Juvenile Justice System: Alisa’s Story

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I'm from a small town in Missouri. It all started when I was 13. I started rebelling, and I ended up stealing my dad's car.

I then got put in juvenile. Two weeks after being on probation for that, I stole another car... I was then placed in a treatment center which did nothing for me.

After I got released from there, I was still on probation. I then started smoking pot, drinking, fighting, and skipping school. So I continuously and gradually got into more trouble.

My juvenile officer had me do the "Scared Straight" program, which also didn't work at all. [The inmates] only made me mad by yelling in my face and telling me that if I didn't stop, I'd be where they were. The more everyone tried to tell me what to do, the more I felt I had to rebel.... I didn't understand why I wouldn't listen to them then, because I didn't want to be locked up, but I definitely didn't want everyone telling me what to do. I thought I was grown... But I know now that I wasn't.

My judge gave me too many chances. Finally, the last time I was in there, she placed me in Division of Youth Services custody. I no longer had a probation officer. I had a service coordinator. I was placed in juvenile [detention] until an opening at a girl's facility was open. A grand total of 7 months.

From there, I went to a girls' group in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. I could not leave there till I completed the program. You had to start as a level 1 and earn your level 4, which was really a blessing in disguise. Ever since my first day there, my life has not been the same.

I was there for well over a year... But all the staff members and the teacher there were the most wonderful, and amazing people I've ever been around in my entire life...

What changed? The staff at Sierra Osage helped me realize that it wasn't that I was just a wild child, and I wasn't just fighting people because I was mean.

I was acting out because I was a child from a broken home and I was hurt and and lost, and I felt alone. That I was angry/hurt at my family, for how I was treated and being around things and seeing things that a child shouldn't have to see. And that I just needed to talk about everything that hurt me in my life and get it off my chest. To not let those feeling of hurt build up anymore and allow them to turn into anger.

The staff helped me get through all of it and helped me with all of the social skills and coping skills that I would need to be a productive woman in society. They taught me everything I would need to know to be able to deal with the struggles that life throws at you along you way.

We did all kinds of different fundraisers and volunteer work, and it made me feel and realize I am wonderful person and don't have to end up like my family. With the level 4 system, it gave me the confidence I needed for when I came home. I'm proud to say, I left a level 4!! I knew I was ready.

Since I've been out. which is 6 years now, I have not been in any trouble. I even had a couple curve balls thrown at me one month after getting out: I lost my dad in a car accident and exactly two weeks later, I lost my best friend to suicide. If it wasn't for all the coping skills, and them teaching me that I'm a strong person, I would have been right back to where I started...

I am now 23 yrs old. I was going to go to school to be a kindergarden teacher, but recently with a change of heart I decided to become a youth specialist... I was looking further into that and I found the Reclaiming Futures page and figured I would tell my story.

Here's hoping my story helps kids in some way. I want to help kids the way that Sierra Osage has done for me! I thank God every day for putting them in my life. And for them directing me onto the path I was capable of going down!

The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.

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