“I was young. I was young, and after that moment, that’s when I just got so mature, I didn’t even play anymore. Like it almost took my childhood away, and it made me just numb to everything. I didn’t even want to play… That one experience, that one moment, being looked at like a criminal. It was life changing for me.”
Jeffrey (age 21) is a senior at Jackson State University who is making plans to go to law school. He has taken the LSAT, and he is currently taking advantage of opportunities to shadow and intern with juvenile defense attorneys in Mississippi and Georgia.
He grew up on the west side of Atlanta and moved to the east side, to DeKalb County, when he was 10 years old. In school, he was popular student, an athlete who always made good grades. After an incident in the locker room, he and other members of the 8th grade track team were suspended and charged with false imprisonment by a county prosecutor using his discretion in accordance with the state’s recently enacted bullying law. Jeffrey had just turned 14. The judge accepted his admission of reckless conduct, and he was placed on probation for 6-9 months. He completed his conditions in full, and court supervision was terminated after 4 months. Two years after his case was closed, his public defender filed a motion to seal his juvenile record. His record is now a clean slate.
Joann: "We can get started. So, I'm here basically to talk about juvenile justice."
Jeffrey: "Let's talk about it."
Joann: "What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words "juvenile justice."
Jeffrey: "The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the world "juvenile justice" is the justice part because there's definitely no justice in America for juveniles."
Joann: "When you say the word "juvenile," what does that mean to you? How does that make you feel?"
Jeffrey: "It makes me think about not just the black youth in America, but all youth. And how desperate the lives of the youth are here in America based on the fact that every day, more and more youth are being incarcerated. At not just the juvenile level, but at the adult level, as well."
Joann: "As youth."
Jeffrey: "As youth."
Joann: "What you say?"
Joann: "So, tell me, before we get into your specific juvenile justice story, tell me a little bit about your personal story. Tell me a little bit about yourself and where you grew up and tell me how old you are. And we can go from there."
Jeffrey: "My name is Jeffrey, and I'm from Atlanta, Georgia. From the west side of Atlanta, Georgia. I grew up there, and then I moved to Dekalb County. [inaudible 00:01:36] Mountain, where I basically went to school. I went to school there. And it was a culture shock coming from the west side of Atlanta to the east side of Atlanta. It was way different. People weren't as humble as they were down in the real Atlanta based on the metro Atlanta."
Joann: "You said people weren't as humble. What do you mean?"
Jeffrey: "Weren't as humble, people weren't as understanding, if I could say. So people didn't have to work for what they always had as in where I came from, people were given things. So it was always just a tad bit different than what I was used to."
Joann: "So, if people were given things, kind of a sense of entitlement?"
Jeffrey: "A sense of entitlement, a sense of privilege. It was just different. Coming from where I came from, it wasn't so much privilege. It was more of everything was earned."
Joann: "Gotcha. So, how old were you when you moved? And tell me about your old school versus your new school."
Jeffrey: "Wow. I was actually about 10 years of age when I moved. And when I moved ... At first, going to the old school, it was just different. Everyone was the same. Everyone was the same, coming from the same background, the same opportunity in a sense. So, it was never looked at as if I didn't have something. So, going to the new school, middle school, high school was the same kids. But I had friends, I always was popular. But I just always knew that you had to have something to be looked at."
Joann: "What do you mean by that?"
Jeffrey: "Meaning you had to have something to show, rather than just being yourself. Not having anything to show everyone on the same level. At the new school, people looked at me as if you had to have something to be cool. The newest shoes, the newest clothes. It wasn't ... Oh, you could go to school with your shorts on and a t-shirt, gym shorts. A little more ... I had to dress up every day. It's more about image. And that's what was way different. The image that you have to obtain and withhold in a sense."
Joann: "So, tell me about kind of ... What would happen at home versus at school? If you would get into trouble, if you weren't doing so well. What were your expectations at home versus your expectations at school in terms of your authorities and the adults that were around you?"
Jeffrey: "As far as the authorities and the adults, I was always kind of a popular kid, so teachers would always go at me. So I would respond at times, but it was a never an issue with authority. I'd never had a problem with authority, I've never had problems with grades in school. I never had those problems. I always kept a 3.5. I even graduated high school at a 3.7 and graduated with honors. I think I was 23rd in my class."
