“When a situation like that happens, you kind of cut everyone off and then you learn to be alone. You learn to be okay with being alone and just being by yourself… It kind of was like that for years because no one wanted to be around me. No one wanted to really talk to me… You learn to be okay with things. You just smile and keep going.”
When he was growing up, Ja’Vaune was a sweet, goofy kid in his classroom, always smiling, a friend to everyone. Then, starting at age 9, he went through a period of two years when he (and many other children in his neighborhood) suffered from sexual abuse perpetrated by two men who lived nearby. His testimony - at age 11 - brought one of the men to justice. He was provided no counseling or support following this trauma, and by the age of 12, the school system had pushed him out completely. He was on probation and under house arrest until he was 16, when he was in a store with some friends who were stealing. Found guilty by association, he ended up spending 18 months in secured facilities in different parts of the state.
Now 22, Ja’Vaune lives in Rockford, IL. In 2018, he was appointed by the Governor of Illinois to serve as a Juvenile Justice Commissioner on the State Advisory Group. Prior to that, he co-founded the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice Youth Advisory Council. He currently serves on the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s national Youth Advisory Council. As a gay man, he has advocated for the LGBTQ community within the juvenile system, which included the development of a resource guide for individuals who are transitioning out of the system, and he co-wrote an article about this recently for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. He is currently working on another article with a fellow Casey council member regarding their experiences of sexual abuse and the sexual abuse to prison pipeline.
Interview with JaVaune, conducted by Joann Self Selvidge for The Juvenile Project (TJP) on January 25, 2019 via phone in Rockford, Illinois.
Joann: Tell me your name and how old you are and where you’re living right now
JaVaune: My name is JaVaune Jackson. I currently live in Rockford, Illinois.
Joann: And how old are you?
JaVaune: I am 22 years old.
Joann: Tell me a little bit about where you grew up and what that environment was like and what were the most significant events that happened to you in your childhood and your early teenage years.
JaVaune: I grew up in this town called Springfield, Illinois. Growing up was kind of really hard. I was always, you know, kinda like the goofy kid in the class. I always smiled, you know, I was really good friends with everyone.
A traumatic experience, a person, you know, who has suffered from sexual abuse over the course of 2 or 3 years when I was younger. That really affected me and started to affect me in school and in my social life. Just, you know, interpreting that hurt and that pain into fighting with others, you know, in the class, with my teachers, just everyone around me even my family. My mother is a single mother at the time, so, she was always at work and it was just always me and my younger sister. So, that would be something that kind of, just, you know, transferred into my teens, you know, and me not being able to, you know, deal with that. It kind of just left me, you know, at a pause just expressing hurt.
Joann: How old were you when things started to change and what were the reactions from the people around you like, at school?
JaVaune: Well, when I was first initially was abused, I was 9 year olds and it stopped when I was 11. You know, people found out because it was like a big thing around my neighborhood because it wasn’t just me, it was a few other kids in my neighborhood also, So, 11 was when everyone found out and just everyone started treating me different. I heard, you know, I just probably deserved it happen to me. Teachers kinda just like, you know, threw me to the side like I had these problems that they didn’t want to deal with or they didn’t want to acknowledge or I was just this troublemaker in the class.
Joann: Did you have any adults that you trusted that you could confide in?
JaVaune: No, not really. Not even my own mother. You know, I kind of… we didn’t talk about it until I was like in my early twenties. When I was actually 20 years old, we actually didn’t talk about it until then. But, no, I didn’t have anyone that I really trusted.
Joann: Tell me how that affected… so, the teachers actually knew what was going on and that’s not always the case when someone has issues at home, a lot of times the teachers are completely unaware of what’s happening. Were you at the same school? Like, this was elementary to middle school. I noticed on the form that you filled out that you experienced the push out that often when kids are labeled disorderly or what have you. Tell me a little bit more about your experiences with the school pushouts, with suspensions and with disciplinary responses to your behavior.
JaVaune: Well, with the school pushout, like I said, the teachers knew. Because, like I said, it wasn’t just me. It was multiple people in my neighborhood and it was a big thing, you know? They were interviewing a few different kids given the situation that had happened between everyone who was sexually abused. They knew but with the school pushout, I began fighting and, you know, skipping some of my classes. And then what was interesting was my elementary school principal ended up being my middle school principal. So, I knew her for almost my whole life. With the pushout, it was almost before my 12th birthday before I got on probation because I had got into a big school altercation, a big fight at school, with a few guys who were making fun of me in the locker room, telling me that I shouldn’t be in there. It just felt like I had a lot of issues that they weren't able to help me with and that I was just causing a lot of problems.
