Interview with Tarsha Jackson

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Table of Contents 
  •   CELESTE HENERY: Well, finally we are here today, it’s May 19th and we’re here with Ms. Tarsha Jackson of Houston, Texas, and my name is Celeste Henery. I am doing the interview and on videography is Virginia Raymond, and just wanted to say thank you, first, for being willing to do this, Ms. Jackson, and I wondered if you could begin by just telling us a little bit about your background and where you’re from, and—  
  •   MS. TARSHA JACKSON: I grew up in Houston, was born and raised in Houston, lived on the northeast side, large family, my mother had sixteen kids but at one particular time it was always eight, nine in the house. Very supportive, loving family. Of course, Mom spent a lot of time at home with the kids, Dad worked. Pastor’s children so we went to church seven days a week. 
  •   I have a lot of cousins, a total of sixty-nine first cousins, and so when we were not in our neighborhood we would go to my grandmother’s house. We spent a lot of time there learning how to do crafts and sewing and playing instruments and they just provided everything that we needed there within our own community versus going outside the community. So it was, as far as drugs and prostitution, we would hear about it but those were things that we never really witnessed because our parents and our grandparents and aunts and uncles kind of sheltered us from that type of environment.  
  •  So it wasn’t fun, I mean, it was fun, we had a lot of fun but having a lot of brothers and sisters you have to deal with sharing but you always had someone to play with. You didn’t need any friends because you had enough friends out of the cousins and the siblings. It was great. Great parents, did what they can to provide, considering that my dad dropped out of school, I think he was in the second grade, to take care of his family, he’s older, but he managed to pick up a trade and take care of his sixteen plus additional two kids, that’s seventeen, eighteen children with no complaints. He was a great provider as well as my mom.  
  •   HENERY: And so can you also tell us a little about your early adult life and eventually how you came into activism?  
  •   MS. TARSHA JACKSON: My early adult life was, of course I was always this individual that was, not curious but I just was, just adventurous. I wanted to learn, see what was what and just be my own person and not what my parents wanted me to be or what my grandparents wanted me to be. Of course, I embraced the knowledge and education that they were giving me, but at the same time it was always something, I felt that I was different from my brothers and sisters.  
  •  So, of course we moved a lot because of the large family but I always managed to be popular at school and it was kind of difficult moving and having to make new friends when I relocated to another location so eventually when I got old enough, which I don’t think fifteen was old enough, but I made the choice that I was going to move out and get my own place and I don’t agree with misinforming or giving wrong information but I did, I was able to get an apartment. I got my first job when I was fourteen years old.  
  •  I worked at McDonald’s and I cleaned that kitchen and I didn’t care. I was all about trying to do something, better myself and my most important thing was, I wanted to graduate. I wanted to graduate from high school. I wanted to graduate with my class. I wanted to live the normal, “the American Dream,” just to go to school and graduate so I worked full-time, went to school, had a car, and I eventually finished school and during that whole time never experienced any type of drug activity. There was, of course you had fights but fights back then was like, fist fights and no weapons involved. But my main focus was getting out of school, graduating from high school. I just wanted to graduate and do something different with my life.  
  •   HENERY: And so once you graduated, what did that look like?  
  •   MS. TARSHA JACKSON: Once I graduated, I was, okay, I was a grown woman now. I got pregnant, I had my first child. I did go and enroll in college but it was kind of difficult. I went to North Harris Community College. I majored in criminal justice and it was kind of difficult with the new baby and holding a full-time job and then trying to go to school so that was like something extra added to my plate so I had to pretty much drop out, so my younger years was all about just having a good time and providing for my baby. My baby was my right-hand person. He was my pride and joy. 
  •   Making sure that, of course, I had these dreams for him, the dreams that—what I wanted, coming up, that—I mean, my parents, like I said, they were great parents but they couldn’t provide me with the guidance I needed as far as knowing when you open a checking account, if your checks get stolen, to report ‘em stolen, or the importance of credits, your G.P.A., in order to get into a college and get a scholarship, and so when I had my son that was my goal, to educate him, make sure I groom him and train him to be successful and go to college and play sports, do whatever he want to do. You can do whatever you want to do as long as you put your mind to it but you need that support behind you to kind of like guide you so that you can accomplish those particular goals. 
  •   But of course I had fun. By this time, my boss at McDonald’s, he fired me, not because I was a bad worker, I was a manager but he felt that I deserved more. He felt that I needed to go out and explore other options and one thing he said to me was, you’re a great leader. So, I started working for General Electric and that was my first office job in corporate America which actually helped groom me to become more business-minded and encouraged me to go back to school because they had one hundred percent tuition reimbursement. Oo-woo, woo! 
