In spring 2002, a 12-year-old girl from suburban Kansas City started a blog, under the pseudonym "rockonlittleone." She named her site, "Sorrow is like the ocean and sometimes I wish my heart would stop" (at least that's what it was named most recently).
Right off the bat she was a prolific blogger, adding as many as 13 posts in a single day. She kept at it through all her early teen years, letting the public in on her trials and triumphs, through piano lessons and debate tournaments, good grades and bombed tests. She posted the results of just about every online quiz created over the last four years, and photos of outings with her friends, goofy pictures of gangly girls having fun. And, of course, long accounts of fights with her parents -- lots and lots of those. Her parents were Chinese and quite old fashioned, you might say strict, borderline mean, and the girl sometimes said she hated them. But all in all it was your normal teen blog, though perhaps the writing was better than most, and the author, Esmie Tseng (pictured above, on sorryeverybody.com), appeared to be just your typical suburban kid growing up on the Internet.
Then all of Esmie's entries -- hundreds and hundreds of them -- disappeared, because she's in jail, charged with stabbing her mother to death in their Johnson County home. I went through all her posts yesterday before the site was shut down. To say the least it was an unsettling experience. I wish I could turn back time, really. Now prosecuters are pushing to have her tried as an adult, which she clearly isn't, for first-degree murder, so it appears as though this bright young person will live for ever in prison, which, wrong as it might be to say, doesn't seem right.
I seem to be amassing a small collection of stories about 16-year-olds whose lives ended, or were essentially ruined, by their own acts of violence.
First there was Porky, a kid who went to Central High for a while, and was friends with a few of the debaters, before he suddenly went off the deep end and started going around town shooting a gun. His adventure ended in June 2003 when stray bullets from his gun struck several innocent bystanders at the gas station across the street from Central, killing one of them. Last I checked, Porky is due for a long stretch in the state pen.
Then last summer I read about Jonathan Jackson, a 16-year-old who was so upset about his older brother George's imprisonment that he essentially launched a teen-rage coup against the government, storming the courthouse where his brother was having a hearing of his case in an attempt to break his brother free. Some California state officials were killed in the crossfire, I think, and Jackson took a few more hostage, before he was brought down in a hail of gunfire. (George Jackson was, BTW, one of the central figures in the prison abolition movement.)
And now Esmie. I'll be curious to see what the system makes of her.
These are powerful stories, and I'm not sure what they say collectively, if, indeed, they say anything at all. For a while I thought the Jackson and Porky stories said something about the political agency of teens, or lack thereof, particularly among inner-city youths. But Esmie's story twists things a bit, it's so odd and out of stereotype, she being of a completely different world. But I suppose there are similarities down there somewhere.
Anyway, they're all haunting, to say the least, and I have a hunch I will continue to reflect on them as I deepen my coommitment to work with teens.