Joann: What did they do?
JaVaune: Send me to a different school.
Joann: Did they send you to an alternative school through some sort of justice system engagement? Or did they just kind of expel you and say this is the only school that you... I mean, how did that work?
JaVaune: They expelled me and said that this is the only school that you can go to.
Joann: In the school system? They just said this is the only place that we’re going to let you go?
Joann: Okay. Can you tell me a little bit about how big the community is? It sounds like the community you’re in, obviously, was a smaller community?
JaVaune: No. There’s a lot of little schools. They just kicked me out of the whole district 186.
JaVaune: The school system is sorry. (...inaudible…) And the eventually, I got into a fight there, which ended up, you know, me being on probation. I ended up going to a school a school outside of the district, which was like an NAACP school, I think it was? So, it was like a program so I ended up going there.
Joann: How old were you at that time?
JaVaune: Uh, 12.
Joann: So, it’s all happened within a matter of a year?
Joann: Tell me about your interactions with school resource officers.
JaVaune: Well, they always felt like I was the cause of issues, so, anytime there wasa fight or anything, I would always just get handcuffed and taken down to the office. Or, they would send me to like, we had this thing called like ‘the buddy system’ so, if you got kicked out of class, you would go to a ‘buddy room’. Then you go to, uh, it’s like a safety/buddy room, recovery room and then home. I would always end up jumping either to recovery or home. I would never end up going to a buddy room or safety.
Joann: You mentioned that there were interviews, like, an investigation going on about all of the young people who were sexually abused. Does that mean that there was… was somebody actually charged and brought to justice for the harm that that person had done?
JaVaune: He was but his partner wasn’t.
Joann: Okay. Wow. Did you participate in any of the investigation or the interviews?
JaVaune: Well, actually, I did. I went down to the courthouse and they put me in a room and I sat down with an investigator. My mom wasn’t allowed in the room, of course. They wanted to kind of talk to me. I think, I guess my testimony because I remembered everything that happened to me more than it typically happened to everyone else because I lived right around the corner from him. So, when they were talking to me about it, I think that my testimony via recording is what kind of brought him to justice.
Joann: So you were 11 years old and they would not allow your mother to sit with you in the room?
Joann: Did you have any sort of support?
JaVaune: I mean, eventually after a few years, I did go to therapy. But, I don’t really know. It was always just me in my own head, pretty much. I’m always kind of, you know, taking care of myself emotionally.
Joann: Wow. I’m so sorry that you had to go through that at that age. Tell me how all of those things were kind of catching up to you. I mean, you were only 12 years old and it was less than a year later, or just a year later that you had basically been pushed out of the entire system and you were in a completely different school system. What happened? Were you able to develop any sort of relationships with peers? What happened next?
JaVaune: Well, actually, kind of, when a situation like that happens, you kind of cut everyone off and then you learn to be alone. You learn to be okay with being alone and just being by yourself. That’s how I feel, that's how I felt in that moment. I felt like, you know, I was alone and it was just me. It kind of was like that for years because no one wanted to be around me. No one wanted to really talk to me. If they talked to me, they were always asking me questions. Or wonder, you know, why did I let it happen for so long. Why didn’t I ever say anything? You start to ask yourself those questions and you be like, ‘how could you be so stupid? How could you not, you know, reach out?’ But then you know as you grow, I've tried, you know, I'm trying to, even now to this day, even move past because it's something that I know has affected me and affected me my whole middle school and high school. So, it's just something that, you know, you learn to be okay with things. You just smile and keep going.
Joann: Tell me a little bit more about the types of juvenile justice experiences you’ve had once you were in the alternative schools and you were on probation, tell me about what those processes were like. Tell me about the kind of progression of that involvement and I know from reading your bio that you also were in facilities as well. So, tell me a little more about that and what the progression looked like.
