Guiding At-Risk Youth Through the Juvenile Justice System
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Jim, 24, has an associate degree in human services from Borough of Manhattan Community College and a bachelor’s degree in political science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He plans to attend New York University in the fall to begin work on earning a master’s degree in public administration. He is the founder and driving force behind PLOT (Preparing Leaders of Tomorrow), a nonprofit mentoring organization that focuses on at-risk youth. Jim shares his experience in the juvenile justice system and his passion for working with young people.
Describe your experience with the juvenile justice system.
I spent approximately three and a half years in the juvenile justice system as a youth. My mother was absent for most of my life, and my father struggled with drugs and alcohol and was extremely abusive. In addition, my neighborhood was plagued by violence, drugs, and poverty. Prior to my troubles with the law, I struggled with marijuana addiction, alcohol poisoning, and brief homelessness. Unfortunately, I was caught up in that cycle which led me into the juvenile justice system. While incarcerated, I lost numerous friends to gun violence and many more to the adult prison system.
However, the juvenile justice system turned out to be the best thing that happened in my life as a youth. I met some caring mentors who took an interest in me and helped me to change my life around. I was inspired by attorneys and staff at the facility where I stayed while I was incarcerated and by other individuals I encountered during my darkest days. They supported me through everything and continue to do so today. As a matter of fact, I’m very close friends with them to this day. Those mentors helped me to realize that there is more to life than the negativity that surrounded me as I was growing up. Eventually, with help from the teachers at the facility, I changed my life around.
What role have mentors played in your life?
I was fortunate to have many astonishing mentors in my life during my darkest days. They helped me with school, housing, employment, and much more. They were very consistent as mentors and are responsible for all of the success that I’ve achieved during the past few years. They inquired about my background, tried to understand my troubles, and showed me that there was more to life than what I was accustomed to. They embodied what it means to be effective mentors and caring adults. They told me when I was wrong, encouraged me to do right, and challenged me to do better. They were available to me at all times and supported me when needed. They were staunch advocates for the services that I needed to help me climb the ladder of opportunity. Now, my purpose in life is to secure those same resources and opportunities for every at-risk youth and give them a fair shot at life.
What are you up to now?
Currently, I’m a residential care advocate for the Administration for Children’s Services in New York City. I’m also the executive director of PLOT. I’ve advocated for juvenile justice and at-risk youth at the local, state, and federal levels of government. Every day, I work directly and indirectly with hundreds of young men and women.
Share some words of wisdom for youth who may be struggling.
If you’re a young person who is currently dealing with hardships and difficult times, this is my advice for you: find a positive mentor, don’t use drugs or alcohol, exercise, read, make education your number one priority, and stay away from negative influences. Also, understand that after the rain, comes sunshine. God put you here for a purpose that’s greater than yourself. Don’t give up on yourself and understand that no one can help you if you’re not willing to help yourself.
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