  •   So, by that time I wound up having a second child and the thing about having children at, not really, say, a young age, yeah, I was young, I was in my early twenties, but I never considered myself as a statistic. Even though I was a single parent with two boys, I was like, okay, I have a job, I have my own insurance, I have a roof over their head, they don’t want for anything, they started out in pre-K day-care. I started their education very early so I didn’t consider myself as a statistic but as far as society was concerned, I was a statistic. 
  •   I was an African-American single parent woman with two kids. I tried to prove them wrong with my kids, with the activities and the goals that I had for my children. I’m getting them involved with extra-curricular activities at a young age, I mean, flag football at the age of four and T-ball even though they didn’t like T-Ball—they said it was too boring—and basketball and not just with them but with my little nieces and nephews, just getting them involved with something that would keep them from getting into any trouble because they weren’t getting into trouble then but just to make them realize, hey, you can do whatever you want to do, and life can be fun, you can enjoy it, and it was some things that I wanted to do that I didn’t get the opportunity to do at their age. 
  •   But of course, when I got to high school, though, I played basketball, I was in choir, I did everything. I was the athletic manager, the football manager, I ran track, I was in choir, I did rifle line, color guard, mascot, I was into doing everything. I just wanted to experience everything, and then I actually helped start the Martin Luther King Club at Spring High School because at Spring High School in my graduating class it was only ten Blacks out of four-hundred-some students so it was predominantly white, but it was fun. You had your skinheads running through saying “blow up all the Blacks,” but that didn’t bother me. I just got along with everybody.  
  •   HENERY: And you mentioned that you had, when you first went to college, that you were interested in criminal justice. What was that--?  
  •   MS. TARSHA JACKSON: Yeah, because I wanted to be an F.B.I. agent and I was like, okay, the way I can become an F.B.I. agent is, major in criminal justice or go to the Marines. I had that in my, you know, you have a memory book, what you want to do when you grow up or graduate, so my plan was to go to Sam Houston State because I know they have a good criminal justice department, but that didn’t work out, and I don’t know why it was criminal justice. 
  •   I guess because, thinking back when I was in junior high school, I was going to Humble and I never got into any type of trouble at school, I was a good student. The only time I got in trouble was when I was actually questioning some type of policy that they had at the school, like for example when I was in junior high school at Humble Middle School, we only could go to our lockers twice a day, that was before school and after school.  
  •  So I felt that, I was coming up with these statistics that we’re going to have back problems because we’re carrying our book packs around all day long and so I organized a student locker sit-out where, when the first period bell ring, don’t nobody go to their class, we all sit at our lockers and they can’t give us all D-hall and I’m just rallying them, got them all excited and they did it. The students actually did it. They gave them all D-hall too, and they sent me to a thirty-day alternative school. But when I got into trouble, it was for those particular reasons, and my mom, all she could do was just laugh, “That’s you. You.” So I guess it was always in me, to organize. It was very convincing to the students because they actually did it.  
  •   HENERY: Did that surprise you?  
  •   MS. TARSHA JACKSON: Well, not really. Well, yeah, it did. I mean, of course I had them sign petitions, during lunch they signed the petitions that they will participate and on that day they kind of was a little hesitant. You had some that sat down and you had some that stood around and didn’t know whether or not they should or should not do it, but regardless, you were tardy the first period so everybody got D-hall so even if you wasn’t sure you wanted to do it, eventually everybody got D-hall regardless. If you didn’t sit down, you got D-hall because you were still standing out there. I was kind of, it was kind of fun. It was kind of fun. The principal said, “You cannot change my school, Miss Jackson, this is my school.” I’m like, “Okay.” I had some good times.  
  •  HENERY: And so you stand here before me as someone who has made a career and kind of a life choice around activism.  
  •   MS. TARSHA JACKSON: Yes, and people ask me questions all the time, how did you get into advocacy or activism. I mean, going from corporate America, self-employment in real estate, a lot of my career was in banking, then of course I taught myself graphic design and I started doing business development on the side for different other companies, setting up their business cards, logos, Web sites and so forth. I mentioned I was in television and film, second assistant director of a movie, a motion picture, and worked as project manager for this particular production company. I also did concert promotions. I relocated to California and I was the promoter for a hip-hop funk rock group called the Flower Child. 
  •   I was just enjoying life. I was just trying to find out actually what I wanted to do. Everything that I did, I always had two jobs. It was something that dealt with some type of organizing in the entertainment industry or television and film and it was banking, corporate America, learning me how to be professional and picking up all the training that they have available, because General Electric have good, like the Six Sigma, zero defect, really good. So it was just trying to balance and see where I wanted to be and where was I going to go in life, until, when I was in California, an incident took place with my son at the age of eight and they tried to charge him with sexual battery.  