JaVaune: Well, the progression was like I ended up on probation. I ended up getting a really nice probation officer who was kinda helping me deal with things. You know, not just socially but with school. She wanted me to be a better me. A couple year pass, I say about 15 and I’m in high school and I'm still on probation for like 5 years. I went to a pretty rough high school, I would say. It was a public school, majority black… African American students, sorry. It was like a very kind of violent high school. There was always fighting. There was always gang banging. Things like that going around. So, when I was in that school, I got into a really, really bad altercation and someone got hurt really, really, really bad and they ended up in the hospital. My probation officer, of course, asked me what happened and, of course, I told her what happened. The school, they sided with the other student at the time and they, you know, kicked me out of school so I went back instead of going to an alternative program, they kicked me out of the school district so wasn’t able to go to the alternative program again. I ended up having to go to the NAACP school and I ended up on house arrest.
Joann: What does house arrest look like there? In the jurisdiction where you are?
JaVaune: House arrest is you go home, you go to school and you go home. How it’s setup is they put a box in your house and you’re not able to leave outside of your house. Like, I couldn't even go outside to take out the trash. Say for instance, I had to go to school at 8 o’clock, I could leave 30 minutes early and be at school. Then, once I’m done with school, say for instance school gets out at 3:30, I had 30 minutes to get home from school.
Joann: Was that ankle monitoring?
Joann: You said there was a lot of gang banging at school, a lot of, I mean, did you experience any sort of reactions based on the fact that you had an ankle monitor? Or was that not an uncommon experience for other people in your school environment? Or did people not notice or even care?
JaVaune: The school knew I was on probation and ankle monitoring so they constantly try and use it against me. Like, when we were in the cafeteria and stuff, they would always say they were going to call my probation officer and stuff like that. I mean, it was kind of, I guess, typical in our high school because we had a few people who were on house arrest but the school kind of always overstepped their boundaries when it came to that and kind of always tried to make a conversation out of it.
Joann: So, that lasted for a certain period of time. That was your primary supervision? Or did you ever have to go and spend time in detention or in a facility?
JaVaune: Oh, no. So what ended up happening, I ended up catching another charge. I was 16. I was in a store and some of my friends were stealing and I didn’t know. I really didn’t know. So, I was guilty by association. That ended up violating my probation. I was only supposed to do 3 months in a facility because I was a (...inaudible statement…), but I went back from the facility to court and they decided that they thought that it was probably the best fit that I stay in a facility so I ended up doing 18 months.
Joann: What county were you living in and what was the name of that particular facility? Describe what the conditions were like, what the treatments was like, what was it like on the inside?
JaVaune: So I was in Sangamon county, that was in Springfield but they ended up shipping me, well, sending me off to RYC here and then RYC St. Charles. That’s kind of like an intake process but they put me on a rough wing, kind of like, you know, the people who you know fight, kind of like a really rou, because I’m like Chicago so all of the guys are like really rough and always fighting. There were a lot of staff assaults and things like that on the wing. So, they put me in a really harsh environment I would say. Which, you know, I did my 3 months and I didn’t have a fight or anything. I was assaulted when I first got into the facility though by a few of the guys, by a few of the olders guys there. I was the youngest on my wing - I was 16 and everyone else was like almost 20 or 19 years old.
Joann: What’s the juvenile age of jurisdiction for young people in the system there?
JaVaune: 21. It goes up to 21.
Joann: Oh, okay. So, they weren’t youthful offenders in an adult system. You weren’t in that category? It was all in the juvenile justice system?
JaVaune: Yeah. But that was just intake. So, I ended up getting transferred to, uh… I did time in a few other facilities here. So, I ended up being in Kewanee for like 8 months, 9 months and that place was just horrible. That was probably one of the worst places ever because just given the fact that they had a lot of people like a lot of staff used to assault the youth there. Some of the staff would just let the youth fight. I actually got into a fight there too myself. After that, I ended up going into Harrisburg. It was a lot cool, calmer but the staff was majority white and there a lot of, I would say, a lot of racism, you know, racist things going on in the facility. A lot of the African American dudes were getting charged with adult crimes because they were, you know, they would be hitting the staff back, you know, there would be assaults with the staff. Or, you know, the staff would hit them and they would throw something back, so, a lot of people were getting charged with adult crimes.
Joann: How old were you when you were released?
Joann: 19. And you were released into like an after-care, like parole?
JaVaune: Yeah. Okay, so, I was actually part of the transition from parole to after-care and I was on ankle monitoring. So, I had an adult parole officer at first before the transition took into effect.
Joann: So, you’re saying that the state laws changed and there was a transition from one set of practices to another?
Joann: Okay. So, what did that look like for you?
