My Life, Your Story
The My Life, Your Story program is a Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) initiative through its Office of Reentry Services. The program highlights the transformation of DJJ youth and grants them a conduit to reach other youthful offenders and at-risk teens through the art of letter-writing. The following letter from a DJJ youth illuminates various nuances of wisdom and grants other opportunities to learn from these lessons.
Life Can Be Challenging
As a child, life was exceedingly difficult for my siblings and me. As infants, we were all adopted. My family consisted of gangs, drugs, and abuse. Foster care was inevitable for us. The sunny side to our adoption was the fact that we all stayed together. Ms. Carol Boykins was able to take all five of us. I am very thankful she was able to be there for us in our greatest time of need. Not only did she take us in, but she took good care of us by providing clothes, shoes, and everything we needed, along with a lot of love and care. Although she tried to keep us out of harm’s way, when I was ten, things began to change. Because of the environment outside of the home, I began to adopt “less than positive” behaviors by hanging with the wrong crowd. My older siblings were already in the streets and in survival mode. Being under the influence of my older siblings, I picked up some of their survival mode characteristics. At 12 years old, I was clearly headed for trouble.
Fortunately, unlike so many of my peers, I continued to excel in school. Teachers and other adults were always impressed with my academics. I never understood their praise for my achievements. It may have been because of my love for school and learning. Although I was always on the honor roll and at the top of my class, the negative environment of sex, fast money, and gang activity became a way of life for me. During my early teenage years, I began only to have a love for my mom. I cared about her more than I did myself. All my siblings were getting in trouble which led to incarceration. The last thing I would have never imagined me being in the same situation.
On December 22nd, I was arrested and facing life in prison. Shackled and jailed, I was in a horrible situation I had tried so hard to avoid. All I could think about was how much I hurt my mom. Incarceration affects not only the incarcerated but their families as well. Fortunately for me, while incarcerated, I met some influential people that changed my life for the better. At 14, I met Mr. Kym Holley, my math teacher at the Rockdale Regional Youth Detention Center. Although he was excellent at teaching math and its application, he taught me that I was a divine original and that I was born with a positive purpose. He taught me to know that I could and would make an indisputable difference on this planet. Mr. Holley told me that this moment was only temporary and that my life would continue to move towards its positive purpose. He made me learn and remember that quote, along with many more. It was powerful. Before Mr. Holley, I never knew I could remember this much, and he told me he never met a student like me before. I believed him.
Last but certainly not least, one of the most powerful components of my journey is the dedication, compassion, and commitment of Mr. Thedartis Demps. Mr. Demps met me at age 14 when I was locked up. He encouraged, supported, and advocated for me throughout my life-changing experience. I cannot thank him and his family enough for all they have done and are still doing. He welcomed me into his home upon my release and has given me the opportunity for a better life. His actions have been monumental in my life. If only others with a challenging upbringing could experience the “village” I was blessed with, the recidivism rate would be far less.
Know and believe that you are a divine original. You can do anything; ANYTHING is possible when you believe in yourself. One of the things I have learned is you do not have to have all the answers to start creating a better life. Secondly, you must learn to be a great listener! You have twice as many ears as you do a mouth, listen more, and talk less. Finally, know what and how to use DISCERNMENT. Your associates determine your destination.
A DJJ Youth