A mentor can help change the trajectory of a young person. Earlier this summer I joined a Juvenile Advisory Council in Wayne County run by a team of amazing young people who were a part of the juvenile justice system at some point in their lives and now, they want to find a way to make the system better. They are the experts.
During a recent meeting, a young man with an active case in the Third Judicial Circuit Court shared his testimony. It was heart wrenching. He is a bright, articulate, and brave 15 year old, in Westland, with dreams of being a musician. He plans on taking advanced math classes (he’s not excited about it!) and talks of hating virtual learning because it makes him feel lonely. He was failing in school. He shares that he was arrested for domestic violence against his grandmother, but the final charge is incorrigibility.
His story continued. When he was younger, he was moved to Michigan to live with his grandmother after his mother, an addict, was unable to take care of him and his two siblings. He suffers from PTSD and anxiety. He shared a vivid memory of being 5 years old when his mother left him, a younger brother and a barely older sister in a house with no electricity overnight. He woke up to the darkness and he was scared. He was eventually adopted by his grandmother, who at some point several years ago during the adoption process talked about getting him a Big Brother. Our records show our team attempted to call his grandmother several times over a few months in 2014, but...he never got a Big Brother. Our parents and caregivers juggle a lot!
My heart was broken because I know that youth with a Big Brother or Big Sister are more likely to stay out of the juvenile justice system. Our data shows that 99 percent of youth in our program have little to no contact with the police or juvenile justice contact. My eyes welled up with tears as I thought about all the youth on our waiting list, the calls from the parents and caregivers of youth with similar stories of adversity, and our need for more donations so we can extend our reach into the community.
Our work is a critical part of the safety net created to protect youth who are vulnerable to the juvenile justice system because of life's circumstances. We are doing important work. Life changing work. Meaningful work. We have the future trajectory of youth in our collective hands.
Together, we are Defenders of Potential! Thank you for your continued support.
Juvenile Justice Reform
Upon his arrest, the young man mentioned above was placed in the Juvenile Detention Facility, unmedicated and alone for 12 hours. No one checked on him. He was alone again and he was scared. When he was finally released, a police officer, informally, took it upon himself to be his mentor. He called him after school regularly and checked on him. Time and time again during his testimony he talked about wanting to feel like he belonged.
He was assigned to Growthworks, a Juvenile Justice Care Management Organization, contracted by the Wayne County Health and Human Services to provide supervision and case management to adjudicated youth placed on probation as part of the broader Wayne County Juvenile Justice System. They provide him with counseling, peer to peer mentoring and activities, like a college tour and service work. He greatly enjoyed both. The college tour gave him a vision of his future and the service made him feel useful. His grandmother has since died. His fate is in the hands of the court, but he is hopeful and wanted to share his message in hopes of helping others.
See story here about the appointment of our CEO to Michigan’s Taskforce for Juvenile Justice Reform.