JaVaune: At first when I got out, I couldn’t go home because the facility didn’t want me to go home so I ended going to a temporary placement. It was kind of like a halfway house setting I would say with like, 7 other boys, 8 other boys in the house - all boys house. Like I said, I had an adult parole officer and he was just like really harsh, you know, really mean I would say. He would just tell me things like I would end up going back to jail and things like that. I don't know. I don't even know how to describe or put the man into words to be just totally honest. He was just like really mean and just really all over the place, you know?
Joann: Mmhmm. He was accustomed to working in the adult system.
JaVaune: But even then, you shouldn’t treat people like that. Like the way he treated me was I don’t even want to know how he treats adults.
Joann: Yeah. So, what changed? When did that guy go away and you get somebody else? Did you get somebody else?
JaVaune: Yes. Like, a month and a half later, I ended up getting this amazing after-care specialist. She was like really amazing. She helped me out a lot.
Joann: In the new system, did they just provide that for… you said that the jurisdiction now goes up to 21?
Joann: So, they provide that for anyone that is under the age of 21 who gets released?
JaVaune: Yeah, it’s all after-care.
Joann: Even if… I’m not sure, I haven’t done my research on Illinois to see what percentage of.. You mentioned, obviously, there are a lot of young people who are being sentenced as adults in the adult system - did they get access to that? Or, is it once they are in the adult system ….
JaVaune: Uh, I don’t think so. I think that once you get charged as an adult, you end up, you know, I think that DJJ just drops you and you end up on, you know, I don’t know anyone that was on both, you know, that was on both probation and on after-care. I was on like the after-care. I think after-care is for people thats under 21.
Joann: Yeah, it makes sense because if that’s the juvenile jurisdiction… it says… I’m learning more about the different states and the ways the different states approach these types of practices. So, during all this time you’re in all these different facilities, were you ever provided with any sort of programming or educational support or therapy that was meaningful?
JaVaune: The thing about the facility was they were so understaffed. We were always on lockdown pretty much. So, we were kind of, you know, in our cells sometimes weeks at a time or wouldn’t be allowed visitation from families. I mean, I graduated but I graduated ike a month after I got to the facility because all of the credits that I had from my high school just transferred into their systems and in their system, you didn't need that many credits to graduate.
Joann: You mentioned the difference in terms of the staffing, in terms of race and, obviously, there’s the overt, kind of, racism that happens but there's also kind of this systemic racism that happens. But, I want to talk a little about race and identity. Because you’re a black man and you grew up in the school system, in the public school system, I’m curious about what sort of experiences of racism or what sort of awareness you had as you were growing up about just different types of discrimination that you personally experienced related to that. Also, as you were growing up, kind of how you were able to figure out who you are in terms of your identity, particularly because you were so, you were isolating yourself so much. Or, you know, out of self protection from what I gather after your experiences of trauma. Can you tell me a little bit about your perceptions on that and your personal experiences?
JaVaune: Well, you know, after what happened to me, I kind of was thinking at first is this how it’s supposed to be? Is this who I am? Me being a part of the LGBTQ community, you know, it took me a long time to figure out who I am and to be comfortable with who I am also. When you talk about race, I think those two go hand in hand. Sexuality also. Because, you know, after what happened to me, I used to get like people calling me gay or the F-word, I don’t even like saying the word, but, they used to call me all types of different names and that stuff used to really hurt my feelings. I’m like, ‘why would you want to try and break me down like that?’ Even how my teachers used to operate, I look back on it on how you know I used to really… the elementary school that I went to was a predominately white school but it’s no longer… I don’t think it’s no longer, yeah, it’s no longer here. So, it was a predominately white school so now that I think about it, I always used to, you know, either get in trouble like I would end up doing my work outside the classroom. You know, I don’t know if its because they thought I was bad or I was just a troublemaker or whatnot. Even then, you know, now that I jump right back into my high school, my middle school, or my middle school I would say, was a predominately white school also, too. It had a few African Americans in it but now that I think about it more, there was never the same treatment. Like, I got into a fight with one of the basketball players and I got suspended but he didn’t.
JaVaune: Yeah and he was the one who hit me first! So, now that I think about it now, it's just like one of those things that like, you know, it's kind of like I said, I was always okay with being alone. So, me getting kicked out of school and me being put in a recovery room by myself, it was always okay with me even though I knew it wasn’t right because I was just always so used to always being alone.