Joann: "Out of a class of what? How many?"
Jeffrey: "Out of a class of 300. At least 300. I went to a five A school in Georgia, so it was different."
Joann: "What was your home life like? What were your relationships like with your family members?"
Jeffrey: "The relationship with my family members ... With my mother, because I stayed with my mother and my step-father. And I was always seeing my dad because I play sports, and it was always our way of branching out. So, I had my father in my life, also a step-father. My step-father was from a different country. He was actually from somewhere in Africa, west Africa, to be exact. And growing up, I just got the best of both worlds. Living in the east side of Atlanta. It was different. Growing up over there, I got a taste of the better life, so it was different. Home life was great, in all honestly. With my mother, we even clash sometimes, but that's a mom and her son. You may clash at times, but as time went on, we got so much closer. And I cannot say anything bad about my home life. It was great."
Joann: "Do you have siblings?"
Jeffrey: "I do have siblings. I have a lot of siblings. In my mother's household, I have my two sisters that live with me. And they're still babies. One's in middle school, and one is in elementary school. And on my father's side, with one woman, he has one child, which is a brother of mine, and he has a sister, which is my sister. And I also have another sister and another brother. So in total I have four sisters. As a mater of fact, four sisters. I have so many siblings. And two brothers. So, it's a big family. And I'm the oldest out of all of my siblings. So I'm looked up to as to [succeed 00:07:08]."
Joann: "So, tell me about this incident that happened when you were arrested. Or how did you get into trouble where you had to ..."
Jeffrey: "To be exact, I was never arrested."
Jeffrey: "Okay. I was never arrested. And with the incident, it was in middle school, the eighth grade. And it was just a day in the locker room, we were really just playing. Playing around. And basically, the guy who was involved, the victim, quote on quote "victim" ... We were just playing around in there in the locker room ... People play in the locker room. And he ended up in a locker. He took it extremely serious. He was all hurt and everything. So he took it to the coach at first, I'm assuming. Or the coach asked him what was wrong with him. Then, after that, that's when they took it to the principal, and that's when they took it to the county. And it just got overly and overly serious, when in reality, in the moment, he was laughing as well."
"But, I guess, out of embarrassment and out of how he felt ... He wasn't feeling too well about how he felt. He felt embarrassed. He was a smile guy. He just took it to heart, and that's really what happened. It just went on and on. We had to go through the county and everything, case after case. It started small, but then it actually got bigger. And that this time, in Georgia, that's when the bullying law had just became active. And it was really like a big deal. And I looked at it as horrible because kids were committing suicide and everything."
Joann: "Did you ever have a formal charge?"
Jeffrey: "I actually did have a formal charge, but it's no longer on my record."
Jeffrey: "I actually did have a charge."
Joann: "Can you talk about it and talk about the process that you were able to get it off your record?"
Jeffrey: "I actually... When I had the charge, it was for... It was false imprisonment, at first. And then it got dropped down to reckless conduct. And at first it was for a felony. They were going to try to charge me a felony for false imprisonment. All of us were going to get charge for false imprisonment. That's big. That's years. So it didn't go like that. I had a public defender, and she actually helped me because I was a great student. I was actually a great student and great in the classroom and no one could ever say anything that was just bad about me. And I was great, on my part, having a clean record, a clean slate. A good background to rest on."
"I was able to actually write ... I wrote a poem. They made me write a poem in the county. It was a county's case, and they made me write a poem or whatever. And basically, I ended up in middle school competing with high school students. I managed to get third. So, it was kind of ironic. And then I wrote a paper, as well. A five page paper. I can't remember what the paper was about, but if I could say now, it was about seven or eight years ago. If I could say now, I think it was about Martin Luther King type speech. Something like that. But that's what the poem was about, as well, about a black man being a black man."
Joann: "Was that kind of ... Did that come out of this particular experience? You said they made you write a poem. When you were in county, they made you write a poem. Does that mean the school made you write a poem?"
Jeffrey: "Not the school, but the actual court, the judge. The actual judge made me write a poem and enter a poem contest. So me being in middle school, I was actually competing with 12th graders and 11th graders. And I was on a big scale competing."