  •   The kids were all out playing. They were at a young age, eight years old, seven years old, and the little boys dared Marcus my son, to hit the little girl on her hiney, and he did it. And before you know it, he was expelled from school, completely from the district. The police came in the house and took him out and questioned him like he had just committed this serious offense that I didn’t know anything about. And even the parent, she didn’t realize that it was going to get out of control or go as far as them trying to label him as a pedophile at age eight. These are little kids just out playing. 
  •   And so I started doing a writing campaign. I went to the N. double-A.C.P. [NAACP] while I was in California. I wrote to the Sun-Times, the Department of Education. I did a lot of writing but no one really cared. It was like, whatever, this is not my problem. And so I felt alone. 
  •   At the same time, I felt alone but when I went to court and saw, even, like I say my son was eight, I was in California, saw all these families there with these little kids that had only been on earth for seven, eight years and you’re trying to label them or criminalize them for childish behavior. It really ticked me off. It really, really ticked me off. It was just like, how can you, my son was, I mean, he was playing blue football, you know, I’m like, he’s just so sweet, you know what I’m saying? Not to mention he had a mental illness but they were just kids in the yard playing and she was the only little, and little kids do that. 
  •   If, if it was a crime, then I would have been considered a child molester, not a child molester, I would be in, I’d have a record. We’d all have records because I know we didn’t touch somebody as a little kid, but you correct that kid, you let him know it’s wrong, don’t do it no more, now if they go a little bit farther then you might need to do something but as far as just a hey, girl, tap ‘em on the butt because some of your friends, then there were other little boys and they urge and call you scaredy-cat at the age of eight, that’s peer pressure. Come on, you have to educate our kids.  
  •   So, I became kind of frustrated. I moved back to Houston. I said, okay, I got to go back to Houston because I really didn’t have any family there. I had friends but I just—It was kind of embarrassing. It was like, how can this be happening to me, because everything is going so well, the kids are—Actually, after they put him out of school I put them in private school and they were still playing their sports and just, a lot of support for them and they were good boys. 
  •   Even the neighbors were like, what is going on, they couldn’t understand. But it was majority white. I was the only Black in that particular neighborhood. No, I take that back, there was two but I was the only Black on that street, and so I felt—And of course, Rialto [referring to the neighborhood in Rialto, California where she resided]: I figured that had a lot to do with it also. So I relocated back to Houston, where I felt comfortable, where my family was at, where I knew I would have the support.  
  •  HENERY: Would you be willing to walk us through a little bit what it was like as a parent to confront the system, and what that actually looked like?  
  •   MS. TARSHA JACKSON: The first, the incident in California was just kind of like it was a joke. As a parent it was kind of frustrating: how can you put somebody through all this over some kids being kids? And when we came back to Texas, we came back, he was nine, and of course he was in special education, and the special education department, the teacher, kept ticketing him. He was getting tickets constantly, I mean, of course you have a kid that’s bipolar and if you attempt to restrain him, because they don’t want to go into the time out room which is a dark room, they’re going to rassle, and you trying to restrain him and put them in there, of course that kid is going to rassle back, that’s common sense. 
  •   But as a result that kid is given a ticket for assault and that was one of the ways that the school, you want to talk about that school-to-prison pipeline, the school got my son involved with the criminal justice system. Now, as a parent, it was very frustrating to me because I didn’t have anybody to turn to. I didn’t know what to do. You go to these organizations that actually get all this funding to support the community and to be a resource to the community-- could not help me. Would not help me. Gave me the runaround. 
  •   And so as a parent it was just, it was like, how can you, how can you just try to destroy somebody’s life like this, not just my life but you destroying my son’s life too because you’re making him think that he’s this bad kid and he’s not a bad kid, he has a mental illness that requires medical attention, medication, and if you step on, if you pull him by the arms, and try to throw him into some room, I mean, what do you expect a nine-year-old with a mental illness to do? Me as an adult, if you, I mean, you see it every day on the news when the police is handcuffing somebody, that hurts, so if it hurt an adult just imagine a grown person trying to restrain a little kid. 
  •   So, eventually it became frustrating. I felt powerless. I felt that the system, it was, whether it was the education, the criminal justice, it was like, they were in control. They were like above the law, because they were doing, I mean, he was receiving tickets in the mail on days when he was not in school, so when that started happening, I was like, okay, I had to start thinking back on people that I knew, family members that I knew that had became involved in the criminal justice system in the late ‘nineties and that went to the Texas Youth Commission for minor offenses and I was noticing that when we would go, back then, when T.Y.C. was more engaging families, where you can go have a picnic out on the field, that was how it was back in the ‘nineties, so we didn’t think, I didn’t think anything of it. 
