Bresha Meadows didn’t sleep her first night at the adolescent treatment facility in January. Her room had a window; the 15-year-old stayed awake looking at the moon and the stars for the first time in more than six months.
Last week, however, Bresha was moved back to a juvenile detention center to continue waiting for the trial she’s been anticipating since last July.
As Rewire previously reported, on July 28, 2016, Bresha, then age 14, was arrested on charges of killing her allegedly abusive father. Before her arrest, Bresha had run away to her aunt’s home twice. Each time, her father, Jonathan Meadows, called the police and accused his in-laws of kidnapping. When Bresha was brought home, her aunt Martina Latessa told Rewire, the violence and abuse continued.
After her arrest, Bresha was sent to the Trumbull County Juvenile Detention Facility in Warren, Ohio, to await her day in court. For months, she and her family stood by anxiously to learn whether prosecutors would charge her as an adult, which could mean spending the rest of her life in prison if convicted. In December, they breathed a sigh of relief when prosecutors announced that they would charge her as a juvenile. If convicted, Bresha could be held in juvenile detention until she turns 21—but no longer faces decades, if not life, behind bars.
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At her pre-trial hearing on January 20, the juvenile court judge announced that Bresha would be transferred to an adolescent treatment facility for a mental health evaluation. By then, Bresha had spent 175 days, including her 15th birthday, behind bars. Ohio’s average length of pre-trial detention for youth is 10 to 12 days.
Though Bresha was still under custody, “she finally was getting the assessment and care that she needed and could not get while in the juvenile facility,” said Bresha’s lawyer, Ian Friedman, in an interview with Rewire.
While the juvenile detention center limits Bresha’s visitors to her mother, grandparents, and attorney, the treatment center encourages family visits as part of her treatment. This meant that Latessa, Bresha’s maternal aunt, was able to see her niece. So were Bresha’s other aunts and uncles who, under the detention center policy, had not been allowed to visit or receive calls from her.
The center also allows family members to bring food to eat during the visits. Latessa remembers taking Bresha to Boston Market during one of the times Bresha had run away. “She’d never been there before,” she told Rewire. “She loved it.”
Recalling this, Latessa brought in a rotisserie chicken, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and green beans from the restaurant chain. She and her sister Brandi, Bresha’s mother, sat down with Bresha and ate; it was the first family meal that the three had had in nearly six years.
At the treatment center, Bresha was allowed to wear her own clothes rather than a jail uniform. She was allowed to go outside, though the center’s policy dictated that all children be accompanied by a staff member when they did so. She was allowed to make phone calls twice a day, not only to her mother, but also to her siblings, from whom she had also been separated since her arrest. She attended group counseling sessions which, Latessa noted, the girl liked. “She really wanted to stay,” she said.
The family, too, had hoped that Bresha would be able to remain in the more therapeutic environment during her pre-trial detention. “We were hoping they’d keep her until the trial starts,” said Latessa, who described the difference in the institutional conditions to Rewire.
On March 15, however, Bresha’s evaluation was completed. The sheriff’s department picked her up and brought her back to the juvenile detention center. She is now only allowed to call her mother, and visits are once again restricted to her mother, her grandparents, and her attorney. She is in a room without a window and can no longer see the night sky. When she is allowed outside during the day, she is confined to a caged-in recreation area.
“The whole process continues to be difficult,” said Friedman. “We just need to get to court soon.”
Bresha’s next pre-trial hearing is on May 8, rescheduled from April 17. Her trial date has been scheduled for May 22. Friedman continues to hope that the court will determine that Bresha acted in self-defense and allow her to return to her family and begin rebuilding her life.
Meanwhile, supporters across the country are planning a week of events from April 10 to 17 to raise awareness about Bresha’s case. They also continue to write letters of support and have organized book drives to keep Bresha, and other girls and women behind bars, supplied with reading material during incarceration.
This outpouring of support, says Friedman, has been “incredibly helpful. She’s been able to keep her head up knowing she’s not forgotten and knowing that people do care about her.”