My name is Demetrius Minor. I’m twenty-two years old. I’m from Bridgeton, New Jersey, but I have lived all over New Jersey because I was placed into the child welfare system at the age of nine.
As a child, I always wanted to be a lawyer or do something that involved helping or advocating for people. My mother always used to tell me that I was too smart for my age and that I should stay out of adults’ conversations. But for some reason, I have always loved being around older people; they give me a different outlook on life.
I suffered physical abuse in my home and began to act out. By the age of 8, I was in the child welfare system, where I was sent to more than twenty different placements, including some of the worst foster homes and programs. One of my foster fathers sexually abused me, but when I reported the abuse, I was told how hard it is to place African American children in the system, and that I should look at the good school, nice home, and food I had and realize that I could be in a worse situation. After years of being traumatized in the system, I revisited my abusive former foster parent, confronted him about the abuse, and killed him. I was 16 years old.
Once I was arrested, I was misled into a plea to 30 years with an 85% mandatory minimum – almost double my life at that point – in an adult prison in New Jersey. Prosecutors and law enforcement took advantage of the fact that I had no parental support or legal advisors to guide me through the justice system. I was told: “Your kind (African Americans) usually get life sentences or never make it out of the prison.” The system viewed me as just another black teenager who had murdered someone and did not deserve a chance at rehabilitation – or even to live in society.
I do not make excuses for myself. I realize the harm that I did to my foster father and his family, and I recognize that I should be held accountable. But I also wish that someone had been there for me during my childhood to provide the help and treatment I needed. I wish that the courts had cared about my broken childhood, mental health, and abusive foster parents. And I wish that the justice system had believed in my ability to be rehabilitated. In the end, despite an unsuccessful attempt to withdraw my plea, I was sentenced as an adult, and according to my sentence, I must serve 25 years, six months, and two days. Once again, I am one of the forgotten children, thrown away this time into the adult correctional system.
As crazy as it sounds, when I entered the guilty plea in my case, I was honestly under the impression that 25 years behind bars would change me and make me a better person. I thought that by coming to prison, I would be able to correct my behavior and finally get the help I needed. I felt like I had caused so many hardships on myself and other people who were trying to help me.
Instead, what I found was shocking. The things I have seen while in prison have made me believe that our system does not want inmates to be rehabilitated or to change … because it would put people out of jobs. The abuse and use of force used by officers on inmates can be compared to that of police officers in the recent news. It was said to me when I first entered the system: “Since you are an inmate, you are pathetic and deserve to be treated like cattle.”
As a child I lost everything I cared about and cherished. Even now as I look back at it all, I still wonder how can any child endure so much hurt, pain, and abuse? Being a survivor of abuse and the system, I understand how kids who are in foster care build a wall up and hold everything in. I want to give these youth a way to be heard, and I want to stop other kids from entering this vicious cycle. I never really had the time before to express certain things or to get the help I needed. So now I use writing as my out; I use writing as therapy. Through my writing, I also hope to clarify and reveal the effects of placing and warehousing juveniles in adult prisons with very few rehabilitation opportunities and very few programs.
I would like to know that I can make a difference and do positive things while in prison. I am using my hardships and taxing times as motivation to succeed and become a young successful black man. Success to me used to be defined as having money, cars, clothes, and a big house. But now I have redefined it as having a family that loves me, and being able to be stable in a society that will accept me and see me for what I stand for and plan to do, rather than for my past.
I have made a promise to myself, and that promise is that I will advocate every day of my life until every child who has been hurt, who has been ignored, and who has been abandoned is helped, healed, and feels loved. And even when I begin to see real change, I will still continue to advocate. My hope is that through public awareness, prison reform, and foster care reform, I and thousands of others will find long-awaited relief.
Sometimes I feel like because I am in here, I am always supposed to feel down and less than human … so I make it a duty to wake up every day, smile, and be thankful for another day to advocate.