  •   But I started paying attention, reflecting back on that time when I went to visit my brother and I saw the kids, they’re Latinos and Blacks, there, and I’m like, this has been, it’s been a set-up from the beginning. What they’re doing to my son is, they’re preparing to get him to the system. So of course it was still nothing you could do because when you go to court you can’t afford an attorney. The attorneys, they can care less. I mean, they tell you to plead out. “Oh, they’ll just give you six months’ probation.” That’s the key word. Once they tell you to plead out, you can’t say, I’m not guilty, I didn’t do this. 
  •   I’ve never found a kid, ran into a kid that was actually innocent that did not get probation. If as a youth, if you get referred to the Harris County Juvenile Court, you will get probation. Bottom line. Because some adult said you did this. You don’t have a right to a trial. They say you have a right to a trial but you don’t have a right to a trial unless you done committed some type of murder—they transfer you to the adult system on that. But you have no right to a trial. You don’t have a right to fair counsel because the counsel is just there, it’s like practice court for them, they can care less. 
  •   They treat every case as if it’s all the same. They don’t look at each person as an individual. So, I started reflecting and noticing all of this. I’m like, okay, but I still didn’t know what to do. I still didn’t know what to do. But I did speak up for my son. The judge, during the time when he was ten, eleven years old—oh, let me tell you about one incident. He went down to Harris County Juvenile, he was, they actually detained him for school. They referred him from school, detained him. They sent him to B.B. R.C.  
  •   HENERY: Which is what?  
  •   MS. TARSHA JACKSON: Burnett-Bayland Home [Burnett-Bayland Reception Center]. They did not give me a release date. They didn’t tell me. They just sent him. He was ten years old. And I’m like, okay, I’m sitting here as a mother not knowing. I’m like, okay, so when my child is going to come, I want to know when my child is going to come home. ‘Cause you, the judge, didn’t give me no date when my child was going to go, come home. So I need to know. So, two months pass and by this time I called some advocate, activist in the community and I paid him $50 and he made a phone call to B.B.R.C., Burnett-Bayland Home, and my son was released the very next day.  
  •   So I’m like, this don’t make any sense. Of course, you know, when you’re on probation, anytime you get a violation, during that time you can go to T.Y.C. and when eventually, I don’t know if I’m jumping ahead, when they did send him to T.Y.C., that was the most horrific — I wouldn’t wish that on nobody. I wish it on nobody. To have the system take your family — you know, I never cry about this. I never cry about this. But to have the system take a little boy, he never robbed anybody, he never hurt anybody—  
  •   HENERY: If you want to stop, we can. [Tape cut at 26:06]  
  •   MS. TARSHA JACKSON: Well, a little, a little breakdown there.  
  •   HENERY: No.  
  •   MS. TARSHA JACKSON: Okay.  
  •   HENERY: So, you were talking about the Texas Youth Commission, or the T.Y.C., your first experience.  
  •   MS. TARSHA JACKSON: What made it so difficult was, we had just finished our, a basketball game, and Marcus, which is my son, was always a star player. Even though I was a single parent, and I used to feel kind of bad because their, the other athletes, the other players, their fathers were there or whatever, but you always found the fathers looking around looking like, whose son is that? And I’m just sitting there like this proud mother, like, it’s my baby, because he was good, he was always dominating the court whether it was the football field or the court, he was always the star player, always made all-star team, he was just really good. 
  •   So, we had just completed our, a basketball game, and he was at a neighborhood pool and a window had gotten broken but because he was on probation they took him into custody for the broken window which was a fifty-dollar broken window. He said he didn’t break it. I had people come tell me that he didn’t break it. But no one wanted to get involved and go to court and tell the judge he didn’t break this window. They didn’t want to be a part of the system, so my son wound up, he, when he went in they held him because it was a violation, then from there he—I was fighting it, of course. 
  •   My mother was there. She was talking about, whatever I need to do, I’ll take him. He can come stay with me, not like I was a bad parent but it was just, we were just trying to keep him with his family because that’s where he needed to be. So, of course the judge kept re-setting it and they wanted to do mental evaluations and things because he was under the care of M.H.M.R.A. and DePelchin Children’s Center. So, some kind of way the wires got twisted up, there was a communication gap with the agency. The right hand don’t know what the left hand is doing, so he wind up at B.B.R.C. At this time he’s eleven years old. 
  •   Of course, we’re going back and forward to court. The judge at the time, which is Judge Ellis, which was a great judge allowed me to locate a place where he can go and stay for a couple of months and my insurance will cover it, to get him his mental health treatment, and that way he can still be closer to his family.  
