Editor's Note: When the INDY called Wake County Human Services, a representative said the names of minors in foster care are confidential and that Garcia could not waive that right.
However, Garcia and her attorney granted the INDY permission for the interview and agreed that Garcia would be named.
We believe it is in the public interest for Garcia to tell her story, as well as an expression of her First Amendment rights.
Seventeen-year-old Selina Garcia is in limbo. Since March 7, she has been held in a Wake County detention facility for allegedly fighting on the school bus. Although the school considered the fight a minor infraction—a Level 2 of 5—punishable by only a few days of suspension, the school resource officer, a fully certified police officer with the authority to arrest students, took her to jail, he said, so she could "learn a lesson."
A Southeast Raleigh High School student, Garcia has been in foster care, but she has been pulled from her recent foster family, leaving no one to bail her out of jail.
Garcia's attorney, Jennifer Story of Legal Aid N.C., said that on March 10, her client's first court appearance, a Wake County judge told Garcia she could leave jail at the end of the day. However, Garcia's legal guardian, the N.C. Division of Social Services, has not sent anyone to pick her up. Garcia cannot leave on her own since she is not 18.
DSS refused to comment on its handling of the case.
Garcia is serving time with adult women accused of selling drugs, stealing and attempted murder. She will appear in criminal court this week, to face the assault and battery charge as an adult. North Carolina is the only state that treats 16- and 17-year-olds as adults , with no option to be tried in juvenile court for minor offenses.
I visited Garcia in the detention facility to ask about her situation.
After the INDY's press deadline, Wake County Human Services issued this statement:
Wake County is prohibited by law from disclosing information about any child involved with Child Protective Services but we can provide information about our approach when children in the county's legal custody are arrested and placed in jail.
Wake County seeks to minimize the time children in our legal custody spend in jail. When a child in our custody is arrested, we assess the individual circumstances and whether it is safe and appropriate for the child to return to the previous placement. If not, we attempt to secure a new placement and supporting services that meet the child's needs for treatment and are consistent with the safety of the child and the public.
We are sometimes frustrated that we are not able to access appropriate services quickly, but we give the situation high priority and work as diligently as possible.
INDY: What has been it like here?
Selina Garcia: Difficult. It's been moving, emotionally and mentally. It's making me stronger. You have someone tell you when you can eat, sleep, what you can do, what you can't do, when you can take a shower. No music. It's just hard. But it's definitely not breaking me.
What do you do to pass the time?
I sing. I'll start singing some country song and they'll be like, no, change the station. Start singing some happy song, and they'll be like no, change it, some old school love song then everybody wants to get up and start dancing but the CO [Correctional Officer] is like "no, you can't be happy." I sing, play cards, we just talk, definitely eat and sleep. After a while, playing cards gets old fast; playing Uno and Sorry gets old fast. When people start with their little drama, you just go in your room and go to sleep. And eat. That's all.
What's your understanding of what is going on outside that's keeping you in here?
What I've been told is that I'm in here until my social worker finds a place for me, because she pulled me from my foster home. My social worker is like, oh we can't find you a foster home to go to because no one's going to want to deal with someone like you, who's always acting out. Excuses are the tools of the incompetent. That's what I told her. Everybody knows me to just be always up, always be smiling and goofy and just weird.
Do you feel like you're falling behind in school now?
Yeah. I've been able to work on one class since I've been here because it's book work. I take five classes online, but I haven't been able to take those since I've been here.
What's your life been like the past few years leading up to now?
Crazy. Hectic. My aunt had custody of me since I was 8 years old, when I was taken away from my mom. I'm originally from Ohio. So I moved down here when she gained custody, then she ended up putting me in [foster] placements. From placements I just went down hill. I started acting out, started getting in trouble.
I've always been the type of person to try to respect adults but there's a certain limit I don't take. I let my aunt hit me in my face three times before I was just like, forget it. The fourth time she came, me and her started fighting. I kind of snapped.
All the years of her messing with me and doubting me and trying to degrade me to make me feel like someone less than I was, it all came out through that. That's when Department of Social Services got involved and they were just like OK, we're going to put her in a group home.
What do you do to keep your mind off things?
I've joined NC HEAT [a student group that advocates for social justice in schools. I joined Say So, an organization dealing with foster care. A lot of the people in Say So were in foster care and have been in the system. We've been going around trying to speak out against foster care and things we want to see done because there are some wicked social workers out there who legit shouldn't' have a job like this if they don't care.
What do you want people to know about you?
I've been trying to do things the right way and be a voice for people because everybody has always told me that I have a leader in me. I'm not going to let jail slow me down, I'm not going to let my social worker slow me down. My voice is amazing. I'm behind bars but my voice is still out there.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The young and arrested"