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“They Call Us Monsters” is a film that follows and captures the life and crimes of three young juveniles: Antonio, Jarard, and Juan; all of which are facing life sentences for the crimes they have committed. It not only covers the lives of three individuals but also touches on delicate subjects: juveniles being tried as adults, juvenile laws, rehabilitation versus putative treatments, and proposition 57. The recent passing of Proposition 57 also known as Senate Bill 260 allows parole consideration for non- violent offenders, for those who have good behavior and rehabilitation achievements. Proposition 57 ultimately changed state law and requires judges to make a final decision on whether juveniles should be tried as such or be tried as adults. Prosecutors now filing to charge juveniles as adults must participate in a process known as fitness.
The first individual we come across is Antonio, who was arrested at the age of 14-years-old. Antonio was being charged for 2 attempted murders and facing 90 years to life. Prior to his imprisonment, Antonio was an honor roll student and he seemed like the perfect student up until his arrest. He goes on to say that he wasn’t remorseful for the things he had done. As the interview goes on he stated that if he wanted to he could join a military branch, he seemed so sure of it; however, that wasn’t the case. The minute he was released after winning his appeal he went back to his old ways, throwing away the opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of the public. This had me question our Criminal Justice System. Is the justice system failing Juveniles? Are they doing enough? Had he been required to attend a rehabilitation program or had a mentor I strongly believe he could have been reformed.
In regards to Jarad, Jarad was facing 200 years to life for attempted murder. Throughout the film, I noticed that Jarad had a bit of a defensive mechanism whenever he felt uncomfortable in a situation or a topic he didn’t like. For example, in the film, the juveniles were asked what they were afraid of and unlike Antonio and who mentioned his fears were darkness, loneliness, and such Jarad was afraid of snakes and when pushed further, he deflected the question or began to laugh. As we go further into detail about his case we learn that his victim is a 17- year-old female who is permanently confined to a wheelchair due to the shooting. It’s truly an unfortunate event and I do understand the gravity of the offense but I don’t agree with the 164 -year sentence he was given. It was too excessive and I can only imagine what he will face and be exposed to in prison. I was not only shocked at the sentenced he receive but also at his defense attorney. She absolutely did nothing! I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that she took a case being unqualified for it.
A DUI case and an attempted murder case are two completely different things in my opinion. I couldn’t help but feel sad for Jarad after his nightmare became a reality. He was given a long sentence, denying him the opportunity for a second chance. The third juvenile that we come across is Juan, who was arrested at 17-years-old for 1st degree murder. Juan was facing 2 life sentence and deportation back to his home country of El Salvador. Juan seemed like a very kind- hearted person though he was awaiting trial a heinous crime like murder. As he spoke about his relationship with his father it helped me understand why he chose the path that he did. He mentioned feeling left out, and unloved because his older brother was the favorite. As a result, he promised himself to be better than his brother, “I was. I was better than him, in the gang” stated Juan. These aren’t words coming from a cold- hearted murder but from a troubled juvenile who was deprived of his father’s love. Although I do believe that juveniles should take accountability and learn there are consequences to their actions, it is extremely important to understand they are psychologically different than adults. It is also critical to comprehend every juvenile has endured and lived through different experiences that have shaped them into the person they have become but that does not necessarily mean they cannot change.
I definitely believe for the most part that these “monsters” have the ability to change. They should be given the opportunity to prove that he or she has overcome his or her past (even if Antonio’s behavior states otherwise). Rehabilitation is not for everyone but only for those who truly seek it and want to grow and improve moving forward, this is why rehabilitation programs are extremely vital. Had Antonio not been released to a dysfunctional situation (no family support or stable home) but rather received guidance, counseling and be required to join a youth program I highly doubt he would have ended up in the same situation. In the film, there was a couple time where he mentioned he wanted a change but unfortunately, his circumstances kept him following the wrong path. It’s tremendously hard to say who’s to be tried as an adult or what’s to be considered fair or not because no case is the same. So many factors play into such a decision: circumstances, upbringing, the gravity of the offense, rehabilitation possibilities… whether these kids were set up for failure from the moment they were brought upon this world or were they given everything to succeed in life? So, should juveniles be tried as adults? Well, these are all difficult question with no exact answers in my opinion. Difficult questions that judges, prosecutors, and probation officers are faced with on a daily basis. Their decision well shape a minor’s entire life going forward- lives like Jarad’s and Juan’s. If we want to see a change in our community, we must get involved. We cannot have a “us versus them” attitude because that certainly won’t help the problem.
When dealing with juvenile delinquency, one must familiarize themselves with the concept and truly understand what it means. It’s critical to recognize the importance of intersectionality- the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group. By understanding these concepts and understanding the social context in which juveniles are living in; we as individuals, parents, educators have the responsibility to to help youth grow into strong, intellectual, productive adults.
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