot at one of the prison facilities. Erik Jensen and Jacob Ind spent years in the SuperMax. Andrew is permitted non-contact visits with his mother Sandra. Sandra claims the SuperMax is the worst incarceration for prisoners: “people die in there because they don’t care. It is the worst place to be.”
Greg Ousley (12:08)
32-year-old Greg Ousley has been locked up for 18 years of a 60 year sentence for killing his mother and father when he was 15 years old. He was sentenced as an adult, the youngest person in the history of Indiana to be tried in adult court. He was placed directly into the adult facility. Ousley states, “I need to be punished for what I did, I’m not going to take that away, but it shouldn’t have just been punishment because it isn’t like I just walked out into society and took some random person’s life. There’s a reason this happened and I’m not justifying it but there’s an understanding behind it. If everyone has such a great opinion now to keep me out of the community where were you before? Where were you in school you know, I’m showing all the signs…Kids just don’t wake up one day and say I’m going to kill someone.” He shakes his head.
Colt Lundy reads a letter he has written out loud:
“It amazes me how different life is in prison…if I could send a message to all the kids around the world it would be something like this: you’re not untouchable. Have fun and do what you want, but always think before you do something. Nothing is worse than being locked away from your family, friends and freedom.”
A young inmate steps into his cell and a thick, metal door slams ominously shut. No more free time outside the cell for today.