Client Stories

Learn the real story behind PCYP’s work with and for homeless and street-involved youth by meeting some of our clients:

Jackson came to PCYP in order to obtain a name change and updated identity documents. Homeless, and surviving on food stamps and little else when he first met with PCYP, Jackson felt that his old name was holding him back and represented his former, difficult life. For Jackson, changing his name symbolized moving forward with a new life filled with promise and success. PCYP lawyers and interns were able to assist Jackson in the name change and document replacement process. It was around this time that Jackson found his dream job at a major fashion house. Jackson says that in his new job he is busier and happier than ever, and credits his happiness and productivity in large part to having been able to make legal what he had felt for a long time, a change in identity.

Joy, a young trans woman, came to PCYP as a strong self-advocate who had successfully negotiated the New York City shelter system and was living in a women’s shelter. One of the last steps Joy wanted to complete her transition was to obtain a legal name change and gender marker change on her identity documents. After representing Joy in her legal name change, PCYP helped Joy obtain the medical documentation necessary so that she could update her gender marker on her New York State ID and benefit card. Having identification that matches her name and gender has greatly help Joy live her life as a trans woman.

Marta, an undocumented trans woman from the Dominican Republic, was arrested in Queens, charged with prostitution, and detained on bail. At her first court appearance, the district attorney offered Marta a plea to prostitution with time served. This normally would be a good plea offer because it would allow Marta to be released quickly. Marta, however, had previously pleaded guilty to prostitution, and another guilty plea would make her deportable. Before Marta took the plea, PCYP counseled her public defender and explained which conviction would impact Marta’s immigration case, and which pleas were relatively safe to take. Until she was able to obtain the desired plea, Marta was held at Rikers Island in a male facility and without access to the hormone therapy on which she relied. While she was incarcerated, PCYP visited Marta at Rikers Island after each court date and also consistently checked in with her public defender. PCYP advocated with NYC Department of Corrections for Marta to have access to hormones. When the criminal case was finally resolved almost six months later, PCYP was able to apply for immigration relief knowing that Marta’s criminal convictions would not put her at risk for deportation.

Ramon came to PCYP for help applying for asylum because of persecution based on his sexual orientation. As a young gay man in Honduras, Ramon had been targeted by family members, strangers, and gangs for physical abuse and sexual exploitation. This persecution led Ramon to flee Honduras to seek safety in the United States. When he arrived here, however, Ramon was homeless and was unable to apply for jobs because of his lack of legal immigration status. Ramon was referred to PCYP by a street-based outreach worker.When Ramon began meeting with his attorney, it was difficult for him to put his traumatic past into words. Ramon met with PCYP’s case manager, who provided emotional support to him while he worked on his asylum application. The case manager also connected Ramon with a Spanish-speaking therapist who could continue to support him during his journey toward healing and help prepare him mentally for the challenges related to completing an asylum case. The case manager also helped Ramon obtain health insurance which enabled him to continue therapy. With this case management support, Ramon was able to work with his attorneys to complete a successful asylum application, allowing him to access public benefits, work and attend school.

Javier came to the United States having fled the gang and drug wars of Central America after he was abandoned and abused by his family. When Javier met with PCYP, he had been homeless in the United States for years without immigration status and as a result, access to medical services. Immediately, PCYP realized that Javier was eligible for a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status because of the abuse he suffered in Central America. PCYP worked with Javier to identify a trusting adult who could act as his guardian and help him navigate the transition into adulthood. After several court appearances, PCYP was able to obtain the necessary paperwork for Javier’s immigration status. Less than six months after meeting Javier, he was granted immigration status, which allowed him to obtain medical insurance and access mental health services necessary to help him cope with the ramifications of his childhood experiences.

Voices for Justice
An Oral History Project Capturing the Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

Voices for Justice is an oral history project capturing the stories of LGBT youth who have survived the juvenile justice system. The Peter Cicchino Youth Project (PCYP) at the Urban Justice Center conducted interviews of young people who had been confined in state facilities. Here are some of the excerpts from young people sharing their experiences in their own words.

Mariah was incarcerated at Cattaraugus Residential Center, an Office of Children and Family Services (“OCFS”) facility in Limestone, New York. Staff members routinely called her names because of her gender identity and on one occasion assaulted her so severely that she has permanent damage to her hand and scars on her body. “I was slammed on to the floor, and the skin from the entire right side of my face was off,” Mariah recounts, “I had never been so physically abused and emotionally abused in my life.”

Chino was incarcerated at Lansing Residential Center. She describes the psychological effect of living in facility that did not tolerate her sexual orientation: “You couldn't be queer … or trans … or anything of those things upstate. It was all about what fit into the box, and if [you] didn't fit into the box … Either they [the facility staff members] beat you down for it [your sexual orientation] or they completely ignored it.”

The juvenile justice system is designed to be a rehabilitative environment for vulnerable young people. But while the juvenile justice system often fails to live up to this ideal, its failure is particularly pronounced with regard to LGBT youth. LGBT youth frequently leave juvenile detention more traumatized and harmed than they were when they went in. Sexual abuse and harassment, physical violence, and verbal abuse can be a daily reality for LGBT young people in juvenile detention.

The voices of these youth are not often heard. We hope you are moved and compelled by the courage of these remarkable young people.

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