I was 10 years old when I had my first encounter with the police. By 11, I was locked in a juvenile detention center for the first time. My adolescence was spent in and out of the system, and when I was 17, I was waived into the adult system. I didn't get out until I was 26.
I know what it's like to grow up in the youth justice system, which is why I recently testified in favor of a bill here in Indiana that would make sure children under the age of 12 aren't locked in detention centers when they mess up, but instead get the support they need to get on the right track.
When you are that young, there's so much you don't understand — about life, about punishment, about right and wrong. Yet for so many Black kids, one mistake can put you down a path that can feel impossible to escape.
When I was young, I met a kid even younger than me who at 8 years old was sentenced to serve time for stealing food from a dollar store. A few other young boys and I took this kid under our wing, but he still experienced all kinds of trauma. When kids so young are in detention centers, they're at a greater risk for sexual assault, bullying and intimidation.
If a child is stealing food, a community's response should not be to lock him up and put additional strain on his family.
I've been out of the justice system for eight years and now I'm using my experience to be the advocate I needed back then — someone who will speak to the lifelong harm done by locking children up.
I'm glad Stand for Children is working on changes to youth justice in Indiana and throughout the country so that kids and families have a fighting chance to succeed and thrive. I want to be a part of the evolutionary changes, not just for our youth but for families as well.
If we provide children with other paths to pursue in life, we'll get to see the incredible places they end up in the future.