  •   But going back to these attorneys, I had a court-appointed attorney because, whenever I was going to court I would do all the talking. The court-appointed attorney, you can just stand next to me and you let me do the talking because you’re not going to do anything to—I had to learn as I kept going because we was going to court a lot. I realize you’re not going to speak on behalf of my child. I’m his mother, I have to speak on behalf of this child, and I will bring other family members, other witnesses to come in and speak on behalf of my child because I know the court-appointed attorney was not going to do that. I cannot afford my own attorney, and even if you hired your own attorney, you still was going to get probation. It doesn’t really matter. I mean, come on, you’re an African-American male. 
  •   But anyway— They went into court without me being present. Judge Ellis [Judge Mark Kent Ellis] set the court date. He said he was going to be on vacation that following week and we were going to set it for two weeks when he returned from vacation. That time I had to provide him with the hospital that I was going to send him to which was West Oak Hospital, already registered and everything, and I received a phone call on that Monday that Judge Ellis was actually on vacation from the attorney which was Jo Nelson saying that, “Why aren’t you in court?” I’m like, my court date is not set until, we don’t have to go to court until next week. “Oh, no, the Tacoma Center did not have any beds available.” I said, Okay, what does that have to do with me being in court when Judge Ellis gave, given me an opportunity to use my insurance, let me pay for it, not the taxpayers, to get my, so my son could get treatment and still be with his family. 
  •   So, as I’m on the phone with her, I say, “There’s no way I can make it there because I’m at work.” And she said, “Well, you need to get here.” He has an aunt who works right down the street from the courthouse. I called her. I said, I need you to get to the courthouse, something is going on. When she got there, she said they were putting Marcus on the van, so obviously— She said, Tarsha, she said, “I was running down the street, running, to try to get to the court” - which was a block away from her law, she worked for a law firm, and she just fell to her knees. She said, “They made that decision before they even called you, they had already did what they was going to do.” 
  •   They went before a visiting judge that had no clue to what was going on with this case and he sent my son to the Texas Youth Commission. And from that point, it was like, all right, what do I do? I didn’t know what to do. So my main, my number one concern was his mental health, stable, because we had him stabilized, because when they go into the system they start taking medication from you, they change your medication up, and all the work that you done worked hard to get ‘em, they is all down the drain.  
  •   So I started going to Marlin. You remember, Marlin that got shut down, but Marlin, making sure they kept him on his medication, don’t change his medication, but they said, okay, we have to stop his medication because we got to do, re-do, an assessment. Why are you re-doing an assessment when he’s already under the care of M.H.M.R.A. which you guys are affil—? What, just get the doctor in from M.H.M.R.A.? Don’t stop his medication to do your own assessment. So, what they did was, they did their own assessment, completely stopped his medication, and come up with their own diagnosis: personality disorder. So, you’re diagnosing all the kids with personality disorder, when they have already been diagnosed with bipolar, A.D.H.D., been taking all the medications—people, don’t these people care? It was just, like, crazy.  
  •   So, of course, for me, it was, I was more afraid for him. I knew he was scared. I knew he didn’t know what was going on. He thought he was coming home and he was far away from home. He had never been away from home. And so of course by them taking him off his meds—you can’t control a person with mental illness if you’re taking them off their medication, so he’s going to have quite a few outbursts, and those outbursts resulted in grown men coming in with helmets and shields, they call it, what, cell extraction or something — coming in to an eleven-year-old boy to beat him down, to keep him under control.  
  •  Why do it take four and five grown men to restrain an eleven-year-old mentally ill kid? As a result of one of these cell extractions they sent him to the hospital. They had to transport him to Waco Hospital. Now, you ask me what it’s like for a parent to receive a phone call on a Saturday night at eight p.m. and someone on the other end is telling you your son’s been rushed to Waco Hospital and you ask them what’s going on and they tell you nothing and there’s nothing that you can do, you in Houston. 
  •   And so I jumped, I got in my car, me and his aunt, the same aunt that ran to that courthouse and fell to her knees. We got in our car. We drove to Waco to the hospital. By this time they done transferred him out of the hospital and we got—it just so happened, God bless, there was a nurse there who gave us the medical records and the doctor said there was excessive force that caused his teeth to come through his chin. His bottom teeth, actually, where he had to have it, the incision closed from inside and out.  
