Eural Strickland is an ACT leader with the Youth Justice team working on juvenile justice reform through the Positive Youth Justice Initiative, funded by Sierra Health Foundation.
The first time Eural Strickland was arrested, he was 12 years old. He marked his 13th birthday in juvenile detention.
Eural grew up in South Sacramento watching his older brother in gangs and remembers thinking at age 8 that it was okay to rob people. When his older siblings moved out, Eural tried to pick up the slack, and to help his mother who struggled as a recovering addict. There was never enough money, and he grew up experiencing hunger and homelessness. Having little support, Eural dropped out of school in fourth grade after a string of suspensions for fighting. He ran the streets, hanging out with gangs, and developing a long rap sheet. “When I ran the streets, that’s where my trouble came from. I caused it, but running the streets impacted me.”
Beginning at age 12 he was caught in a cycle of arrest, incarceration, bouncing between places to stay, and life on the streets. He worried about his mother and his little brother and his grandma. He was often on his own.
“Coming home, I needed someone to talk to, to hear me out, to encourage me to keep going. I needed someone to help me re-enter society.”
“Boredom is the start of trouble,” Eural reflected. His first arrest at age 12 began with a friend teaching him how to steal cars. Curious as to whether this would work, Eural experimented. It worked and Eural was arrested after a high-speed chase. Between ages 12 and 17, Eural went to juvenile hall 15 times. He was in 5 different foster homes. At age 16, his last incarceration in juvenile detention began just before Christmas in 2016. He was sentenced to 5 years and told by the Interagency Management Authorization Committee (IMAC) that he could not be further rehabilitated and that he was a menace to societyAs this detention continued, his visits from family dwindled and people stopped taking his calls. He realized that all but 3 of the staff he interacted with in detention had given up on him. He reflected on this time. “That was the worst feeling, to know people didn’t believe in me anymore. It was heartbreaking, a deep down sad feeling. I can still feel it here,” he says, clutching his chest. “But the inner me, deep down within me – when people give up on me, I fight harder. I turn my fear into aggression – I learned this from the streets.” Eural was fighting for himself. He focused on the door that might open when another closed.
Youth in detention earn daily points and work their way through leadership levels with increasing requirements, gaining privileges and training and life skills as they advance. Eural relied on the support of the few staff members that still believed in him, who hated to see him down and sad. Eural worked his way through the program, while dealing with pain in his own life. His grandma was hospitalized and his cousin whom he loved like a brother was arrested and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Eural achieved the highest level of leadership while in detention, earning a place in the Mentor Academy. He enrolled in college classes while in juvenile hall and participated in debate. With the help of his attorney, and character witnesses, his sentence was reduced and he was released in October, 2017.
Wearing an ankle monitor, Eural set out on what he calls his Freedom Trail. “I came home and I got straight to it and didn’t waste time.” He reached out to the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), G.A.P. (Gang Awareness and Prevention), and Burning Bush, and began speaking to other youth. He got involved with ACT’s Youth Justice Committee which works on juvenile justice system reform. He worked with his attorney to be granted greater access to being involved in the community, rather than being forced to stay home.
Eural worked to complete units for a high school diploma and graduated in February, 2018. He is looking forward to turning 18 soon when he will have more options for work. He will enroll in American River College and also work on getting a construction certification. He is writing music and spoken word. He thinks about attending the Police Academy to be a police or probation officer, or about joining the Marines. But that’s not his end goal. “Ultimately, I want to open businesses and provide jobs for youth and my community. I have a long, terrible rap sheet. If I could have worked at 13 or 14, I wouldn’t have the rap sheet I have.”
When asked what he most needed when he came out of detention, he said first clothes, shoes and food. Today, most of his wages go to putting food on the table. Eural had a place to stay, but some returning youth also need shelter. “Coming home, I needed someone to talk to, to hear me out, to encourage me to keep going. I needed someone to help me re-enter society.”