Joann: "How old were you at the time?"
Jeffrey: "At the time I was about 14, 15 years old. I was young. I was young. And after that moment, that's when I didn't ... I just got so mature, I didn't even play anymore. It almost took my childhood away and made me just numb to everything. I didn't even want to play. So that's why I'm so serious now. And that's why I'm able to at times just be alone and just work and prosper on my own without having anyone to just ask for help. So I just do most of everything on my own. My parents help, of course. But as far as me being prosperous and still managing to keep my academics and my athletics in order and actual dean's list scholar and all of it. It was all on me. So that one experience, that one moment, being looked at like I a criminal, it was kind of life changing for me."
Joann: "So you said the incident in the locker room, were there a number of people involved? Were you singled out? Or did you have so called charge partners?"
Jeffrey: "Oh, I definitely wasn't singled out. It wasn't just me. It was about at least six or seven. It was like a whole track team. The whole track team [inaudible 00:12:47]. But it wasn't that serious. It was more everyone was playing. So the whole team was involved, I should say, [inaudible 00:12:54] about at least a track team isn't that big, but it was at least about eight guys, nine guys at the practice."
Joann: "Did you all have to go through ..."
Jeffrey: "We all had to go through court. We all had to go through court. Some students got charges that are probably still on their record. And some got expunged. But it was based on what type of student were you. What was your reputation already? And that's most of the time how it works in court for black youth and any type of youth."
Joann: "When you think about what happened in your situation versus the other guys that were in that situation, do you think you came out better than all of them?"
Jeffrey: "I would say I wasn't the only one to come out successful, but as far as I looked, and I look at myself now what I'm doing. I would say that I came out probably the best."
Joann: "Just… not necessarily in terms of your life since then, but in terms of the actual getting charges dropped, it sounds like some of them actually did get the charges and had to go through with kind of harsher punishments, so to speak."
Jeffrey: "Yes. Some of them had to go through harsher punishments, but I came out good. But it was also a couple of guys that came out great, as well. Everyone didn't get charged. It was probably about one guy, two guys that really got charged. But out of the eight or nine guys, seven or eight guys. It was about five or six that got their records expunged and everything went smooth for them. I just managed to get a great public defender. I managed to get a great public defender who really had my back. She did everything she was supposed to do to make sure that I was successful."
Joann: "Tell me about that process in the school. You said this obviously was a result of a complaint by the victim to the principal, and then it kind of went up and then there were formal charges. So there wasn't a school resource officer, it wasn't like immediately after the fact somebody came up[crosstalk 00:15:04]."
Jeffrey: "It was not immediately after the fact. I would have to say it was ... If it wasn't the next day, it was the next two days after."
Joann: "So, what was your reaction and what was the reaction of your family members when you actually were pressed with charges. Like, if somebody said, "We are making these allegations."
Jeffrey: "My mother was actually hurt. She really broke down. She wasn't in her right mind after that. It took her some time with ... It was devastating for us because we didn't think that it was that serious of a deal. It was made very, very serious."
Joann: "How long was that process? At what point did they say, "Okay, we're charging you with something. You're going to get a public defender." How were your rights explained to you?"
Jeffrey: "They actually brought me into the principal's office. And I called my mother in. But first, we had to write a personal statement. And that's where I should have ... A lot of times, in schools, they give personal statements, but a student has no idea what they're even writing. And I should have called my parent at that moment when I was given a personal statement to write. But the whole process, I ended up missing half of my eighth grade year. Half of my ... Half. Half of the school year. I was suspended for months. I was actually suspended for eight weeks. I was suspended. And then I managed to get back to school after the whole ordeal was done."
Joann: "Who were the people that were explaining to you what was happening? Somebody made you write-"
Jeffrey: "An assistant principal. It was not a resource officer. It was a staff member from the school."
Joann: "So, when you were writing the statement, did you have any idea that it was going to be ..."
Jeffrey: "Used in court? Being in the eighth grade, I had no idea that what I was saying was going to end up being in court. And that's where the issues came, in a sense."
Joann: "What do you mean?"