  •   They, so, we got a room and the first thing the following morning, which was a Sunday, I went to the Marlin Police Department, had a police officer come and take pictures, I want to file charges, and if you saw my baby, that was the most hurtful thing. They had him in a paper bag, not only they had him in a paper bag, they said he was suicidal, his face was swollen, and this police officer which was a female, females are more emotional when it come to something like that, she teared, she just cried, tears came in her eyes. She took pictures of him and Jerome Parsee which was the superintendent of that facility came up and they said, we assure you an investigation is going to take place but of course they’re investigating their own allegations so you know they was going to cover it up. 
  •    So, within two days they transferred him out. I asked the news media, Randy Wallace here in Houston , and Carolyn Campbell was trying to get information about the story. They transferred him to Corsicana. I didn’t know that they had transferred him to Corsicana. I’m trying to find out where my baby’s at or whatever, and eventually I found out he was at Corsicana, went to see him, and they hadn’t followed any of the doctor’s orders. They never took him back to get the stitches removed, they just—I’ve had stitches before. If you don’t go get ‘em removed, it hurts. So they had this kid sitting there with stitches, mouth stitched up, and did not take him back to the hospital to, for his after-care. 
  •   But during that time I came back to Houston. I went to the N. double-A.C.P. I asked them for help. They didn’t help me here, same as California. The Black United Front, they wanted to charge me three thousand dollars. So, I said, all right, I can’t get nobody to help me, fine. I see what—in fact, going back to my son’s incident, the assault on him by the guards, while I’m there it’s a boy sitting there with his hand in a cast, arm is in the cast, and his mother’s right there, and I’m like, what happened to him? 
  •   I said, the police is here, you need to make a report, and she was too scared to make the report. And so when I got back to Houston I said, Okay, I can’t get nobody to help me, I’m going to have to help myself, I’m going to have to help them kids because them kids are being abused and being mistreated. They’re being neglected. They’re being treated like animals, so I printed out me some flyers. I stood downtown in front of the Family Law Center, the old Center, the Family Law Center, and I started passing out flyers. I generated a press release. I sent the press release out to the press and then some kind of way it got to try to - I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just doing. I’m like, people need to know what’s going on.  
  •   Before you know, churches showed up and they had they bullhorns, they was like, these are God’s kids, and then people, of course, H.P.D. came out with their horses and stuff. Of course, we got a lot of attention. We was on the same page of Andrea Yates. Come on. But they called us protesters. It was awareness rally. That’s what I was having, awareness rally, let them know what was going on in this building behind us. 
  •   They were locking up our kids for childish behavior and when they were locking them up they did not care about what happened. They didn’t know what was going on after they left the Harris County. They didn’t know what was going on in T.Y.C. They didn’t know that kids were dying. I mean, I met parents who had kids that actually died. It was covered up, and I wish I could find these parents to this day. I mean, my heart went out to them. It, it just-- It just really destroyed our family. Anyhoo. 
  •   Anyway, I started doing awareness rallies and of course not knowing that that’s when policy directors and state representatives realized that—I saw that it was parents out there that was, was concerned, because they had bills that they had authored but they had nobody to testify on. And so they approached me and asked me would I testify and I’m like, for sure, I will testify with the bill. 
  •   Basically the first bill, the one that we were working on in 2004, I don’t recall the bill name but the bill name was conditions of confinement of representations of minorities in the criminal justice system, extended length of stays, the abuse, and it was some other bullet points to that particular bill but it was mainly outlined according to my son’s case. You have an African-American young man at the age of eleven sent to the Texas Youth Commission sentenced to nine months for a broken window and he winds up spending three and a half years. But, during that time, let me step back a little bit, during that time before I did my—well, actually, Sylvester Turner and Allison, they were wonderful. They were just, they were just great. 
  •  HENERY: Can you tell us who they are?  
  •   MS. TARSHA JACKSON: Sylvester Turner is my state representative and Allison Brock is his chief of staff and they were very supportive of – Senfronia Thomas, of course, she followed up, I wrote a letter to her in reference to the abuse, the incident that took place when they had to rush him to the hospital, as well as other things that was taking place as far as taking him completely off his medications. She followed up. My state representatives, even [U.S. Congresswoman] Sheila Jackson Lee. She couldn’t get involved and her chief of staff at the time was Angel, can’t remember her last name, but she always inquired about what was going on with my son, but she couldn’t get involved because it was state and she’s federal. So, but she wanted to stay, remain up to date on what was going on.  
  •   But prior to, Allison and Sylvester Turner, they actually encouraged me to get involved with other organizations and so the first organization that I got involved with was ACORN, ACORN of the very well-diverse, and I just started working with them on housing and education and of course you had -- Katrina didn’t come ‘til later -- minimum wage increase, the Justice for Janitors, so I started just getting out in the community and that started actually helping me. I was focused on what was going on with my son but at the same time as I’m out networking and meeting all these organizations that’s out here that have different aims, it was an opportunity for me to let them know what was going on in the criminal justice system that nobody wanted to talk about, that little silent secret that Texas was keeping under cover. 
