Personal Stories

Each year, the Center for Court Innovation touches the lives of thousands of people through its demonstration projects, expert assistance, and research. This includes addicted offenders who are offered a chance at treatment instead of incarceration, non-custodial fathers who get the help they need to make a meaningful contribution to the lives of their children, domestic violence victims who are linked to shelter and safety.... The list goes on and on. In this section of our website, we offer a handful of personal stories directly from the participants in our various programs.

Victor: A Defendant at the Midtown Community Court

When I was arrested for shoplifting and sent to Midtown Community Court, I was squatting in an abandoned building with other drug users. I was tired of going in and out of jail. What I needed was a chance, some accountability, and a complete change of lifestyle. Midtown’s judge mandated me to drug monitoring, treatment, a program called Thinking for a Change, and frequent court appearances. These elements played a major role in ending my cocaine use. Once I got clean, my relatives saw me in a different light. I’m about to start my own business. I have a nice place to live now. I needed that extra push the Court gave me.

Melissa: A Young Violence-Interrupter from Crown Heights

Melissa Scott welcoming guests to the Arts to End Violence Gallery Opening on May 23, 2012Melissa Scott welcoming guests to the Arts to End Violence Gallery Opening on May 23, 2012I was new to Brooklyn and having a hard time adjusting. Then one day, coming home from school, I saw a massive crowd of people chanting, “You save my child, I’ll save yours. You watch my back, I’ll watch yours.” I saw anti-gun posters, shirts that depicted the faces of the deceased, a poster with a child saying, “Don’t shoot—I want to grow up.” I listened to the powerful speakers and at that very moment I acknowledged myself as a member of that community; at that very moment I developed a voice.

A week later I met a violence interrupter from Save Our Streets Crown Heights (S.O.S.) When I asked him if I could join, he chuckled and asked me how old I was. He directed me to Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets (YO S.O.S.). I joined, and now I have a stable environment filled with my peers who are passionate about many things and who help me believe in myself, my environment, and my voice.

Kevin: A participant in the Youth Justice Center

I was trying really hard to turn things around in school when I got caught up with the wrong kids and got arrested. The judge put me in a program run by the Staten Island Youth Justice Center. I was there for the whole summer, and even though I was forced to go to this program, I started to really like it. We went on trips, I learned new things, and it gave me something to do every day.

Just when I thought I was done with getting into trouble, I was re-arrested. I was disappointed with myself and upset that my family would have to see me go to court again. But I got to come back to the Justice Center. My second time taught me even more than the first. I was able to do good things for my community, like help at the same shelter I had lived in when I was younger. The program helped me do better in school. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that I am a good young man and every day I learn how to be better.

Sean: A Probationer from Brownsville

I was on interim probation when I started with the Brownsville Community Justice Center. My probation officer was the person who encouraged me to enroll; I needed positive activities to occupy my time, so I filled out an application. I was excited about the program, completed the enrollment phase quickly, and began racing through my community service milestones.

Midway through the program, though, tough situations with my family came up, and I missed a few weeks of the program, but my case manager worked with me to get back on track with my goals. I wanted to be a better artist, so I was connected to an 8-week internship with Groundswell.

At Groundswell, I worked alongside professional artists on a mural project. I researched and developed a design for the project alongside other young men. Our design spoke to the minority male identity. The finished product is an awesome 30 x 45 ft portrait that speaks to the difficult things young men go through and how they can overcome tough situations. I felt proud and honored when I spoke to the crowd and camera crew at the unveiling. I still have to handle tough situations in life, but with the lessons I have learned through the Brownsville Community Justice Center, I feel more prepared to deal with what comes my way. 

Joseph: A Youth Court Member

I first became involved with the Staten Island Youth Court when I was 16 years old. I was not doing well in school and was getting into trouble with my friends. One day at school, my friends asked me to steal some money that was supposed to be for the Haiti relief fund. I was arrested and the judge in criminal court referred me to the Staten Island Youth Court. After completing my sanctions, I served two terms as a youth court member—and then continued to volunteer after my time as a member was over. My experiences with the youth court changed my perspective on the criminal justice system and myself. I no longer saw myself as a bad person—just a person who made a mistake.

Franklin: A Police Officer in the Bronx

When I first heard about Bronx Community Solutions, the word "solutions" caught my ear. My partner and I inquired how we could help assist with community service projects. The crews sometimes need police supervision to make sure everyone is safe—especially when they are painting over gang tags. I talk to the participants and encourage them to turn their lives around. These are people who have committed crimes, but at the end of the day they are still part of the community. And I think doing this kind of work makes them think twice before committing another crime.

Gwen: A Mother in Queens

In March 2009, my 15-year-old son was arrested for assault. He was ordered to attend QUEST’s after-school program. While my son was in the program, the staff made sure he got a psychiatric evaluation and then helped me work with his school to have him placed in special education. I have five other children and it has been a struggle raising them. When I went to parent support groups at QUEST, I always felt listened to and respected. My son has had his ups and downs, but he is 18 now and no longer getting into trouble. I think that without QUEST helping him and me, he would be at Rikers Island today.

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