Niki Martinez, age 38
I came here for vacation. I was going from California to Illinois since I was five. When I was 16 I was living in San Diego. My Dad was living in Illinois. My parents were never married but they shared me. I was only in Juvie when I was 17. I was charged as an adult with a 707 hearing. I got a 45-life sentence as a gang enhancement.
There was a lot of instability and inconsistency. I was living between two households. There was 2 beliefs and 2 spectrums. One was Christian-based with my Mom and the other, heavy drinking with Dad. Different beliefs created conflict. I wanted to fit in. I sought acceptance. There was no love and belonging for me. It was only me and my Mom in San Diego. She would want to go to church a lot. It was very restricted and strict. I went to school and graduated with honors. I was sworn into the NAVY. Now, they have me wrapped up for 21 years with a possible life sentence. Since they passed SB 260 I have the opportunity to appear within the next four years for parole. Or they can roll me over. I am in for homicide with commission of a robbery special circumstances.
Giving a child a life sentence is not the answer. When I got here I tried fitting into this environment. A pat on the back would have sufficed. Fitting in was critical to me. I was strong minded and this was critical for me. I was not surrounded by bad influenced adults. What we get in prison is a very abrupt adaptation. It is friendless here. I am in an honor dorm here. It is a mature environment with 230+ women. Eight beds to a pod. A life can have “been down,” or served a certain time. For example, I have been down five years of 60 or 70. I am a lifer. You go to prison from CYA when you are 24. There is another lifer here with me, the rest of the women in the honor dorm are NOT lifers. People refer to “short term” as having to do less than two years. I talk to my Mom two to three times a week and my Dad two to three times a year.
Doing better is all about meeting that one person. Going to school, working, college. There was a liquor store around the corner from my house. I met somebody there. I didn’t really know him. You get introduced to one person and it changes your life. EVERYBODIES life. I tell people, “Being accepted and wanting to fit in means all.” You get in a car that seems to be someone who behaves like Jesus and you get mesmerized.
I am in a program called CAADE—California Association of Drug and Alcohol Education. We started a program like Kid Kat Cub at San Quentin here in Chowchilla. We have motivational speakers and outside guests. JOC is Juvenile Offenders Center. We have a victims’ impact class on Friday nights. It’s open to the general population of Chowchilla. There are all sorts of crimes here. They are effective not only from the police and parents, but from the communities as well.