Teenagers head toward the gym at Caddo Juvenile Detention Center in Shreveport, La. Three years ago the facility housed, on average, 45 to 50 juveniles per day. Since juvenile officials began their detention reform, they have managed to keep the number down to around 23 per day. (Photo Val Horvath/The Times/AP)
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Life Without Parole for Juvenile Offenders
By Beth Schwartzapfel, Al Jazeera America
03 February 14
ennifer Pruitt can hardly remember a time when she felt safe. She says her father beat her until her eyes were blackened. He beat her mother and brothers. He drank and crashed their family cars, she says, and then he came home and beat them some more. And starting when she was about 10, Jennifer says, Denny Pruitt would arrange some alone time with her in a bedroom. When she told her mother about the abuse, her father called Jennifer a bitch and a liar. When she ran away from home, which she did increasingly often, the police would tell her she should feel lucky she had two parents, and then bring her back home.
The Pruitts lived in a modest bungalow on Cornell Street in Pontiac, a struggling Rust Belt Detroit suburb. When Jennifer was about 15 she met Donnell Miracle, a drinking buddy of Denny’s. Blond and tomboyish at 23, Donnell had just moved in with a friend on Cornell Street after breaking up with her daughter’s father. She fit right in with the hard-drinking, blue-collar neighborhood men Denny worked with at General Motors. Donnell and her toddler daughter lived on Donnell’s welfare checks while she tried to figure out her next move.
“I don’t remember knowing too much about what was going on at her house,” Donnell recalls of Jennifer. “I just knew she was troubled.” Donnell says she had herself been molested by multiple men throughout her childhood, and perhaps she recognized something in Jennifer that made her feel protective. “She was a good girl, and I wanted her to have something different,” Donnell says.
The older woman would occasionally hire Jennifer to babysit her daughter, and soon Jennifer was spending a lot of time at Donnell’s house. They never talked directly about the abuse, but Jennifer sensed that Donnell’s house was a safe place to let her guard down. “If I said, ‘I hate my parents,’” Jennifer recalls, “she never said, ‘Don’t say that.’ I didn’t have to pretend.”