Girls behind bars tell their stories

Updated 1:39 PM ET, Thu March 26, 2015
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A 16-year-old girl, identified only by the initials E.B., sits inside a juvenile detention center. "I've been here 17 times," she says in Richard Ross' latest collection of images, "Girls in Justice." In addition to showing the ugliness of life behind bars, Ross gives each girl a chance to talk about themselves and how they got where they are. Richard Ross
K.N., a 15-year-old from Long Beach, California, was charged with battery and assault. "The first time I went to placement, I was 11 for battery of a kid at school. I was in sixth grade," she told Ross. "The police came to school and arrested me." She said her release date is in four months. "God thinks I can do better with my life, and He knows I will do better." Richard Ross
"My dad died six years ago," said C.M., who is 16. "They shot him 18 times. He was in the Mexican mafia. He died when I was 10. I've been messing up since then. Heroin. Meth. E. Inhalants. Crack. I was doing a lot of drugs when I was first pregnant, but now I've been sober for four months." Richard Ross
Many of the stories are bleak, reflecting adults who endangered the girls or, at the very least, failed repeatedly to protect them. "They took my brother and I away because my dad chained us in the house and tried to burn it down," said J.S., 16. "I lived with my grandma and uncle. The people who are supposed to love you never do." Richard Ross
An exterior view of a juvenile detention center in Los Angeles. Richard Ross
"I read the Bible a lot," said T.Q., 16. "My favorite passage is Jeremiah 15:15: 'Lord, you understand how much I am suffering. Show concern for me. Take care of me. Pay back those who are trying to harm me. You're patient. Don't take my life away from me.' " Richard Ross
B.E., 17, shows marks on her arms. She told Ross that she and her sister were sexually assaulted by her father. "I haven't cut in years," she said. Richard Ross
"I was at the packing plant for about 16 months," said R.T., 16. "(Immigration and Customs Enforcement) had a big raid, lots of trucks and men with guns and helicopters. They deported most of the people but kept some of us to go to court against the owners. They had a lot of minors working. All of us were from the same little village in Guatemala. We live in houses that the company owns. I think they let me stay because of my baby." Richard Ross
"For a long time, I took pride in not prostituting. My last relapse, I started prostituting on my own," said B.X., 18. "My mom and dad were both alcoholics. They owned a bar. I was left alone a lot. My mom was drunk when she found me on the street. I had run away. She attacked me and wouldn't let go. I punched her in the face. It wasn't that hard." Richard Ross
The Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, California Richard Ross
Meals from juvenile facilities around the country. Some facilities spend less than $2 a day per youth, Ross said. Richard Ross
Inmates watch television at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center in Chicago. Richard Ross
Inside a bathroom at Maryvale, an all-girls institution in Rosemead, California. Richard Ross
A mother visits her daughter in a hallway at a juvenile detention center in Los Angeles. Richard Ross