Jeffrey: "When you're in court, especially when you're young, you write someone a paper, not saying that I lied, but I was telling the truth. But I had other members from the track team saying different things. Everyone's story was way different. So, it just was a lot of issues. That brought a lot of tension. Because I also didn't just play with these guys on the track team. I actually went to school with them for a while. So, it just took a lot out of me, out of my family. Not being able to fin- ... I finished eighth grade year, but not being able to ... Actually being at school. I missed almost a whole school year, managed to still come out with a three ... I was a great student in the [inaudible 00:18:07], too."
Joann: "So, at what point did you realize that this statement that you had made was going to be basically used against you in a certain way and did the-"
Jeffrey: "When I got in court. Not when I got in court, but the day they all ... They brought us all in for ... In middle school, they have a round table discussion. And that's when I basically was informed. That was the first real, real deal case. Real case briefing, in a sense."
Joann: "Were they all school administrators, or were they somebody from the ..."
Jeffrey: "It was all school administrators, and I think one security officer from the school."
Joann: "Okay. So, was this something that was completely handled under the auspices of the county juvenile court?"
Jeffrey: "Yes, it was. This was actually handled in juvenile court. And after we went to the juvenile court in [inaudible 00:19:18] County, we basically ... That was the end of it. They didn't take it any further. But we had to go through the school, then we had to go through something right after that. We had to go through another case briefing after that. So we started from the school, but the furthest that we went was actually juvenile court. We had to go through the county board at first after we went through the school, and then we end up in the juvenile court. So I went through three court cases, each one got more and more serious."
Joann: "What was required of you ... During those times, did you ever have to get up and speak?"
Jeffrey: "Oh, yeah. They definitely brought me to the stand to speak and say exactly what happened. Plenty of times."
Joann: "So you told the story over and over?"
Jeffrey: "Over and over. Over and over. Over and over."
Joann: "Tell me about your relationship with your public defender."
Jeffrey: "She is actually great. I actually still look up to her because she's still actually in my life and I still actually contact her. So she made sure that I was successful. Even in high school, she made sure I still had connection with higher up people. She made sure I was still doing good in school. She checked up on me. She even got me an internship. So I actually had an internship in the [inaudible 00:20:47] County Juvenile Justice Court. Not really and internship, that sounds a little ... But I had a shadowing opportunity and she let me come in. And she let me watch a court case whenever I was ready, and I did that the whole summer. The whole summer in my junior year in my sophomore year in college."
Joann: "So, tell me about the actual ... When you first met her, and what that whole process was like. Trying to figure, "Man, I've got an attorney. What does that mean?"
Jeffrey: "When I first met her, I actually ... I don't trust people right off the bat. I took me some time, but once I seen that she was very genuine, I couldn't resist. I always told her everything, make sure everything was okay, and she looked out for me. She really looked out for me. She still does."
Joann: "Did she have any sort of interactions ... How did it work in terms of your options?"
Jeffrey: "She definitely talked about my options, but it was more of her saying, "Oh, you're good. You're going to be good. Don't worry. You're going to be okay." Like she knew. And she brought me in to interview me and stuff and she what was going on and talked to me. So I actually met up with her two or three times before the real court case. So we had some time, I didn't just show up in the court room and had five minutes and just was on the stand. No. She actually took her time. She talked to the judge, I got a good judge. She met my mom. She took her time with us, and she made sure that everything went smooth. I was worried, but I never was too worried just based on the fact that she really cared and she had a sense of what she was doing."
Joann: "So you had an out of school suspension."
Joann: "And you had to write a poem and an essay."
Jeffrey: "Mm-hmm (affirmative)."
Joann: "Did you have to ... Were you ever detained at any point?"
Jeffrey: "At any point, I actually was not detained. But I had to go to a program, and that's when they actually gave me a program to go to and it was me and my mom. And I went to at least three or four programs. Guest speakers, people coming from jails, all of that. So I went through the whole process of the program side. Not being detained, but actually being given a program to go through. And a program I can actually say that's what really kind of hit it over the head for me and I was able to see I'm not even like anyone in this room. This is not where I need to be. And that's what kind of shell shocked me and got me back to where I needed to be."
Joann: "Going to the program in the community."
