October 22, 2015 by socialaction2014
This theme for this year’s Youth Justice Awareness Month is, “The Power of Sharing Stories”. All month long CFYJ will share stories of youth and family members that have been impacted by the adult criminal justice system. This week we share the story of juvenile justice advocate, Keela Hailes.
Keela is the mother of an incarcerated youth in the adult prison system. Keela and her son moved to Anacostia in D.C. when her son was 14 years old. Anacostia is located in Ward 8 of D.C. which has a population composed of roughly 95% African-Americans and is also the most impoverished ward with about 51% of its children living in poverty. At 16 her son started hanging out with a different group of friends, and his grades started slipping. One day she received a phone call telling her that her son was arrested. She went to the juvenile court where his hearing was to be taken place to look for answers. However, being that this was her first experience with the system she was confused when she noticed that there were adults in the same courtroom that her son was to be brought in. After waiting about 40 minutes her son was presented alongside two other individuals. Her son was being charged with armed robbery which came to a shock to her since she had no idea what was happening. She tried asking the attorney what was going on, but the attorney had little knowledge as well since she was just appointed the case at that moment. When her son didn’t come back out from the hearing she was informed that her son had been tried as an adult and that he was to be held in D.C. jail. He was eventually transferred to Wisconsin and then Devil’s Lake, North Dakota to serve his sentence in adult prisons.
There was a period where Keela had not seen her son for about a year and a half until she was given an opportunity to fly out to see him. The Campaign for Youth Justice paid for her flight and hotel and she was able to visit her son for a weekend. When her son finally returned to D.C. he was not in the state of mind to be relaxed. He was in an awkward stage because he knew he set a bad example for his family and siblings. To be back in the community that influenced him to take actions that eventually got him arrested was one of the concerns that Keela had. He was eventually re-arrested in 2010. Keela saw that the community needed more resources to help youth so she started working with Free Minds, a book club/writing workshop for youth detained as adults. Keela worked with young adults who were out of prison looking to re-enter society, and she tried helping them with resources for housing, job readiness and anything they needed. The way she puts it, “I would want someone to do the same thing for my son.”