Selena, 17, was locked up for trying to steal a car. Nichole was put away for prostitution. Olivia, 17, is doing time for doing heroin.
These three teen-agers, and about a dozen others incarcerated at the San Fernando Juvenile Detention Center, told the stories of their joyless lives to professional songwriter Arthur Hamilton, who will use the material to compose lyrics for a song to be performed by the Children of the World Choir.
Hamilton was contacted by Marrina Waks, a concert pianist and composer who in 1992 founded the Los Angeles-based children's choir.
"We want you all to tell us your thoughts," Waks told a group of about 20 female inmates clad in mustard-colored pants and plain white tops. "We would like to try to solve, through music, some of society's problems."
At first, many looked skeptical. But soon a hand shot up.
"I'm here because of prostitution," 17-year-old Nichole said. "My mom physically abused me, my brother-in-law is addicted to crack, my dad is on drugs and in and out of jail. So that's my family. I have a daughter that's 2. I was a prostitute because I had to take care of myself."
With each inmate's tale, the conversation picked up. A question from Waks about the U.S. justice system brought varying responses:
"I don't really know. I mean, what's the justice system?" Nichole asked. "And what, really, is a normal teen-age life? Things ain't the way they was back in 1987. Can it be better? I don't know."
After about two hours, Hamilton and Waks left the girls' ward. "It was gold, it was pure gold," Hamilton said. "What I heard in there was awful, it was sad, it was inspiring. I've got enough material for a whole album ."
The choir has performed for Hillary Clinton and the king and queen of Jordan, among others, Waks said. Made up of about 70 children of diverse backgrounds, the choir sings songs promoting unity and peace.