Jeffrey: "Going to the programs. And this was for like mother and son, father and son. Programs like this."
Joann: "Were they there in your home community? Did you have to go to the court? Where did you go?"
Jeffrey: "We actually went to a board in [inaudible 00:23:55] County where they had the programs being there. And just like different places around the community where they had guest speakers. It was actually everyone in there was actually just had a case and was prescribed a program. So everyone was in [inaudible 00:24:16]. But everyone had a different story."
Joann: "Were all of the other guys in your program about your same age?"
Jeffrey: "Yes. Everyone in the room was about the same age. At least middle school. That's how they do it. They keep everyone in the same age group."
Joann: "What was required of you in order to graduate from that program?"
Jeffrey: "I actually just had to attend, being there. That's the main thing. It's no, well, you have to do this, do that. It's actually so simple. You just have to calmly show up. And I don't know how that is for every child. Everyone isn't even able to make it, so they end up being detained anyway just based on that. They just want you to be there. That was pretty easy."
Joann: "So, was it as a result of the program? Or was it because of a judge's ruling? Who was it that made you write the poem and the essay?"
Jeffrey: "It was actually the judge. The judge was the one who actually wanted me to do it because he seemed to know that I was pretty bright. So he just ... He actually was the one. He was the one that did it."
Joann: "So that was kind of like your sentence, right?"
Jeffrey: "That was my sentence."
Joann: "You didn't have to do extra community service."
Jeffrey: "I didn't have to do any extra community service, anything. 'Cause I just ... They knew I was a good kid, and I did, too. I knew that I was not supposed to be right there in that moment. So that's kind of what solidified it for me."
Joann: "So, I assume you kept in touch and you were friends with the other guys that were ..."
Jeffrey: "I did."
Joann: "That were also a part of the incident. So, tell me ... What were some of the things ... Everybody had to do something different. Did they end up in the program with you? Did they have to do other sort of reparations?"
Jeffrey: "Well, what was different about it, everyone had a different program and they never put us all in the same program. So it was kind of funny. I may see one person from the whole ordeal, but we never were all together at one time. And that was what was kind of weird. Everyone kind of got their own dose of what they were given. I didn't seen anyone but like one guy, probably. They actually keep everyone kind of separated from the case, and that's pretty good [inaudible 00:26:39]."
Joann: "So, what happened the following year when you went back to school? Or whenever it was that you went back to school. Did you get back on the track team? Were you able to keep ..."
Jeffrey: "By that time, track season was over with. Track season was over with. The track season is actually in the spring. So I just finished up school strongly, and I got ready to go to high school."
Jeffrey: "I got ready to go to high school. I just finished the year off strong. Everyone was happy to see me. "Oh, you're back. You're back." But after that I just really finished up school strong, really strong. All As strong."
Joann: "So, all of this basically happened in the spring semester."
Jeffrey: "All of this happened in the spring semester. All of ..."
Joann: "Tell me, when you went back to school, what was it like in terms of your relationship with the guy who had been the victim?"
Jeffrey: "I actually didn't pay any attention to him. I just kept moving every day. 'Cause I just felt like it was blown out of proportion. And I actually lost a lot of time in school. I lost a lot of time. It took time for me to catch up and was able to get back in math, and I was taking advanced math. I was taking advanced classes. So it took time. It took so much effort. I just didn't pay him any attention at all. Every day he went to high school, I pay him no attention. Just walk past."
Joann: "So, when you went through high school ... You kind of just like ... You're like, okay. I'm done. That kind of woke some stuff up in me."
Joann: "And you had these kind of realizations. What would your advice be to someone else who's in a similar circumstance?"
Jeffrey: "The best advice I can give anyone is watch what you do. You have to watch you do because someone's always watching, and you never know how somebody's feeling on the other side of the ball. So it's best to watch exactly what you do and how you do it at every time in your life. And the best thing that I was able to do growing up having the friends that I had, going through the situations that I went through and growing up how I grew up. I didn't have to make too many mistakes in my own to know what was right or wrong. I was able to really live through people and live through their experiences. So, I never could make the exact same experiences. Some of the people that I grew up with and seen, seen grow up. So that's what ... That's the best advice I can give anyone. Watch what you do and how you do it."
