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

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October 9, 2015 by socialaction2014

Juan 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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