Headed for Trouble

Erik wanted to help his friend get out of the house. He succeeded -- they're both in prison for life.

Erik spoke fluent French when he went in, and he has learned a little Spanish since. He's been in about ten fights, mostly with black dudes, a couple with white guys, none with Mexicans.

Erik survived adult prison as a juvie, but he's seen other juvies fall victim.

"They'll come in and they won't fight when they need to fight," he says. "They won't stick up for their own. So they're paying rent, they're getting extorted or now they're gay and they're somebody's punk because they didn't have the heart to stick up for themselves."

 
Brian Stauffer
 
Curt and Pat Jensen hold a picture of their only son, 
Erik, before he and Nate Ybanez were convicted of 
first-degree murder.
Anthony Camera
Curt and Pat Jensen hold a picture of their only son, Erik, before he and Nate Ybanez were convicted of first-degree murder.

There's so much drama in the joint that it's like a soap opera, he says. The majority of the drama comes from drugs, and you can get anything here that you can get on the streets. But he steers clear, he adds.

There's so much violence in the joint that it's like war, he says. Fights break out when issues aren't resolved, and you can be killed anytime. If you can't play politics, he says, you're going to have to fight.

Erik was willing to fight for his friend seven years ago, and he's willing to fight for Nate now. He knows Nate would do it for him, too.

Erik was torn when he took the stand at his trial. He says he wanted the jury to know why Nate had killed his mother, but he went along with the lawyers' strategy. He didn't want to do Nate wrong by violating his privacy, either, spreading the abuse stories that Nate had told him in confidence, stories no teenage boy would want people to know.

"Nate wasn't some cold-blooded dude," Erik says. "He was a good kid. Basically, it seems like society failed him, and I failed him. Almost like he was left with no other option. Because as far as I'm concerned, it was self-defense. He did what he had to do, and I kind of wanted to put all that stuff out there and I just didn't. I had told my lawyer, he had told his lawyer, we had told Social Services and everybody who'd listen, 'Hey, this kid was getting done bad,' and it seemed like the only thing we kept getting back is 'The only bad people here is you.'"

At least he helped his friend get out of the Ybanez home. That was the goal -- to set Nate free.

Prison was never part of the plan. If the jurors had known the whole truth, Erik believes they'd never have voted to convict. But instead, both boys landed behind bars. For life.

And Erik blames no one but himself for that.

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