Joann: "What was the hardest part about that whole process for you?"
Jeffrey: "The hardest part about it was people actually looking at you like you did something so vicious, and not just being categorized as, "Oh, this guy's just a simple good student. He's just in a bad situation." But I was being looked at as a criminal, like a real criminal. Sitting in there with kids who had committed way worse offenses that I had committed. But when you get into the jail system or the juvenile system, everyone gets treated the same. There's no distinctions, there's no ... It's nothing different. Every one is the same person. You're just another number. And I could have been just another number."
Joann: "When you say everybody's treated the same, what kind of treatment is that?"
Jeffrey: "There's no privilege involved. Everyone is being treated ... Not good, but everyone is getting treated on the same level. There's no privilege involved. That's what I mean by that. All it really takes is twice, being a juvenile. Once you get in a court room and the judge has seen you twice, it's like he's already has a way of looking at you. And once it hits that second time or that third time, it's over with. You get thrown in that cycle, that tornado, and it's hard to get out. Many people don't get out like 80% of the time."
"I have plenty of friends and plenty family members who ... I was always the good guy. And they always, "Oh, don't do this. Don't do that." And I always listened. But in turn, it took a bad turn for them. It did. Not many people were able to really just live how I was living and do exactly what they were telling me to do. It was different. Everyone had a different circumstance and different responsibilities. Some at an earlier age than others, and that's how I usually go."
Joann: "So, what are your plans now?"
Jeffrey: "My plans now, I'm going to law school. And if I don't go to law school, I plan to go and be a professional athlete. If not in the NFL, in the Canadian league, and not a lawyer, than an attorney. And not an attorney, then I'm going to have a job. A high paying job and a high quality job. And I'm not going to have to worry about anything. That I have a criminal justice job. If I'm not in law school. I'm going to law school as soon as I graduate in December."
Joann: "Oh, so tell me about it. So how old are you? And you are planning to graduate."
Jeffrey: "I plan to graduate in December and I am 21 years old. [inaudible 00:32:29]."
Joann: "So, do you already ... Have you already ... Have you been working on the LSAT? Have you already tried to apply to schools? What's that plan?"
Jeffrey: "I have take the LSAT already, but I was so focused on getting prepared for my senior season, my score didn't come out high I wanted it to come out. So right now I'm prepping, I'm starting back up my [inaudible 00:32:51]. I'm prepping again to take the test. If not in December, then another date. But I'm taking the test in December. So that's my plan. So I'm going to take the test in December, apply to law schools, and just go to law school. But I do like Emory. If I could say anywhere, I do like Emory. Love Emory. It's in Atlanta. And I also like Mississippi College here, 'cause I have a lot of connections in Mississippi as well that I've built on my own and with the help of my attorney."
Joann: "Why do ... Well, this might be an obvious one, but why do you want to go into criminal justice law?"
Jeffrey: "Why do I want to go into criminal just law? In all honesty, after the situation when I got in trouble, I always did want to help because I seen how bad it was. But when my attorney actually gave me the shadowing opportunity, and I was able to sit down in the court room and watch it myself, I had already had a mindset. Oh, I kind of want to do criminal justice. But it all started because I really didn't want to therapeutic recreation because I didn't know it was actually working with the elderly. I didn't know that. So I was like, "Man, I need another major." So I changed to criminal justice, and that's when I actually found a love for it once I got my opportunity to shadow. I knew I wanted to be an attorney. And juvenile justice attorney at that."
Joann: "So, you've actually bee studying that as an undergrad."
Joann: "Okay. And from your point of view, what do you think is the difference between being an attorney for juveniles versus being an attorney for an adult."
Jeffrey: "Wow. I never been in an adult court room, but as far as being in the juvenile court room, the difference is when you're a juvenile, you have people that are supposed to look out for you. And look out for your wellbeing and at times like being a ... Just being young and being the youth, as you speak. A lot of times, there's no guidance. And as an adult, you have way more guidance in a court room. So the decisions you make were solely partly based on your own. But being young at times, peer pressure you have all the time. All types of misuse and mishaps that can happen being young just because when you're young, you're young minded and sometimes, kids get exploited. So a lot of times, a kid that's in there, it's not even their fault. It's solely based on the misguidance. And [inaudible 00:35:44] adult, you have guidance. You should be able to make your own decisions. So it's just a little bit different."