  •   So, and ACORN was very supportive, like the rallies that I would have, the members would come out and be there, and when the people see numbers, they’re like, Okay, we need to pay attention, especially state representatives. So, of course you had Harold Dutton, all of a sudden, Representative Harold Dutton got involved. Senator Whitmire was our number one fan and that was when we were like, because we came back too, during interim session, we came back and we started testifying here locally and so it was just, a lot of eyes became on, because of the, I wouldn’t say, how would you say it? Just because of the attention I was bringing to what was going on in the system. It’s like everybody started kind of like paying attention.  
  •  They wanted to have hearings and find out what are they doing, and T.Y.C. always had everything on point. They would walk in with their books and they just, like, we got this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and I’m something like, they is just making this up as they go but the representatives was buying it because they had documentation to support what they were saying which was false documentation. That’s just my personal opinion. But it’s like, it became, okay, so, with my son, it became more, it was no longer about him. I mean, I love, I love my son to death, I love him so much, and to this day I kind of feel like, I ask myself, am I the reason why he spent more, three and a half years? 
  •   And I know a lot of it was retaliation. They kept extending his stay because Ms. Jackson was out running her mouth, bringing attention to the agency. And another example of bringing attention to the agency was, they were promoting the kids to the next grade, they were, kept promoting the kids and so my son, they had promoted him to the eighth grade if I’m not mistaken and I said, “What are you guys, your framing of your class, what is, how is your classes set up?” He said, “Oh, we don’t go to class.” I say, “What?” He said, “We don’t have no teachers, they just give us a piece of paper and they tell us to do it and we turn it in.” I say, “Now, hold up, so they’re promoting you guys and you don’t have any teachers?” So he said, “Yes, ma’am.” So I’m like, “Okay, you setting all these kids up for failure. You’re setting every last one of them up for failure, not just mine, every last one of them.” 
  •   So, I didn’t, so of course the advocates of Southwest Key, Dr. Juan Sanchez, I have much respect for him because he stepped out and helped form Texas Coalition Advocating Justice for Juveniles with, that was compiled of a lot of organizations that was working on behalf or coming up with policy around juvenile justice reform and Priscilla and the N.A.A.C.P., eventually, everybody, noise I start making, all of them start coming out.  
  •   But Dr. Juan Sanchez, given the fact that he had contracts with the Texas Youth Commission, and he was actually advocating against the Texas Youth Commission, not just against them but just requesting, treat the kids right. He lost his contracts. They came in the middle of the night and marched them kids out of these facilities here in Houston. So I have much respect for him because that let me know, you really care about them kids because you lost your contract. That’s your money, you know what I’m saying? So with the support of Southwest Key, they really couldn’t help me because they’re not attorneys, they had attorneys, but they guided me and I appreciated them so much more for that, for not doing a lot of the work for me but guiding me and educating me on how to do it.  
  •   So, I filed a due process with the Department of Education. I made a complaint against the Texas Youth Commission that they’re promoting kids, they have no teachers, et cetera. The Department of Education did their investigation. Come to find out, they didn’t have no teachers, so the Department of Education and T.Y.C. and my own self, we had this huge meeting in Beaumont to where the Department of Education gave T.Y.C. a time frame to get stuff together and then they had to re-test the kids to see where these kids actually were on their grade levels, and so when they re-tested my son he was on the second grade level, but I’m like, when he got there he was on the sixth grade level so you just destroyed his brain, everything he ever learned or knows.  
  •   After that, it was like, Tarsha Jackson’s bringing too much heat to T.Y.C. Dwight Harris wanted to have a meeting with me. That was the chief executive of T.Y.C. at that particular time. I went and met with him and me and him and Linda Reyes we sit there and we talk. I have a witness with me every time I have a conversation with them. And soon as I leave, I send them a confirmation e-mail recapping what we discussed—“We didn’t discuss that, Ms. Jackson, I don’t know where you’re getting that from.” I’m like, okay, these people, this is crazy. It’s crazy, but it was fine. 
  •   That was fine, because eventually the day will come and the day did come. So I just kept trying to love my child, be there to support him, support the other kids, support the other families that had kids in the system and that’s when we formed Texas Families of Incarcerated Youth which actually was an extension from Texas Coalition Advocating Justice for Juveniles, because that was during legislation session and then of course we realized the parents needed that continual support of each other during the time while their kid is in the state because the building passed that session. I think Moreno died after leaving Houston so everything kind of like halted but the parents still needed that support from each other and it was a great support group.  
