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Your Turn: Juvenile justice system is here to help you overcome yourself

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I read an article recently in the Napa Valley Register, “When the system works; Napa teen tells of time in Juvenile hall, Probation” (Aug. 22). I was inspired by her strength for sharing her story — the person behind her actions that do not define you.

In today’s society, the criminal justice system is looked at in negative way due to several negative accounts of the system, thus inspiring our youth to feel the same way about the juvenile justice system and rebel.

I applaud this young woman for sharing her experience and showing there is hope for change. We are not defined by our actions, especially as juveniles. We make mistakes, and some larger than others. But change is possible; the juvenile justice system offers several tools for this, and I lead this statement by example.

I was born to be a statistic, yet with the juvenile justice system’s help, as well as help from my family, I was able to prove that nothing can define you.

I was born in prison in Merced, where my mother was serving a sentence in Chowchilla. Shortly after, my father passed away from a heroin overdose in a popular burger joint in downtown Napa.

My mother showed strength and endurance and changed her life around, later working for CANV and giving back to the homeless population.

I hated school because I was constantly teased and bullied for being poor and not having nice things. I endured being bullied throughout elementary school and middle school, until eighth grade where I turned to drugs and alcohol to numb myself.

I come from a family with heavy addiction, and despite knowing this warning, I was easily sucked into drug use. It came naturally.

At 13 years old, while my mother was at work, I snuck off with a group of people and almost killed myself with alcohol poisoning. I drank two fifths of vodka and blacked out, head-butting the inside of a cop car and having to be restricted to a hospital bed. My alcohol level was two times the legal limit and rising.

This led me to the youth diversion program with Toni McIntosh. But it wasn’t enough for me to stop, and my actions spiraled even further.

At 15 years old, I ended up on probation for battery, I was under the influence of ecstasy and alcohol and physically assaulted two innocent girls.

When I entered the juvenile justice system, I was a mess, to say the least. I was drinking every day, using drugs and not caring. I was with people I had no business being with, doing things I had no business doing, in places that could have killed me.

I rebelled against my mother and took advantage of her, because I thought I knew everything, and could do anything and nobody could tell me what to do. I knew I was hurting her, but it wasn’t enough to make me stop.

That is where juvenile probation changed my life. I stilled rebelled in the beginning of my probation, still using drugs and drinking and not going to school. Yet as hard as I pushed against my terms of juvenile probation, juvenile probation pushed hardier. I was shuffled around onto different caseloads until Deputy Probation Officer Elisabeth Harvey received my case.

Mrs. Harvey placed me in the Wolfe Center, a rehabilitation center for youth. I rebelled, yet was placed in juvenile hall for 30 days, where I was forced to clean up and face reality. That 30 days changed my life because I was forced to see that I am not indestructible. I was forced to see all of the “friends” I had are no where to be found.

I completed the Impact program, ERC program, and ART program. I still had some bumps in the road and was kicked out of the Wolfe Center and transferred to Liberty High School. I was incarcerated two more times, as I started to lose sight of my goals.

Yet with each incarceration, I was reminded that this wasn’t the life for me. I value my freedom, I value myself. I didn’t want to continue to hurt my mother, and I didn’t want to continue to be defined as a delinquent, I was more than that. I was worth more then that, and my life meant more than that.

At 18 years old, I found out I was pregnant, and everything came into perspective. I was told I would never graduate high school, let alone get a job. But that wasn’t who I was.

With the tools juvenile probation offered, and determination, I made up almost a year’s worth of credit in a half a year and graduated with my class of 2012. I walked the stage five months pregnant, and never looked back.

I successfully completed my juvenile probation, yet I wasn’t done with the juvenile justice system. I decided this was my calling and wanted to be a part of a system that has such a positive impact on our youth.

So today, I am six years clean and sober, and five weeks away from completing my Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration, with a concentrating in human services in criminal justice, maintaining a 3.6 GPA. I also was referred to and accepted in the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. Also, in November I’m starting my master of science in counseling/clinical mental health counseling. I am the first person in my family to graduate from college, and I thank the juvenile justice system.

I want to share my story to show that no matter what life has given you, no matter if you take the wrong turn down a dark road, there is always light if you seek it. There is always another choice; do not feel your life is over because you made some bad choices, because they do not define you. You are in control of your life path and your destiny, don’t sell yourself short.

The juvenile justice system is here to help you overcome yourself, and your obstacles, and I can testify to it.

Sophia Edwards lives in Napa.

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