Joann: What was it like for you in terms of, you know, I mean, it takes a long time for anybody to figure out who they are when they are a teenager and a lot of time we don’t figure it out when we’re still teenagers.
JaVaune: Yes, that is true. Even early twenties you don’t figure it out either.
Joann: I know. Well, they do say adolescence, you know, that were all still trying to figure it out until our mid-twenties and then some people go into their mid-thirties… I’ll just put it out there for you. It’s not an uncommon experience to still not know who you are when you 30 years old. But, you’ve been very vocal in terms of the things you’ve written about and speaking out and being, you know, finding your agency to be able to speak. I’m curious what that transitioned looked like for you? If any of the germs, or the seeds rather of if any of these seeds of, kind of, coming to terms with who you are or embracing different elements of who you are and not just in terms of LGBTQ identity - but just, you know, this is just who I am as a person. This is how I like to be. This is what I like to do. I'm okay with doing things a certain way even though not everybody does things like the way I do it. Where in terms of your own self-love and ideas about self confidence, you know, was any of that happening in those spaces where you were under threat from violence? How did you create that for yourself in those spaces and how did that change once you were free and outside of the facilities?
JaVaune: Well, I was always quite. I didn’t mess with too many people. You know, I was class clown granted, but I really was always really mellow and cool and laid back. But when I went to the facility, like, I didn’t talk to anyone, I didn’t mess with anyone. But then it came a point where people used to pick on me because of that. They felt that that was, like I was just one of those people you can kind of walk all over. Honestly, you know, I look at the bad experiences that I had in the facility but also, I’m glad it kind of happened in a sense because, you know, I became a great man. I grew up to be a really great man. I learned to speak for myself. I learned how to be able to hold a conversation. I learned to be able to try and control my anger in a sense. You know, I really became comfortable with who I am after I got out of that facility and that stage. I even sat down and had that conversation with my mom about my sexuality and about me being a part of the LGBTQ community and you know, being confident if she doesn’t accept that and be okay with that. If nobody wants to accept that then I’m okay with that. Just even like, you know, within the last couple of years, I’d say the last 2 years, I even got more comfortable because there was time where I didn’t want to have that conversation with anyone. You know, you don’t know what would happen because some of the guys, you know, would get really uncomfortable. So, you know, just me seeing that growth in me and me not caring and me just being able to be me and having everyone around me just be like, ‘okay. You're part of the community - you’re good.’ Some of the the flack I’ve gotten, ‘You’re gay? I never knew that!’ It's just something that you kind of learn that it’s okay, you are who you are - you can’t change who you are, you can’t hide who you are and it's just what it is. They’re just going to accept you or they’re not. That’s just something that I’m really proud of to this day because that kind of the work I love to do. I love doing work around the LGBTQ community because I feel like it needs a lot of help - especially dealing with facilities.
Joann: So, once you were in a space, I mean, you got released into a transitional housing, you had a parole officer person for a second and then you had an after care coordinator… how did you figure out what was going to happen next for you. You know, to what extent was the after care counselor able to assist you in trying to find what you needed in order to move forward?
JaVaune: Well, we have a good relationship. I still talk to her to this day and I haven’t been in after care or parole in almost 3 years or almost 2 really. We actually created a plan - that was one of my things. I wanted to create a plan. I wanted to go to college. I wanted to get my own place. I kind of wanted to do my own thing. So, she kind of helped me with understand what I needed to do in order for those things to happen. So, got my own job. Started saving money. I actually ended up moving into my own place about 6 or 7 months after being released from the facility, I got my own apartment.
Joann: Were you working? How were you able to do that?
JaVaune: I was working. I was working two full-time jobs. So, I was like, was my hustle making sure that, you know, that I was able to save money, making sure I wasn’t wasting my check. You know, I learned a lot of my adult responsibilities by living on my own. Like, I learned how to write my first check via YouTube. Yeah! Its crazy! I literally learned a lot about banking, I learned about fees, I learned about opening a money marketing account, I learned about retiring. So, I was like, things that I felt I should’ve been taught to me, I’m trying to learn with my own… you know, I learned about how to have good credit. I learned that having good credit takes you a long way! So, it’s just some of the simple things that I really learned, I learned on my own. Because like I told you, I kind of always took care of myself and all I know is myself. I actually recently, I was in an apartment for 3 years and I actually just recently moved from that apartment.