  •   We continued to just keep things moving, well, what we going to do next session, we need to get a bill passed. We need to get a bill passed. And so Hinojosa authored Senate Bill 103 and I know I’m going on about legislation, there’s so much stuff, I know I’m going on about legislation, but he authored Senate Bill 103 and you know what, everything happen for a—I won’t say—yeah, it happens for a reason. 
  •   That, the sexual scandal in West Texas, that right there, it was like, I mean, for me it was like, okay, we been sweating and doing this and doing that, and finally, boom. But they already knew this stuff was going on. It’s not like it just happened. They knew it was going on for years, probably decades, but they act like they was so shocked. You wasn’t shocked. You knew this was going on. But it really brought pleasure to see the Texas Rangers go in there and arrest Jerome Parsee and staff members that was abusing and neglecting and beating them children. 
  •   I mean, for me, I don’t like to see nobody go to jail, but it was just—they, it was needed. It was needed. The agency was out of control. They felt untouchable. And so that right there was the best day of my life. And my son came home to what, April the twentieth. When Jay Kimbrough took over, he was like, Marcus coming home, Ms. Jackson. He coming home.  
  •   Even though I spent thousands of dollars, I spent anywhere from twenty, well, I spent almost twenty-five thousand dollars on an attorney because they was trying to reclassify him as a violent offender and they was trying to extend his stay after he was already left for three and a half years and the statement I made to the superintendent over at [Marlin], I’m like, first of all, you guys have had my son for three and a half years. If you haven’t changed him or did what you so-called supposed to do within three and a half years, you not gonna do it, sweetie, it’s time for my son to come home.  
  •   But little did we knew as parents with our kids being locked up and confined and neglected for three, four years, they came out, all of them, I mean, when I talk to all the different parents, all our kids were like, they were clones of each other. They all came out with post-traumatic stress disorder, manic depressive, I mean, seriously suicidal.  
  •  Marcus was schizophrenic, tried to commit suicide twice, so it was like, even though your child was in the system, we were in the system the whole time they were there. It’s not, just because he was there, I was locked up too. I was locked up, too, because it’s like I lost, I went through a depression and a lot of parents, a lot of parents did, they, a lot of parents to where it really broke their bodies down to where they’re in wheelchairs, couldn’t walk, some parents became bedridden, some of them had nervous breakdowns and some of them wound up incarcerated and I was just one of those parents that had to keep doing.  
  •   I couldn’t, I just couldn’t let it stop there. Regardless of what happened with the scandal, the agency, the whole purpose of the agency is to make money. Prison, the prison system is about money, so they got to make money and they’re going to continue to lock up kids so I have to come up with a way of keeping these kids in the community, at-risk youth, because all of them don’t deserve to be locked up. I mean, there’s some that need some special attention but all of them don’t. So Marcus came home. Yeah, all the kids came home, the parents that were working with them and we continued supporting one another. 
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Title:Interview with Tarsha Jackson
Abstract:Tarsha Jackson is a community activist for incarcerated juveniles and their families, stemming from her experience as the mother of a mentally ill son who was incarcerated in the Texas juvenile justice system from ages eleven to sixteen for minor offenses. In Tape 1, Jackson discusses her early life and raising children as a young single mother; how her elder son first became involved in the juvenile justice system; describes challenges seeking access to mental health care within the system; details a violent altercation between her son and detention guards; and explains how her advocacy began with education reform for the juvenile justice system. In Tape 2, Jackson discusses her son’s release from the Texas Youth Commission (TYC); explains her strategies for keeping her younger son out of the system; how the juvenile justice system impacts families; how policing and the education system create a school-to-prison pipeline; details her work with the Black-Brown organization and the Texas Reconciliation project. In Tape 3, Jackson elaborates on issues of overcrowding in Texas prisons and the importance of family visits for the incarcerated; describes how she discovered and managed her son’s mental illness; and how her son’s incarceration impacted her personally. This interview took place on May 19, 2011 in Houston, Harris County, Texas.
Sequence:1 of 3
  • Tarsha JacksonRole: Narrator
  • Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
  • Celeste HeneryRole: Interviewer
  • Virginia RaymondRole: Videographer
Date Created:2011/05/19
Geographic Focus:North America--United States--Texas
Type of Resource:Moving image
    This electronic resource is made available by the University of Texas Libraries solely for the purposes of research, teaching and private study. All intellectual property rights are retained by the legal copyright holders. The University of Texas does not hold the copyright to the content of this file. Formal permission to reuse or republish this content must be obtained from the copyright holder.

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Continues with Video 2 of the TAVP Interview with Ms. Tarsha Jackson

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