By Jeremy Loudenback, ChronicleofSocialChange.org
On July 25th, 1990, the course of Jerome Dixon’s life changed forever. After 25 hours of interrogation, the then 17-year-old Oakland youth would find himself sentenced to decades in prison.
As California state legislators now ponder a bill that would change the way law enforcement officers are able to question juveniles, the fallout from that day continues to haunt Dixon, now 44 and living in Los Angeles.
“Even to this day, I still can’t sleep a full night. I’m waking up two or three hours into my sleeping,” he said. “Why is that? That’s because of what happened to me in that interrogation room.”
Alone, and pinned into the corner of a dim police interrogation room, Dixon felt small and powerless on that summer night, trying to find some way out of his desperate situation.
About 10 hours before, just after midnight, the Oakland police had hauled him into the station as a murder suspect. At around 10:00, a young man was shot to death in the crime-plagued West Oakland neighborhood where the teenaged Dixon had been hanging out with friends.
In the cramped room where he would spend the next 25 hours, Dixon recounted his whereabouts leading up to the moment when he was arrested for the murder.
At first, the detectives were friendly, offering him water and food. But after about five hours, the mood shifted. The police investigators began to press him, commanding Dixon to place himself at the scene of the crime and stop “playing games.”
By about 15 hours in, Dixon was exhausted. Two teams of investigators rotated in and out of the room during his interrogation, switching off every couple hours. The only window in the room was covered by a piece of cardboard, which was sometimes lifted, Dixon remembers, to reveal faces watching him.
Dixon says he lost track of whether it was day or night outside.
“I felt extremely hopeless at that point,” Dixon said. “Whatever self-esteem I had at that point was literally gone.