Joann: What kind of jobs have you had? Tell me about the work you’ve done that hasn’t been related to the reform movement and then how you got into the work that is related to the reform movement?
JaVaune: I kind of did a little of everything. So, I worked at Macy’s. Macy’s and (inaudible) was like my very first jobs. I was a shuttle driver and I worked in the men's section at Macy’s. Then, I quit Macy’s and going to Bergners and I ended up working for Bergners for a couple of years. I worked with people with disabilities such as like dementia, but with dementia they also had like bipolar disorders so they were kind of like really violent clients. So, I did that for about 2, 2 years and some change. I recently left that job in November. I also worked surgical support in the hospital. I like doing a lot of stuff in the healthcare field I would say. It’s like my strongest background is in the healthcare field. What else? I think that’s about it. I haven’t had many… I’m not really one of those people that, like, bounce around from job to job. You know, I’ve had a few jobs. All my jobs are ones that I can always go back to. Oh, and I worked at Hy-Vee for a summer now that I think about it.
Joann: You worked at where?
JaVaune: At Hy-Vee.
Joann: Okay. What is that?
JaVaune: It’s like a grocery store and I worked in the meat department.
Joann: Okay, cool! So, what was it that you did at the hospital?
JaVaune: A Surgical Support Specialist post-anesthesia so I was like one of the first people you would see if you went under anesthesia when you woke up, with the nurses.
Joann: I’ve had that experience. It’s like, ‘who are you?’ Did you have a lot of people who would finish their sentences that they started right when they went under?
JaVaune: Yes. That happens a lot too. Or you get the ones who are like, ‘am I in heaven? Oh, you’re so nice!’ And some people are like, ‘where am I?’
Joann: That sounds like fun actually.
JaVaune: It was but it could be a hard job. Like, you go into that thing, you know, where you are dealing with the racism in the workplace. You know, you deal with a lot of different things at workplaces.
Joann: So, you’re currently enrolled in college. What are you studying?
JaVaune: Actually, I’m not right now but I am going to get enrolled, hopefully, in august. That’s the crazy thing about me - one minute I want to do something and the next minute I want to do something else. That’s why I didn’t enroll in college this semester because I kind of wanted to take that time off to kind of, you know, think about what I wanted and what I truly need. It’s like distinguishing between wants and needs. I feel like I can do multiple things - as long as I get degree that I want and need, which I don’t know yet but I’m going to figure that out. I mean, I would be lying if I told you to if I was enrolled in college going for something that I’m not, you know? You’d be like, ‘Okay!’ Then later down the line you see me, you know, a picture of me at my graduation and you’d be like, ‘I thought you went o college for this? What happened?’ You know what I mean? Then I have to explain a whole different other story.
Joann: So, you did go to college a little bit and then you kind of said, ‘Well, hang on a second. I need to know what I want to do’?
Joann: So, where are you right now? What are you doing in your life right now? What takes up the most of your time? What are you passionate about?
JaVaune: Well, I love, I’m passionate about the reform work, of course. I found my latest passion working with the LGBTQ. Like, I love that kind of work. I want to kind of push that kind of work up on people because it’s like they’re big talk about, you know, racial inequity, you know, and things like that. It’s like everyone is scared to talk about sexuality. We don’t talk about sexuality enough. And those things go hand in hand. I don’t care how many times people try and write it off or write it in a little but if you’re going to put that in the headline, then you need to put sexuality in the headline - those things go hand in and together. It’s kind of, like, where my passion is at right now but I enjoy cooking, also. Like, I love to cook, it’s a big passion for me.
Joann: So, do you have particular organizations that you’ve been able to harness your energies in terms of doing the reform work? Tell me alittle bit about that.
JaVaune: Actually, no. I haven’t. I don’t know, like, I didn’t even know that the Chicago area had a center, you know, where they basically help LGBTQ youth go get a high school diploma, people who have HIV positive, they pair them with mentors who are living the healthy HIV life - I guess that’s how you say it. You know, I didn’t know organizations existed like that. So, I’m trying to do some research and trying to make some connections but it’s really hard. But I’m not going to give up so I’m trying. But I really want to get a job in the reform work and I want to make that my goal.
Joann: You say it’s really hard because there’s not a… because of where you are now. Like you said, there are places in Chicago. And there’s not places… are you in Springfield right now? Or, where are you?
