As I sit down and contemplate how to tell you the story of my son Jacob, it is so difficult to keep my self intact. My son Jacob was born and raised in Santa Barbara as I was along with all of my family. He attended Saint Raphael’s Catholic School, Goleta Valley Junior High, Dos Pueblos High School and finally Santa Barbara High School. He has always excelled at sports; any kind of ball he picked up, the sport seemed to come with such ease. He is the kid that always makes you laugh, has a big heart and a great smile. Like so many kids that grow up in Santa Barbara, either the Eastside or Westside of town, it seems that they will encounter a friend that has a gang tie, or just hangs around with the guys they know as friends. You know the ones that they have known since grade school, the ones that have been tagged with the label gang member, whether true, or not. The ones that you hear about in the news, but just like anything, especially in Santa Barbara you only get one side of the story, the half-truth. What the SBPD and DA’s Office wants you to hear. They were saying that this was my son. When Jacob was about the age of 15 we did decide to move back to the Eastside of town after living in Goleta for some years. A new group of kids to hang out with, many known from playing AYSO and YFL, many of their parents I had gone to high school with myself. I did see a change in his dressing for about a year and a half, was it truly a gang-tie, or was it the way that everyone was dressing? We kept up on him always, talking to him, on him whether he liked it, or not. He did encounter a new group of friends; many of them frequented the house. They were always polite and respectful. I must say it was difficult for me not to be judgmental myself. Growing up in Santa Barbara in the 80’s with somewhat of a privileged upbringing, we never saw any of this. I said “Come on Yolanda, you know better”. I started talking with them hearing their stories. Some, had it tough, some more than others, but many were like my son growing up. They had love from their parents, never went without anything and had been brought up having manners and showing respect. Jacob always told me not to judge the way that they looked. This is something I know too well now. Jacob has such a big heart that he always wanted to take someone in, feed them, and let them borrow clothes if they needed a change.
After a few curfew violations and encounters with the Santa Barbara PD. I started to see all of this transpire before my eyes with disbelief. He had to appear in court, for what they said was assault. Was this a joke? As I sat their and listened to the DA’s office say that he had assaulted an officer, how could this be? I came to find out that he did spit at one and it landed about a foot from where he was standing. Although I know this should not have happened, after all we were always raised to respect the police, right? Well, they sentenced him to time in Juvenile Hall. I could feel my heart racing and my eyes welling with tears. How could this be happening, where did I go wrong. I remember the look on Jacob’s face when he looked at me right after the judge handed down his sentence. It is a look that I will never forget and still brings tears to my eyes 6 years later. When I got to speak with Jacob he did admit to what he had done. But what everyone else did not get to hear, was his side of the story. I am not making excuses for him; he should not have spit at this officer. However, should an officer be antagonistic?
Should an officer slam a kid to the ground? Should He have said in front of me, “If I see you on the street and you try and spit at me again, I will knock your fucken teeth out” This was my 15 year old Son! How dare you speak to him like that? This started a whole 2 years of Jacob going in and out of Juvenile Hall and Los Prietos Boys Camp. We visited him every weekend he bounced back and forth from Camp to Juvenile Hall for a period of about a year. I watched him spiral into depression. I spoke to everyone at the camp, went to counseling appointment after counseling appointment until we found out that he had been diagnosed with “Dysthymia”. What was this? What did it mean? It is someone that has suffered from depression for a period longer than 2 years and develops a chemical imbalance in the brain. I immediately started to research it and get him the counseling and medication he needed. I fought to have him released from camp because after having numerous sessions with the camp counselor they felt that he could not successfully complete the program. We got him back home and on what seemed to be a good path, which included him enrolling at Santa Barbara City College and a shift in what he wanted to be. An attorney, someone that was going to be on the side of these kids, not just showing up to defend them because they had to in order to collect a pay check. He became enthusiastic about school and seemed to be enjoying it. A loud knock came at the door in the early morning hours in October of 2009 (Gator Roll). I woke out of my sleep and answered the door. I was greeted by policemen in full gear aiming a gun at me demanding to know where Jacob was. They were yelling for everyone one to come downstairs. My husband had already left for work, Jacob walked downstairs and was immediately placed in hand cuffs and down on the ground as well as my other Son. Next my little 7 year old daughter was coming down in a daze, I yelled at the officers because they were aiming a gun at her. A female Officer stepped in front of the male and guided her down with a kind