Sunday, April 28, 2013

My Journey

In the latter part of 2010 I began with working with "At Risk Youth" at William M. Raines High School here in Jacksonville, Florida after leaving corporate America. It was there and the students that inspired me to make an even bigger impact on the world. Initially I wanted to reach out to young people in prison and keep their letters in a notebook on my desk and when students would enter I would let them read it, to spark a conversation with them about their behavior and where it could leave them. A large percentage of them knew "Eddie" from middle school. They wore "Free Eddie Shirts", they gave him shoutouts on social media sites and even told me what a fun loving kid he was and they couldnt believe he was charged with murder. I searched news archives and blindly reached out to young people or people who were young at the times their crimes were committed. Once contact was made I starting writing each respective subject of the book without ever discussing the crimes they committed yet their lives before they got to prison. I found that they all dealt with issues at home some worst than others. They included single parent homes, drug abuse, alcoholism, feelings of abandonment, divorce, environment, homelessness and poverty. Many people think of these risk factors as excuses but working with the youth I see everyday how these factors can have an affect on children. They began to feel hopeless and resort to filling these voids with people and things. As David is quoted as saying in the book "Drugs are alternates to happiness missed from those we love or long to love". With each letter I received I learned something new about them. They once had hopes and aspirations and never in a million years did they think they'd be faced with spending the rest of their lives in prison. As time progressed I set up interviews to meet them face to face and I'll admit at first I was afraid not of them but the idea of visiting a prison alone. I was generally setup in an empty office with the inmate and a panic button. I never felt the need to use and often times sat it down after becoming engaged in conversation. I realized that these are people. No matter how the media tries to portray them and no matter the crime they were convicted of they are PEOPLE. They are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and most importantly God's children. The book is just the beginning of a nationwide movement. Look for me in a school or juvenile program near you!!