CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — While some children live day-to-day in a happy and healthy home, thousands, in the Coastal Bend do not.
Perhaps there is a lack of supervision, guardians who weren’t taught how to parent or, parents who can’t stay out of trouble.
So what happens to the children in these homes? If their ‘normal’ is crime or absence, will they succumb to their surroundings? Or, will these children thrive along with their peers and have a happy-ever-after?
Unfortunately, breaking free from this cycle isn’t easy.
Oscar Hernandez is living proof.
The 33-year-old grew up in Corpus Christi with his brother, sister, and mother. During the day he was left with little supervision because his mom would work and attend English classes at night.
“I yearned for a family, I yearned for acceptance,” he said.
Hernandez spent most of his time at his friends’ houses. He still longed for a sense of belonging.
“I was always missing something, and I would try to fill a hole when I do bad things I would get this adrenaline rush, and I’d feel complete,” Hernandez said.
As a kid, Oscar said he would behave at his friends’ homes, yet in public, he did not. He recalled the many times he stole or caused trouble, just to feel accepted.
One day, Oscar and his friends decided to break into Miller High School. He said they didn’t steal anything valuable, just random objects, all for a cheap thrill.
“To myself, right, I would say ‘well you are not gonna be cool if you don’t do this, you know, what are your friends gonna think about you, what is the hood gonna think about you?’” he said.
Oscar and his friends were caught, and so began his long list of run-ins with the law.
“At ten years old I was terrified out of my mind, right, but when I got out, I was like I’m older now.”
Becki Mohat with the Nueces County Juvenile Justice Volunteers Inc. said. Unfortunately, Oscar’s childhood story is not unique.
“We need to break the cycle,” she said.
Mohat visits children and teens who are in the detention center and Robert Barnes Facility. She said most of them had had a rough start to life.
“Their parents were in jail, their cousins, their uncles and it just continues, that cycle,” she said.
Mohat has met children whose parents are drug addicts, drug dealers, abusers and even, sex traffickers; who have solicited their children.
“The majority of the children there did not get the proper training and raising that they need to have a successful life.”
Mohat said when children grow up in that type of environment, it is their ‘normal’ and they often mimic that behavior.
“They’re much more likely to continue that cycle in and throughout into their adult life,” Sheriff JC Hooper agreed.
Sheriff Hooper said he'd seen generations of the family cycle through the Nueces County Jail.
“They get labeled as a thief, as a criminal, as an addict, there comes the point many of them accept that, okay this is who I am,” he said.
Sheriff Hooper said he meets people with Oscar’s rap sheet everyday.
“Look under the dictionary at at-risk youth, it’s probably got Oscar’s picture, I mean, he was that guy,” the former CCPD Lieutenant said.
At 12-years-old, Oscar was smoking marijuana. At 13-years-old, he was caught with Xanax. At 14-years-old, he started drinking alcohol. Then, at 16-years-old, Oscar began dealing drugs. He was even kicked out of Ray High School and had to finish at an alternative school.
Beneath his lousy behavior and tough exterior was a desperate need to belong.
Each time, Oscar would cycle through juvenile detention. He said while it was punishment, while he was there, he never received any help to succeed when he was released.
Eventually, Hernandez was too old for juvenile detention, and he ended up at the Nueces County Jail.
“I was at rock bottom. I was doing anything that was in front of me, if it was alcohol if it was marijuana if it was cocaine if it was pills,” he said.
Oscar was arrested several times for public intoxication and would be aggressive with police officers. He said he would drive with a suspended license or wouldn’t get insurance. He would later pay over $13,000 in fines.
One day, Oscar had enough. The life of crime was not for him, so he started going to church.
“When you’re from nothing, and you feel like you’ve never been loved, you’ve put on layers of protection, and God just peeled all those layers off, pulled it off until I had this child-like faith,” he said.
This type of redemption needs to be shared with at-risk youth in the Coastal Bend. This is why Becki Mohat continues to work hard to break the cycle.
“Makes me wanna keep moving forward and do whatever I can,” she said.
Mohat said kids who are already in juvenile detention need to be given attention, love, and direction to prepare them for a crime-free life.
“We wanna do everything we can to teach these kids how to be confident and how to lead,” she said.
The NCJJV work to raise money for programs at the Robert Barnes Facility and community outreach. Recently, they brought in a former mobster to speak to youth in Corpus Christi.
Oscar said if there had only been a place like the Barnes Facility or advocates like Becki when he was going through the cycle, he might have been able to break free.
“This is one of the last opportunities that they get to instill that structure, to try to address their needs,” Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Homer Flores said.
Flores explained the programs they offer for the kids who are in the facility. These children and teens still go to a class taught by CCISD teachers. They can visit the library and interact with the therapy dogs as well. There are also programs for parents of kids who are behind bars.
“Perhaps that parent was wither one, raised in the system, or two, was never taught how to be a parent,” he said.
Becki, Sheriff Hooper, and Oscar said while we can’t control how a parent raises their children, there is something that, as a community, we do have power over getting involved and bettering ourselves for succeeding generations to come.
“One child at a time and Oscar is that child,” Sheriff Hooper said.
Soon, the Barnes facility will offer scholarships for continued education for children in detention. Becki and the NCJJV are working towards a tattoo removal program for kids who have gang or sex-trafficking marks.
“As CS Lewis said, ‘you can’t go back and changes your beginning, but you can start today to change your ending,’” she said.
Four years after he turned his life around, Oscar Hernandez regained custody of his four children. When he was 21-years-old Oscar wasn’t allowed to see them.
Now, the father of seven children is married, owns a home and cars and, is a construction site superintendent.
“It’s just me, I can wear the clothes I wanna wear, I can love the way I wanna love, you know, I can just be free,” he said, smiling.
Oscar has gone from mugshots to mentoring. On Sundays, he can be found at church where he teaches Sunday school to elementary school kids. He said God had turned his life around and he can now offer unconditional love to his family, the same love he searched for his entire life.
“I know life is hard, I know it’s tough, I know you got dealt some bad cards. You are worth it, you are loved, somebody’s looking at you, somebody wants you, and you’re gonna make it out, you’re resilient, you’re tough, you’ve made it this far, don’t give up.”
To learn more about the Nueces County Juvenile Justice Volunteers, visit their page here