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The Miami Youth Academy houses up to 28 boys from 14 to 18 years old, who are sent there by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. In April 2020, their world was upended when the first case of COVID-19 was identified at the facility. Since then four students and six staff members, including the facility administrator, have been infected.

The students are documenting this period in stories for their student newspaper Titan Tribune, which they produce in a journalism class run by Exchange for Change, a local nonprofit group that teaches writing classes in youth commitment and adult correctional facilities. Retired newspaper reporter Henry Unger has taught the class for nearly two years in collaboration with the academy and Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Caught Me By Surprise

By L. G.

The coronavirus is affecting me by keeping me from seeing my family on visitation day. I feel like it’s getting worse every day. When it first started, I thought it was not something serious. But as time went on, I started to see why people were going crazy over this. It caught me by surprise. One day I was in class watching the news and things were normal. Then, the next day, it was all hell. I really hope things can go back to normal. 

It Had Me Hot

By A. S.

I ain’t gonna lie, it’s been kind of hard to deal with the fallout from the coronavirus. But I don’t worry because it has not really affected me because I’m locked up. Some of my peers can’t handle it because they’re not built for this kind of stuff. The online classes are straight, but I would rather have school be in person. The only time it has really affected me is when my people were coming to see me, but they canceled family day. It had me hot. Also, I felt bad for them boys in the back. Four of them got infected from the coronavirus and were put in isolation. Now, we have to wear masks, watch what we touch and do other stuff like that. 

Every Day, They Checked Their Temperature

By Y. P.

(Translated from Spanish) 

I really have experienced many thoughts about the coronavirus. Because it is very dangerous, we cannot be together with many people. Also, it is important to wash our hands so they stay clean and help us avoid getting infected. Four students here in my program got the virus and were separated in isolation. They could not be with the other students for a long time. Every day, they checked their temperature and monitored their health condition.

Getting Worse Before It’s Going to Get Better

By D. M.

The coronavirus is getting worse before it’s going to get better. It has changed a lot in people’s lives. Too many people are leaving the earth because of an infection. I can’t even see my people where I am now because of COVID-19. Too much is happening all over this world. I’m waiting for the cure to come out already. A lot of people who don’t deserve to leave too soon can get cured before it gets worse. Always stay six feet away from everybody and always wash your hands for any little thing you touch. The coronavirus is very serious. It’s no joke. A lot of people are too young to go from this earth. I am worried about my grandmas and aunties and dad and mom. My auntie got the coronavirus and was not doing well, but she has recovered a little from it. Schools have been shut down along with all the other stores. 

Things Have Changed Now

By J. S.

I have been locked up going on 11 months. When I first got arrested, time was not that bad. I could see my family, there was no six-feet distance, and there was no concern about going home to a stay-at-home order. But things have changed now. I think the most harmful experience I’m having is not being able to see my family. It is a hard transition from getting visitors every other week to none at all. Another hard experience is the online school. School with the teachers in person has been a lot better than this online school. When I needed help with my work, I could learn hands-on, which is the way I learn. Now it’s really complicated. 

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Students at Miami Youth Academy

The students at the Miami Youth Academy wrote these stories for their newspaper Titan Tribune, a collaborative effort by the facility, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Exchange for Change, a Miami-based non-profit group that supports writing programs in youth commitment and adult correctional facilities. The students work on the paper in a journalism class taught by retired journalism teacher Henry Unger. The writers are identified by their initials to protect their identities.