On Monday at Juvenile Hall, I examined a 16 year-old boy who was being booked again, just a month after getting off of probation from his previous violation. In his chart under reason for arrest was “driving a stolen vehicle.”
He had been involved in some gang activity in the past, but was trying to stay out of trouble. On the night of his arrest, he was hanging out with some friends. They went to a park, and the friends started drinking. My patient made the right decision and decided not to drink. As the sun went down, he realized his friends were drunk. He looked around for anyone else to drive, but everyone had been drinking. To be safe he drove the group home, but on the way home the car was pulled over, and the boy was charged with driving a stolen vehicle.
Reading the one-line accusation in the chart, it’s easy to scold the boy in our minds and ask why he would make the poor decision to drive a vehicle he knew to be stolen. However, life is more complicated for these kids than the one-line accusation in their chart. In this instance, the boy was in many respects trying to do the right thing by acting as a designated driver for the other boys. He was faced with a lose-lose situation: letting his drunk friends drive home or risk getting caught driving a stolen vehicle.
Who is to say that any of us at 16 years old would have made better decisions? Yes, he probably should not have been socializing with that crowd in the first place, but for kids growing up in the rough parts of San Jose, these difficult situations are ubiquitous and hard to avoid. Making the right decision sounds easy in hindsight, but in the moment, for many of the kids I’ve seen here at Juvenile Hall, these decisions are a minefield.