Joann: "How did you feel when you had to get up and tell your story in front of all those people and tell it again in front of all those people. What was ... You seem like a pretty confident guy, but you were young and ..."
Jeffrey: "I just felt as if ... Just being young and being in front of a judge, I always felt like they're not going to believe you. And being in front of a judge, it seems like the judge is the controller of your life, your reality. In all senses, the judge is the all mighty judge of if you go to jail or if you're in the free world. And you can relate that to being in heaven or being in hell. The judge is the almighty judge, and telling your story to him, you really have to be able to tell the truth and be able to really get his attention because once that hammer slams, it's either this or that."
Joann: "So, who else was in the court room? Did you have interactions with the prosecution side? Whatever the county side that was making these claims against you?"
Jeffrey: "It actually was the school board. So we talked to people from the school. The people that were involved as far as the victim, the victim wasn't even in there. So when you go in the court room, we had ... Before I got to the actual real deal county, it was ... Everyone was in the room together. And you had to tell your story. You had people who decided to bring teachers to speak on their behalf. And bring so and so to speak on your behalf. But once you got into the real county, there was no one that could speak on your behalf. It's just you, your parents, and your attorney. And you all sit at one table. On the other side, you had the prosecution, but not the victim. The victim isn't in there. It's different as far as Georgia goes. Everyone is in a room once you ... Like in the [silver 00:38:06] court. Once you get to the county, you, your parent, and your attorney. That's it. And the judge, that's it."
Joann: "Would you change anything about this experience if you had to live it over again?"
Jeffrey: "If I could live this experience over again, I wouldn't never even been in that situation. I would've just left. I wouldn't even have been playing. Sometimes it's good not to play. I would not have even been playing, but I can never regret anything. You can't live in the past your whole life. So if I can say now, I probably won't regret it because now I'm so much more mature and I'm so much more aware. And I'm always able to sense when something is going wrong. If something is going wrong, I'm out of there. I'm gone. I'm gone that fast. With the snap of a finger. I know what's good and I know what's bad. And I never fall in between."
Joann: "You mentioned that the bullying ... The anti-bullying statute had just been passed and that was a big deal. How did you feel about all that? I mean, did you feel-"
Jeffrey: "I felt like I was being used as an example. At this time of my life, I felt like I was being used as an example just based on the fact that it was so many kids committing suicide and different things at that time in like 2008, '09. That was a big year as far as bullying goes. And the laws being changed and everything. So I felt like an example. I did."
Joann: "Did you feel like what happened could have been under the category of bullying?"
Jeffrey: "I felt like it was more childish play in a sense. But once I looked at it after the fact, I knew what I had done and it can be classified as bullying. If it happened today, it would be classified as bullying anywhere. Anywhere. But I felt like it was still blown out of proportion. But you got to be mindful of how you treat someone. You can't blow anything out of proportion. It is what it is, and what it says and what it looks like at times."
Joann: "What do you ... Do you think that you would have ... If I had asked you all these questions when you were 15 or 16, right after the fact that summer, how ... Would you have answered my questions different? Would you have realized then ..."
Jeffrey: "I think after the fact, after the process, me still being young ... If you interviewed me afterwards, I felt as if I would still be speaking like I was speaking."
Joann: "Right now?"
Jeffrey: "Mm-hmm (affirmative)."
Joann: "So that wasn't like a gradual realization. That was instantaneous. You go through all this stuff and you're like ... You immediately felt like a different person."
Jeffrey: "I immediately felt like a different person because I was almost isolated. I wasn't even in school. I wasn't going out anywhere. I was on lockdown in the household with my mom and my step-dad. I was on lockdown."
Joann: "Were you monitored? When you say you were on lock down, that was just like you couldn't ..."
Jeffrey: "Like, lockdown a in my parents got me on lockdown."
Joann: "Parents, gotcha."