JaVaune: I’m in Rockford which is like an hour and 40 minutes away from Chicago. But, there are places but I just don’t know them. I think there are places like the type of that center that essentially have been there for years that I never knew existed, you know what I mean?
Joann: Alright. Well, yeah. Cool! To what extent are you able to advocate for that perspective in your juvenile justice reform work? Tell me a little bit about.. I know you serve on a couple of boards. Tell me about where you have been working and with whom and what do you get to do in that position?
JaVaune: Currently, I am a KC and, well, I don’t know if I’ll be reappointed. My term has ended but I was a youth council member and I advocated to do some work on the LGBTQ community. I was able to participate on the connect where you could see my story or I was interviewed by another council member and she asked some questions about dealing with my sexuality and why I was able to deal with it. There’s that blog and you should check it out and read it. Also, I am currently working on a blog with another Casey council member, Melissa Beck and we’re writing a blog on dealing with the sexual abuse, how to deal with sexual abuse, how we kinda dealt with sexual abuse. It’s just, you know, now I’m also a part of my (inaudible), too. I was able with KC to create kind of like an outline of like a guide, an LGBTQ guide, for people getting released out of a facility, you know, to show resources in the community - like, these are the people you can reach out to, where like food and shelters are and stuff like that. Because, you know, people in the LGBTQ community, typically, some of them end up becoming homeless because their family is not accepting, programs end up kicking them out because they feel, you know, that they may mess with someone in the program and things of that nature. The guide that was created has this kind of like a… I call it kind of like a ‘safety plan for life,’ like, if you’re part of the LGBTQ community it has like everything in there - legal resources, everything.
Joann: Is that state specific to Illinois?
JaVaune: No. It’s not even created. It was just kind of like an outline. It was kind of like something to present to them or something that should be done.
Joann: Did you do that through Casey or through your work on the state level?
JaVaune: That was through Casey. That was part of the youth council.
Joann: Yeah. Tell me a little bit more about the work you’re doing with the, is it the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice?
JaVaune: Okay, so they have like several boards here. So I’m a part of my state SAG which is separate - I am a commissioner for Illinois. I’m going to jump back before I get to the state SAG. I was a part of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice Youth Advisory Council which was, you know, the facilities youth advisory council. I was actually one of the founding members for it along with like 5 other guys.
Joann: How did that work? If you’re a founding member, how did that come about?
JaVaune: Initially, we did a little brief work for it. That’s how I actually met Hernan. He was one of the people working with Mira who had partnered with IDJJ to support the program. It was taking 5-6 young men and we kind of like sat down with after care and we brought the leadership in and that was like, that was director at the time ... uh, who else was there...? A few other people that I don’t quite remember their names. We all sat down and asked the question, ‘What are we doing wrong? How can we do best?’ So, we were able to help them with like their day center planning, you know, where people are on after care or even people from the community can come. There’s games, there’s snacks, there’s resources for things like if you need help with school and things like that there. We were able to give a lot of input on that. We were trying to really, we were able to, you know, how can we help after care open like a rewards system for youth. So, that way, they can feel like that they’re not just going to after care and they’re just being watched. You can do things, you can work and get off and we can show you and give you rewards so that you know that you’re doing good and you know that you will eventually get to the final reward of being done and completed - you will be off of after care. So, that was that with with the youth advisory board.
Being a part of my state SAG, is kind of like, is over the whole state. We’re kind of working with other, you know, partnering with other councilmen, um, advisory boards in the state of Illinois, you know, basically tied to like funding. I think that they fund their councils and stuff like that and help them get training …. I don’t know, really because I just joined like a few months ago and it’s kind of crazy because I’m actually the only current SAG member until people re-apply because we got a new Governor and I am the only youth on there currently, right now. But I’m the only commissioner on there right now technically.
Joann: Who does that commission report to?
JaVaune: The Governor.
Joann: Oh, okay. So, were you appointed by…?
JaVaune: Yeah, I was appointed by the Governor.
Joann: Wow. Well, that Governor needs to start appointing some other people!
JaVaune: Haha! Yes! But I was appointed by our last Governor and our new Governor just re-appointed me to it.
Joann: Gotcha. Well, yeah, I am very curious to see what that looks like moving forward for you.
JaVaune: I am too. I really am. I appreciate you, though. I really do appreciate it, this interview was probably one of the best interviews I’ve had.
Joann: Well, I appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us. Thank you so much.