By Kayla Seay
In my opinion, the best alternative to juvenile hall for first time offenders is being tried in youth court.
McCullum Youth Court is an alternative to the traditional juvenile court system. When I first walked into the court room I felt more comfortable that it was my peers judging me and I knew they could understand me better. They knew where I was coming from, even though some were younger than me. Every offender gets sentenced to a number of community service hours, but depending on the offense, you might get other punishments in addition. What makes this program special is that youth can be sentenced to serve as a jurors to decide other peers’ sentence.
After my hearing I don’t feel like the jury judged me fairly – they gave me the maximum sentence. But I got to meet these kids and interact with them afterwards in workshops. After I talked to some of these kids and formed friendships with some of them, they soon changed their minds about the sentence they gave me. Even though my sentence didn’t change, I still felt better that I got the chance to talk more about what happened with my peers.
The reason I ended up in youth court is because of my family. We were having fights and I started skipping school to be somewhere else. Two times a week for a month the police came to my door asking me questions as to why there was so much chaos going on. I found out that someone told the police that I was skipping school. They told me that they would have to take me into the station for processing. No sweat on my part -- I didn’t even have to be handcuffed or be put into detainment. Instead I went to a group home until my family could have a counseling meeting.
But the stressful part was that I had next to nothing with me. I had little to no food that day and it was already too late to go cook something. But things started to make more sense by morning and I calmed down. I was in the group home for three days total. Those three days were awful, I was so angry and there were bars on the windows to keep me from escaping. By the end of my stay I was calm enough to talk with my parole officer. She told me about Youth Court and referred me right away. I thought it would be a good chance to try and start something new and make things better for my family and myself.
Youth court allows you to clear your juvenile record, which I think is good for those who have minor charges such as a misdemeanor. To have a clean juvenile record is a relief because if I hadn’t taken the opportunity to go to this program I would be in a way worse situation, definitely I wouldn’t be telling you this story. I would be writing this from my cell, instead of having the freedoms that exist today. Especially, for the emotional freedom that comes with having clean record. I don’t have to worry about telling every future employer that I have a record lingering in my past. I can go to school and be around other people without others thinking of me as a sketchy person because of my past.
The program has changed me and I see myself now as a person who has learned to deal with situations better and have taken advantage of the programs around be. For example I’m attending voluntary counseling, ever since I left McCullum three years ago. It has helped me to understand the reasons behind my family’s dysfunction and my reactions to them. My counselor has also helped me deal with situations in a calmly manner and to look for signs of a potential argument.
I think the McCullum is beneficial because they have a nine step program to help you clear your record and get you back to your life in a better way than before.