An animal lover and a proud big brother, Jay* says his probation officer worked hard to get to know him. From helping Jay find a part-time job to helping him avoid negative influences, the probation officer has been an advocate and an inspiration.
“My probation officer made me feel like I could come to him with anything. He spent time with me one-on-one every week,” Jay said. “He learned more about me than just what I had to do for probation. He learned what I’m all about, what matters to me, and what my goals are.”
Jay participated in an OJJDP-funded program aimed at improving outcomes for youth after confinement. The program, called the We Rise Project, is part of the Alameda County Second Chance Act Juvenile Gang Intervention Pilot Program in Oakland, CA.
Through the We Rise Project, gang-affiliated youth returning to Oakland from juvenile detention receive intensive case management from a dedicated life coach and a probation officer. Participants develop a life map that outlines personal goals and identifies concrete steps needed to achieve them over 12 to 18 months. Youth can earn money for completing their life map goals.
“My probation officer made me feel like I could come to him with anything. He learned what I’m all about, what matters to me, and what my goals are.”
—Jay*, Second Chance Act program participant, Oakland, CA
One of Jay’s primary goals is to be a positive example for his three younger siblings, who are 8, 9, and 10. “My little siblings motivate me to stay out of trouble,” he explained. “My little sister’s dad is dead, and my little brother’s dad is in jail. If I’m not here, then there is no one to look out for them and make sure they are safe. They give me something to live for.”
Jay works a part-time job while finishing high school so he can help his mom buy groceries and pay other household bills. He now realizes that the small, positive decisions he makes every day are key to his success. For example, Jay has decided to stop hanging out with friends from his past. “Sometimes I have to avoid phone calls and just tell people that I can’t.”
When asked what advice he would give other reentry programs, Jay suggests the programs should ensure youth have structured housing, education and employment opportunities, and a positive person they can go to with anything. “I think that when working with youth, you just can’t give up on them,” Jay concluded. “It’s about good communication. I’m really glad my probation officer was patient with me and got to really know me.”
Jay will graduate from high school in May 2021. In the short term, he wants to get his license and a car. In the long term, he wants to find a job working with animals. “I want to be a veterinarian, but I might start by working at a shelter. I just really want to do something to help animals,” he said.
*Jay is a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the youth program participant.