When I was in 6th grade, I moved from Washington State to Sarasota with my mom. It was a rough transition, as I was away from my dad, and also got bullied, yet I still managed to get straight A's and receive numerous awards in school.
In 8th grade, I met a boy and we started dating. He smoked marijuana and offered it to me several times. At first, I said no to his offers, but eventually I tried smoking marijuana. This boy had a bad home life and he ended up living with my family . The more I was around him, the more I would smoke. All throughout middle school I was active in dance, so in 9th grade I went to Booker High School for their VPA Dance program. Even though dance was something I loved, I started smoking marijuana before class in the morning and also skipping school. My grades were dropping and I wasn't in a healthy state of mind, which just made me want to smoke more. I was still dating the same boy and our relationship was not healthy, but I was stuck. I was aware of my talents and potential and knew that all I had to do to succeed was make a choice to put effort into dance and school, but I chose not to.
Eventually, things were bad enough with that relationship that I broke up with the boy, but felt very depressed. I wound up doing virtual school at home while also babysitting my baby brother. My mom was getting divorced again and we lived in a shelter for 2 weeks. There was no stability in my life and everything was hard. I somehow managed to transfer to Sarasota High School, which was my school of choice, and enter the APEX program as a way to get my grades up. I wasn't challenged in school and my boredom contributed to getting into trouble. I was smoking marijuana every day at this point and in my senior year of high school I was caught with marijuana when my friend's car was pulled over by a police officer.
The amount of marijuana I took responsibility for, to cover for friends (some of it was mine), was enough for a felony charge. I was already aware of just how damaging that would be to my future. When my mom picked me up from the police station the next morning, I felt like I failed her. It was so emotional and I felt so ashamed of myself.
Thankfully, I was given the opportunity to come through Teen Court! Along with being sentenced to jury duties and community service hours, I had to go through Camp X-RAYD. That experience had a huge impact on me. Throughout the day of Camp X-RAYD I just kept thinking, "I'm not supposed to be here. I never want to get in trouble again. It's not worth it." I was especially affected by our tour of the Medical Examiner's office. I was so young and had my whole life ahead of me. It was heartbreaking to hear stories of young people like me who lost their lives because of poor choices. I couldn't imagine my mom losing me or my brother. I knew that I was better than my choices leading up to this point and I wanted to make a change.
My experience with Teen Court was wonderful. The staff was so nice and super supportive. They helped me get through whatever I needed to get through. I kept to myself at jury duty and took the process seriously, learning a lot from the speakers who would come talk to us during Peer Circle. I started going to the gym and working out everyday. I was working part-time and focused on getting my grades up. At some point, my school said I wouldn't be allowed to walk with my class for graduation based on the incident which brought me to Teen Court. This was devastating to me. Graduating high school is a big part of your life, and it's a big accomplishment to walk across that stage - I was heartbroken I wouldn't have that opportunity. After seeing how hard I was working on everything, my case manager, Shaun, reached out to Sarasota High School and advocated for me to be able to walk with my class during graduation. I still remember hearing the news that I would be able to walk with my class; it made me so happy! I will always be grateful to Shaun for believing in me.
If it weren't for Teen Court, I would have a charge and conviction on my record. So many doors would have been closed for me, but instead I was able to finish the program, graduate high school, and begin working full-time to save money for college. Teen Court is amazing. It can help kids open their eyes and realize what their actions lead to - especially if they aren't getting that guidance at home. The staff is amazing. I never felt judged. They understood what I was going through and they wanted to help. The program gives you a chance to fix yourself. Teen Court totally saved me!
I'm so excited about my future, as I will be starting a two-year college program for fashion design in January. I'm really creative and love making clothes, so I want to have my own line of clothing one day. I also decided to start giving back by sharing my story at Teen Court sessions during Peer Circle. My advice to kids participating in Teen Court now is to take everything they can from the experience, and to take it seriously. Hopefully, my story will be able to inspire someone, just like I was inspired by the speakers who came while I was there.
None of this would be possible if I weren't given a second chance!
You can help a young person like Alina today by giving the gift of a second chance!