I'm a kid. I'm not going to be able to pay that and my mom is on a fixed income because she didn't have a job. She was just getting public assistance so she wasn't going to take our rent money or our food money to go pay these fines for me to get off probation. So that was another set up, another reason why I never was able to complete the probation as a juvenile. I felt stuck in the system.
No contact. I still dream about that stuff and I'm 37. I still have dreams that I'm there. I didn't talk to my mom, sister, grandma, or anybody for two years. The day I got released, I didn't even know if somebody was coming to pick me up. That's how out of contact I was with my family.
They didn't even know to come pick me up so they came at the last minute to get me.
DEBT FREE JUSTICE: Oh man. That's ridiculous. Do you remember how it felt to go into a courtroom at 11 years old? What was it like?
With no parent? Yeah. I remember that. It was confusing. I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know what none of it meant.
After court I was sentenced to go to juvenile incarceration at Beloit. I had no clue what I was sentenced to when it was over.
I was asking the COs that were taking me back to my cell: “What happened? What am I going to do?”
I don't even remember talking to a lawyer or discussing the matter because I didn't know what a lawyer was. There were all these grown people in suits who looked alike and I didn’t know who's who to meet.
From my point of view, everyone’s on the court’s side. I'm in here by myself.
So the lawyer to me looked like them. There really wasn't any talking to him or her or whoever they were because I don't remember. On top of that, I had no parent there. My mom was on drugs at the time so it was like I was just there by myself. It was terrifying.
DEBT FREE JUSTICE: I'm so sorry to hear that because that's one of the worst things about the juvenile justice system.
SIERRA: As a kid, that's a hard pill to swallow.
DEBT FREE JUSTICE: Do you know or remember any amounts they were charging in that program? Or just being in the system?
SIERRA: The collect calls back then for 10 minutes or so were like $15. Could not afford it. My mom didn't have any way of paying for it.
As far as my court fees and fines, they charged me for the public defender that I don't even remember having. I couldn’t tell you if I had one, what they looked like, or what they did for me.
They would charge me for being on probation. They would charge me for the UAs. I don't remember the amounts, but they would charge me for all of that and those payments would be a part of the terms for me to get off probation.
I was a kid – I'm not going to be able to pay that and my mom was on a fixed income because she didn't have a job. She was just getting public assistance so she wasn't going to take our rent money or our food money to go pay these fines for me to get off probation. So that was another set up. Just another reason why I never was able to complete the probation as a juvenile.
I felt stuck in the system.
It's why I ended up going to juvenile prison to do my time rather than completing probation. Because no matter how hard I tried, none of it mattered. If those fines weren't paid, I wouldn't be getting off.
DEBT FREE JUSTICE: How was it transitioning back into society out of the system?
SIERRA: When I got out, I was 17 and about to be 18 so it was time for me to get a job. And that high school diploma from the program is what helped me get a job. That's the literal only good thing I could say about that whole experience…but I never take that from them. Now, I work at a pharmaceutical company.
DEBT FREE JUSTICE: Is there anything else you feel like we should know just about juvenile costs and funds in general?
Yes. They need to come up with a system or something to help the kids to be able to pay for the funds themselves rather than just throwing it out there and saying, “Oh, you got to pay it. And however you pay it, you pay it.”
They need to come up with something that's going to help them be able to pay it. Or, if they can't do that, they need to just quit charging the kids at least.
DEBT FREE JUSTICE: I really appreciate you taking the time out to have this conversation with us.
SIERRA: I appreciate it. Thank you.