Jeffrey: "My parents had me on lockdown. Not anyone else. But my parents were ... My mom really was strict. She became so much more strict. She treated me like ... You ever seen a mom treat her daughter, a protective mom? I had a protective mom. But she still let me have fun growing up, but she was way more mindful and protective and watchful. And she still is. She still is today. And it was just ironic how I ended up in the same courtroom shadowing and watching and really shadowing. And I was sitting in the same sits, literally, being in the same court room that I was in eight years ago. Now I'm here to help. That was the most ironic thing about the whole experience."
Joann: "Have you ... When you're doing the shadowing, were you actually able to sit in on other people's cases? Or since there's a confidentiality issue were you just kind of there with the attorneys and the judge when they were doing briefs."
Jeffrey: "Oh, no. Oh, no. I was dressed up. Every time I went in, I have locks or whatever. So I actually braided my hair up, went in, sat down, nails clipped. I actually went there and sat down and actually listened to each court case because I was allowed to based by the judge. He allowed me to come in. The same judge that could have put me underneath was the same judge to bring me back and help me prosper a little bit more."
Joann: "Do you remember his name?"
Jeffrey: "He was Judge Crawford."
Jeffrey: "It was Judge Crawford. And my attorney's name is Randee Waldman. Great woman."
Joann: "So, here, what is it like? How is it different? The court room experience when you're shadowing here? How is it different from the [Decab 00:43:14] County court."
Jeffrey: "I haven't actually had the opportunity, but it does start in September. So I will be actually shadowing in Rankin County. So that's going to be a little bit different. I'm not sure how it is going to be. But, as far as the shadowing goes, I have shadowed a person from the Southern Poverty Law Firm, and that's one of the top law firms in the nation."
Joann: "So how did you get hooked up with the Southern Poverty Law Center?"
Jeffrey: "In all honesty, it was my attorney, Randy Walton. She knows people all over the nation. So she was like, "Oh, you're in Mississipi? No problem. I know I've got someone here for you." So she had someone for me and she actually placed me where I needed to be placed. There was no issue. All I did was make a phone call."
Joann: "So, what did you get to do when you were shadowing [Jody 00:44:08] Owens?"
Jeffrey: "Well, it was just kind of different the first day. He didn't even want me to speak. He's just kind of a different guy, so he really just brought me and tried to see exactly what I wanted to do. He tried to get in my head to see what my mind wanted to do, what direction did I want to go in. I only had a shadow with him once, but it was a week ago. It's supposed to happen again this week."
Joann: "Was it in the court room or just at the office?"
Jeffrey: "I actually went in his home office. His actual office. And he showed me the office arrangement. It's downtown Jackson. And I did not know that Jackson was that nice. It's like he's in the middle ... If you pictured a rain forest, it's like a box in the rain forest like a small tree house. He's tucked away downtown with the all glass office, a 360 view. So it was something special to just hear from him. Hear what he had to say and hear him to put the details down on what I should do and which direction I should go."
Joann: "So, I'll have to check back in with you and see how that goes."
Jeffrey: "Most definitely check back in and see how everything goes."
Joann: "Is there anything else that you want to talk about? Any other parts of that process or parts of your journey that we didn't touch on that you feel are important to share?"
Jeffrey: "Well, parts of my journey ... As far as parts of my journey, as far as graduating on top, graduating with honors, going to college, still maintaining a 3.5. I'm going to graduate with a 3.7, but I'm actually working with different people up here now. Now I'm starting to shadow some of the top attorneys in Mississippi, and that's the best opportunity I could have ever asked for. And it's just so ironic how I got a chance to go to school here in Mississippi because I knew nothing about it. And now, all of these opportunities have opened up, not just on the outside where as far as being a good student, being a lawyer, but also on the athletics side."
"So everything has opened up for me. It's opened so many doors. Just being here in Mississippi and going through what I went through, and being humble and being able to understand different backgrounds and different people and everything. That's pretty much it. I can't really say too much. Everything is going good. Sometimes you can't speak to highly, but I can honestly say that I've been working with a lot of talented people and people that are really on top. Special people that's really juvenile bound defenders and really care about juveniles and the youth and the community. It's just crazy."
Joann: "Thank you so much for sharing your story."
Jeffrey: "No problem. You guys are welcome."