"When I was here, it was the worst."
The following is the full statement from Lilly, Youth Advocate in Juveniles for Justice, who spoke out against re-opening VisionQuest to house immigrant youth. Lilly read her statement at a rally organized by Juntos and other local advocacy organizations.
Good Afternoon, my name is Lilly and I am 16 years old. I am a current youth advocate with Juveniles for Justice at Juvenile Law Center. I am a sophomore in high school.
"I know firsthand the safety concerns that people have because I experienced mistreatment at this location."
When I entered the delinquency system, I was only 13 years old. I am speaking here today to send a message to the parents and leaders of Philadelphia. My mom thought going to a juvenile holding facility would be good for me. She thought I would be safe. She did not realize that I would be abused, strip searched, mistreated, or that I wouldn’t be able continue my education.
I hope that by me sharing my story today, you all understand the impact of placing children in these facilities that you won’t continue to put youth at and in places like VisionQuest. I know firsthand the safety concerns that people have because I experienced mistreatment at this location when VisionQuest was here. When I was here, it was the worst.
There was a lot of physical abuse happening in the facility. One time, I refused to go to the main room, and a staff person body slammed me. Then, they put me in a small room with just one staff person for about a whole day. The room was in the boy’s hall, and I had nothing to do in there. I had eaten around breakfast, but from 9:00 am - 3:30 pm, they didn’t let me eat anything. The food was also unsafe—I found worms in my food a couple of times.
When I was at the facility, I had a seizure related to my medication while I was in my hut getting ready to sleep. My friend noticed that I was shaking and my eyes were rolling back in my head, so she notified the staff person on the floor. It took 5 to 10 minutes before anyone came to help me. A man ended up coming, and he wasn’t even a nurse. All he did was offer me water.
Another time, a staff member intentionally burned me with a flatiron while she was straightening my hair. Afterwards, I was in a lot of pain and asked to see the nurse, but she wasn’t there because she was only part-time. I never got to see a doctor until I went to a court hearing 4 or 5 days later. By that time, it was all scarred. When my judge saw what happened, she moved me to a different floor, but I had to stay at the same facility because the other placement where I was supposed to go didn’t have a bed available yet.
"When I was at this facility, I was too scared to open up and talk. I didn’t think anyone would believe me."
To know that other youth will be put in this placement and taken from their parents, of no fault of their own, makes me really angry. I know that this is not the only juvenile delinquent center where youth may be going through the same things that I faced. It is already hard for youth to speak up about these things. When I was at this facility, I was too scared to open up and talk. I didn’t think anyone would believe me, and I didn’t think anything would be done if I did speak up—why should I think anyone would help me as they sit there harming me?
Going to placement changed me. I was quiet and didn’t want to be around anybody else. But, at least once I was home from placement, I was getting all the love that I was missing for all those months. I wish I had just been able to stay at home with my family the whole time. As a Latina youth, knowing that other youth in my culture who are coming from another country, and may not understand the language—I know they will feel scared, left-out, and confused about where they are being sent and why they have been separated from their parents. I thought Philadelphia was supposed to be the City of Brotherly Love and welcoming any person from different cultural background. Instead, I feel like we’re punishing children for things not in their control and that’s wrong, and I’m disappointed and afraid for them.
I want to leave you all with this: Consider your own kids, would you trust them with someone who had allegations of abusing children and making them unsafe? Then. why would we trust a corporation that already had one location shut-down due to safety concerns. Why would we entrust new kids to this location, the same location my J4J peers and I spoke out about? I ask you all to please consider our experiences before placing any youth under the supervision of VisionQuest.