Friday, 9 October 2015

#YJAM: The Story of Juan Peterson- Juvenile Justice Advocate

grew up in Washington, D.C., in a section of town that is plagued by
violence. His father was in and out of jail, so he grew up primarily
with his mom and younger brother. He was never a “problem” child, and
didn’t get into trouble until his mid-teens. At 16, police went into his
home at night to arrest him for an armed robbery carjacking. He awoke
to the barrel of a rifle pointed at him. As he was being taken into
custody, he remembers that he was afraid of the “unknown”. He was left
in the dark with no lawyer, not knowing what was going on, and no
communication with his family. When he went to court, he admitted to
knowing about a possible carjacking that one of his friends or
acquaintances committed, but he was never there. This was enough to try
him as an adult with a conspiracy conviction, which sentenced him to
eight years in adult prison. He was transferred far from his family in
D.C. first to Montana, then to Washington State, Utah, California and
finally Virginia.

“Getting out was the easy part, staying out is
hard,” he recalls. There is no exit procedure from prison, no
psychological evaluation, no assessment of education or career skills,
or assessment of whether he had a home to return. Juan received a
promise that he needed to find a job or he would be put back in prison.
However, getting a job was difficult due to his record. He could not
get a job as a warehouse worker, which he was more than qualified for.
He had fifty seven job interviews before he was given an opportunity
somewhere. Now he works at a hospital and volunteers with a group called
Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop. Free Minds is an
organization that offers resources to youth incarcerated as adults. The
resources they provide range from job readiness training, outlets for
creative expression, violence prevention outreach and more. The unique
aspect of Free Minds, is that some volunteers, like Juan, have formerly
been incarcerated and can youth who are incarcerated a positive example
to follow. They show that there is potential in everyone and that there
is still room to have a positive impact on the community.

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