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First Person

Who I Am

Monte Magic Mckay considers himself lucky to have been placed at Camp Kilpatrick instead of a juvenile detention hall — but safe rehabilitation shouldn’t depend on luck.

The sign posted at the entrance of Campus Kilpatrick. August 2023 Photo: Ben Camacho | Knock LA
The sign posted at the entrance of Campus Kilpatrick. August 2023. (Photo: Ben Camacho | Knock LA)

For the longest time, I had no sense of direction, no purpose. Sure, I had aspirations, but I lacked a deeper understanding. I was unable to conceptualize how someone so insignificant like myself could climb what felt like insurmountable heights. 

Growing up, school was pretty challenging for me. I was in honors classes and received phenomenal test scores, but I lacked support. At 8 years old, I was diagnosed with ADHD after my teachers complained to my mother about my “terrible” behavior.

I couldn’t sit still. I’d finish my classwork way before everybody else, and my mind would simply not allow me to sit in silence like my teachers wanted. So, I’d get up and wander around, looking for whatever task could occupy my mind before I did something too impulsive. This of course did not resonate with any of my teachers or their strict rules and one-size-fits-all approach to education. Instead of asking how they could help, they’d chastise me in front of my classmates and penalize me for my inability to be “normal.” In high school, I would ask for a restroom pass and leave my classes entirely. Eventually, I stopped going to school altogether because I felt it wasn’t for me. This led to a long cycle of delinquency. 

And, I know I’m not alone. A 2017 study from the Sociology of Education found that Black students are far more likely to be criminalized and viewed as “unruly” while white kids with behavioral problems are more likely to be viewed as having ADHD and receive accommodations. Even with my diagnosis, teachers and administrators cast me aside. 

When I was 17 years old, I was involved in a fatal car accident with five of my friends. As the driver, I was held responsible for all that transpired. Blood was on my hands, and that knowledge was unbearable for my adolescent mind. Laying in the hospital bed with a broken face, officers came to arrest me under the charge of second-degree murder. It became a possibility that I would become another featureless sheep in the herd of the system. I would never make my parents proud. I would become nothing but wasted existence, wasted potential. These devastating possibilities became more realistic than my actual aspirations. I was afraid. 

That same fear is what drove me to persevere and continue on. To chase my dreams with indefatigability because I was given a second chance and could not let it perish. Instead of going to prison, I got sent to Camp Kilpatrick, a detention camp that offers small-group treatment model alternatives to juvenile hall. There, school and education were my escape from the horrid reality of my situation and I found an oasis of glimmering insight. Fights often broke out around me, computers would be thrown around, yet I continued reading or working on my assignment, as if I weren’t present.

Ironically, Camp Kilpatrick was where I found the educational environment I had needed growing up. Instead of being punished for my curiosity, I got to immerse myself in the books I read and philosophical theories and concepts. I read every book I could get my hands on and studied every subject that didn’t make sense to me. And when words weren’t enough to quiet my inner storms, I discovered and developed a new passion for drawing instead. I was able to dig deep inside to weed out my self-sabotaging, self-destructive, and counterproductive mentality to plant prolific seeds in its absence.

Campus Kilpatrick as seen from the road in the Santa Monica Mountains. August 2023. Photo: Ben Camacho | Knock LA
Campus Kilpatrick as seen from the road in the Santa Monica Mountains. August 2023. (Photo: Ben Camacho | Knock LA)

Camp Kilpatrick is the beginning of my journey. For me, this place fostered so much growth and positivity because it finally provided me a safe space for deeper introspection, self-reflection, and the opportunity to dedicate laser focus to my crafts and develop a more detailed plan for my future. 

It was the staff at the camp who helped me get there. One teacher, Mr. Kastendiek, would indulge me in discussions about quantum physics, religion, psychology, history, literature, and art before class started. Our conversations definitely pushed me to become a more critical thinker and inspired me to seek higher education. Mr. Kastendiek is probably the most interesting guy I’ve ever met in my life and will for sure be a lifelong mentor of mine.

With the help of Kilpatrick staff and credible messengers, I set the foundation needed to not only succeed and reintegrate into the community but to do so at an exceptional level.

What Are Credible Messengers?

Credible messengers are individuals who have relevant life experiences and can effectively connect with and assist at-risk young people. They serve as mentors and advocates, helping youth transform their lives and navigate challenges. Credible messengers come from the same communities as the young people they work with, allowing for a deep understanding and connection. They play a vital role in providing support and guidance in rehabilitation and justice systems.

In particular a woman named Pat, a school staff member at Camp Kilpatrick, assisted me with applying to four-year universities while I was incarcerated. Pat spent hours with me revising my course plans, applying for scholarships, and looking for resources to ensure I was well equipped on my next journey. She kept me motivated by reassuring me when I shared my doubts about my college journey, and she encouraged me to never quit. Without her and her assistants, I would not have received my AA degree in social and behavioral sciences or be going to UC Berkeley with a full scholarship. 

Growing up, I didn’t really know college could be an option for me. Education didn’t feel like a space where I could succeed. But this spring, I received acceptance letters from UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara, Santa Clara University, Fresno State, Cal Poly Humboldt, Sacramento State, and Chico State — every college I applied to. 

This meant so much to me. I was finally seeing rewards for all the consistent work I’ve put in and the hardship I had endured. Things were lining up for me in ways that seemed too good to be true, dreams were moving over to the realm of reality. “Why did I deserve to be at these places over anyone else?” my intrusive thoughts would blurt out after seeing those acceptance letters. But, I know that everything happens for a reason. I am living for others who no longer have the luxury to do so. 

Most young people facing a prison sentence don’t get the opportunity to go to a place like Camp Kilpatrick, or get the support of a network who helps them find their dreams, and then go achieve them. I’m lucky that I got to create these opportunities for myself, but it shouldn’t be up to luck. 

Monte Magic Mckay is 21 years old with plans to build a legacy that will outlive generations. Mr. Mckay was incarcerated at the age of 17 until his release at age 20. While incarcerated, Monte was accepted into UC Berkeley as a transfer student. Here, he will continue growing as a writer and expand his presence in the literary world. Monte plans to write scripts and direct films and series, as well as collaborate with other artists on different creative projects. Additionally, he will be publishing several novels and books of poetry to share his stories and perspectives with the world.