Katlyn Christiansen

portrait of Katlyn Christiansen

Katlyn's tumultuous journey began with a traumatic childhood marred by her parents' divorce and was compounded by abuse. As a teenager, she navigated the complexities of the juvenile justice system and, at 15, faced the challenges of teenage pregnancy while incarcerated. Despite the odds, Katlyn continues her fight. Now a mother battling for custody, she's using her voice to call for reform of the very system that once sought to confine her.

System-Impacted Youth

I'm so sick from the pregnancy that I cannot make it out of bed. The school sent a court order and a mandatory probation violation if I did not go. My body was so weak that there was no getting out of bed for me.

Katlyn Christiansen
System-Impacted Youth

A Spiderweb of Traps

by Katlyn Christiansen

It's so hard to get out of this system because of how corrupt it is. It started at five years old, from the divorce between my mother and who I thought was my father.

My mother fought so hard.

"Dad" got with the trailer park manager. While moving in with her and her two daughters, "Dad" is in front of me. I'm carrying a box that is too heavy for me. I call out, "Dad."  He turns and yells, "I'm not your dad."

I go home to Mom, telling her what happened. She calls and freaks out on him. To win the case, she brought my biological father for a DNA test. She wins Andy and me. "Dad" gets my oldest brother. We did the weekend on and off for a while until I wasn't allowed to go anymore.

Mom put us in counseling, and then "Dad's" family took us out, saying we didn't need it. They didn't want us to tell what was actually happening when we went to "Dad's" house. "Dad" was very abusive and beat us on any occasion. My brothers got it worse than I did.

I remember when we went on vacation; my middle brother, Andy, had fallen asleep watching TV, and the new wife's two daughters were awake and watching TV. I went to the lobby with "Dad." He had forgotten his key. We get back to the room, and we stand outside for about five to eight minutes before we actually get inside. The first thing he does when he gets inside is punch my brother in the head. 

I remember when he left his key in the top drawer, and I was beaten until they were found. He believed I had played with them and then lost them. We definitely needed counseling, and it only got worse from there.

Now, the part of the story I will tell you is how this plays a part in people's lives. When they need help, you have to get them the help they need because if not, it escalates and can, in the long term, affect their life, how they function, and how they respond to certain situations; the worry in their heart comes from somewhere.

I've tried so many times and started over more than you can imagine. What I'm going to tell you is sadly overlooked, and I've been quiet for so long, not knowing the best way to let people know this system is messed up and these kids need help.

I caught my case at 14, hanging out with my friends. I stayed on juvenile probation for 5 to 6 months. I've now gotten pregnant at the age of 15 by a 22-year-old man. How fast life moves. I thought I was an adult doing adult things.

I'm about 3 months along. I'm so sick from the pregnancy that I cannot make it out of bed. The school sent a court order and a mandatory probation violation if I did not go. My body was so weak that there was no getting out of bed for me. 

My thoughts were to figure out an online class so I could get some kind of education. The entire time I was on probation, my probation officer tried to mess me up in any way possible. I asked if I could do online schooling, but she waited to respond and gave me the okay a week before court. I've missed almost too much of school at this point. I set up an online school, and they sent the login and password two days before court. I set it up anyway and began.

Time for court! Three and a half months pregnant, 16 years old, I walk into the courtroom. The judge they assign is not very happy with whatever he just had to deal with and already has a bad look on his face. We walk in and sit down. The underlying for my case is three years. That's what he gave me, saying that I'm eligible for good time. Good time credits are how well you do without getting into trouble while in the system and on probation. So this means going into prison three and a half months pregnant, knowing I'm going to have my child while being incarcerated. Before I caught this case, I'd never gotten into trouble or did anything besides running away from home. Now I'm in prison and pregnant.