voice. They proceeded into my home turning everything upside down. Jacob was immediately hauled off in the back of a police car. It was five in the morning and the 3 of us were standing outside freezing. They would not tell me what they were looking for, they just handed me a warrant to search my home. They were there for what seemed to be forever, I guess not finding anything, I heard one of them say we are not leaving here empty handed. What did that mean? They confiscated a pair of nun chucks that were hanging on a Bruce Lee poster he had since he was about 13 years old, he never touched them. He had always been a fan of Bruce Lee. They charged him with possession of a deadly weapon. ( Now these nun chucks were all they could use to file charges in a FEDERAL R.I.C.O. case “Gator Roll” against a 15 year old youth, are you kidding me?) They also took his laptop which had a school project he had done showing his transition (they later used this against him). We hired an attorney; he was released and placed on probation for one year. He was one month from completing probation successfully, when another knock came at the door in the early morning hours. I was handed another warrant and Jacob was again hauled off in the back of a police car. We received a phone call from him that afternoon. My heart dropped and I cried when he told me “Mom, they arrested me for attempted murder, “I don’t know what they are talking about, and you need to help me”. The past year has been one nightmare after another. We posted bail, hired an attorney and started the battle for my son’s life. He continued to go to school and work at Santa Barbara City College; he has spoken at schools telling kids his life story and started mentoring. I have learned and witnessed so much of how Santa Barbara’s judicial system works. The discrimination it has for young Hispanic kids. The narrow minded comments I read in the local papers. “Where are their parents? They should all be shipped back to Mexico”. You know what; their parents are right here fighting for them. They have been born and raised here as their parents and grandparents have. I know that some of the stories and issues are true, but there is also another side to the story, a side that not many people in Santa Barbara would believe (or want to hear) the ugly side of the judicial system, the prejudice of Santa Barbara’s District Attorney’s Office. The constant harassment that the SBPD puts these kids through on a daily basis (I have personally witnessed first hand). The black and white (or should I say brown and white) thinking of a prosecutor, if you are Hispanic and have been accused of a crime in Santa Barbara, you are guilty until proven innocent. How does this happen when these kids are threatened with sentences that are incomprehensible. Give me information whether it be true, or not and we will give you a reduction in sentencing. How is it that some of these kids can take the stand, kids that have lied in cases and put other kids away for 10, 15, 20 years? How it is that self proclaimed involvement of unspeakable crimes goes away when it becomes personal to the District Attorney’s office and the Santa Barbara Police Department?
My son was sentenced to 15 years this week (April 25, 2011); it is a daily nightmare for me and my family. I can hardly bring myself to get out of bed in the morning. What happens to those kids that he was reaching? What about the kids and the community members that were moved by his transformation, motivation and courage that he had to stand up and tell his story? There was a reason that there were over 100 people that showed up for his sentencing hearing. Those people got to witness first hand the prejudice and difference in treatment when his Hispanic character witnesses took that stand. The blatant way they were treated differently in comparison to the Caucasian ones that took the stand for him, the lies that were told, the show that is put on by the courtroom Bailiff’s. I sit here and go over everything in my mind. They tell us on the news and Local cable shows that we want these kids to succeed, we are here helping them. I know this to be a complete lie! Who do those kids have now? As I sit here and think of everything that has happened over the past few years, I can not believe that this is the same town that I was born and raised in. How do we as a community live with ourselves? How did we let it get this bad and why do we continue to put up with it? Until we come together to put a stop to it and demand as a community that it stop. Especially the Hispanic community, we can not let this go on. Those Hispanics that are in the public eye can not just be Hispanic one week out of the year at Fiesta’s when they claim their ancestry because that is the only time it is OK to be Hispanic in Santa Barbara. I made a promise to my son to continue on helping and not putting up with this. We will continue to support Jacob and fight to make the changes that our community so desperately needs.
I can not sit and watch as they continue to hand down these sentences to these Hispanic children and young adults, because they believe that incarcerating them is the answer to it all. They believe putting them away because someone said they were present, even if there is no physical evidence. The DA’s Office is at free will to prosecute these cases with outcomes that they control, not the jury’s. The Judges go along with whatever the DA’s and the Probation Departments say, because in the words of one Judge in Santa Barbara “Jacob Medina and Ruben Mizes’s lives are not worth my job”.