Now, at this point, I'm in juvenile jail waiting to be transferred at either 3:00 to 5:00 a.m. I cannot remember when they came to wake me up to transport me. The system is made to put you down and keep you there. Traveling from Wichita, Kansas, to Topeka, Kansas, I tried to stay asleep the whole car ride. They make two stops: one is to grab a couple of people, and the other is to drop them off at the adult prison. Arriving at the prison, I remember seeing the juvenile correctional complex, then the huge gate. The two officers grab both arms to help me walk inside. I get in, I tell the guard my name. A female guard comes around from the office and walks me back to a "shower room." When we get inside, she tells me to take off my jumpsuit, turn around and squat, and cough, then hands me khaki pants and a green t-shirt with a white sports bra and panties.

Romeo was the dorm for girls. I was placed in the same unit as one of the people I caught my case with. We had to have a mediation. She seemed to be decent about the entire thing. But the whole situation is still outrageous. Anyways, when we would go to our cells, I would do the best I could, as much as I could, to sing and talk to my tummy. I would tell him how my day was and what it was like in there. I would give different ideas for names and my goals when I get out. I would read to him. The song I would sing the most was Halo by Beyoncé: "Remember those walls I built, well baby, they're tumbling down." I quote these lyrics because I said I wasn't going to have a child until I was 25 years old, but here I am, 16 years old and pregnant in prison.

The honors level four boys had their own units separate from the other levels, and their unit had gaming chairs, TVs, movies, and games all day long. It's pretty much like a college dorm but in a prison, of course. On the other hand, the girls' honor level four had to take turns going into the classroom to have "honors time" for a couple of hours. And we still had to share it with other level threes. This is where I got my quiet time while being able to feel a little bit of normalcy while being pregnant in this place. This is seriously hard for me, and having my child in this place was never my intention.

When it was time for me to have my son, I remember they woke me up very early to get me shackled and handcuffed to get in the back of the wagon. They transferred me to the hospital. When I got to the hospital, I had to walk with shackles around my ankle into the hospital to a wheelchair, and then they wheeled me to my hospital room. 

When I get into the hospital room, I'm told that I have to be induced. Now, the officer is supposed to wait outside of the room. I got everything approved for this, but they refused to wait outside the room. The lieutenant argued and fought.

My child's father was supposed to be there when I had my son, but my child's father was on probation himself, so I had to go through the captain and get it approved through him to allow my child's father to be there when I had my son. My child's father went on the run two days before I went into labor, so he was not able to be there with me.

My mother was on her way from Wichita, Kansas. When my mother gets there, we talk about the process and what they plan to do for me to have this child. They explain the process of inducing and then say that they may have to break my water. The doctor leaves the room, and my mother goes downstairs to smoke a cigarette. When the doctor comes back into the room, it is only the officer and myself in the room, and the doctor tells me that they are only going to check; three seconds later, a long hook comes out from between my legs, and the doctor says, "I may not have gotten it." As I began to ask her what she may not have gotten, she then says I may not have broken your water, and I replied to her that I was peeing myself. She was supposed to wait for my mother to be present in the room, but she broke my water without my mother in the room. The officer asked her what happened and why she did that, and I honestly don't remember the conversation.

My mother comes back into the room, and we explain to her what happened. My mother is clearly upset but understands that there's absolutely nothing we can do about this situation. This was the worst experience of my life. I believe I was there for 3 days, and when I had my son, they kept my son at the hospital for the night and they sent me back to the prison straight after having my child. Leaving the child that I just sat in prison with, the only person who was going through what I was going through, was now taken from me, and I was alone. I didn't know how to feel. I still don't know how to feel. And I'm fighting so hard.

My story does not stop here. My son is now 5 years old, and currently, I am dealing with custody and fighting with an almost 30-year-old man as a 21-year-old woman who's had to fight for life since before I was able to even understand that that is what is happening. 

To end my story, I will say, "to be continued," because I am not done, and I am still fighting this long fight. I believe in life, and I believe that just because they have taken my past does not mean that I cannot define my future. We all have to keep going because it will all be worth it. In the end, I want to make a path for those who cannot fight for themselves, using the voices of those who have been through the trials and tribulations of this plagued world.