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Thursday, 22 October 2015

#YJAM: The Story of Keela Hailes, Juvenille Justice Advocate

This theme for this year's Youth Justice Awareness Month is, "The Power
of Sharing Stories". All month long CFYJ will share stories of youth and
family members that have been impacted by the adult criminal justice
system. This week we share the story of juvenile justice advocate, Keela

Keela is the mother of an incarcerated youth in the
adult prison system. Keela and her son moved to Anacostia in D.C. when
her son was 14 years old. Anacostia is located in Ward 8 of D.C. which
has a population composed of roughly 95% African-Americans and is also
the most impoverished ward with about 51% of its children living in
poverty. At 16 her son started hanging out with a different group of
friends, and his grades started slipping. One day she received a phone
call telling her that her son was arrested. She went to the juvenile
court where his hearing was to be taken place to look for answers.
However, being that this was her first experience with the system she
was confused when she noticed that there were adults in the same
courtroom that her son was to be brought in. After waiting about 40
minutes her son was presented alongside two other individuals. Her son
was being charged with armed robbery which came to a shock to her since
she had no idea what was happening. She tried asking the attorney what
was going on, but the attorney had little knowledge as well since she
was just appointed the case at that moment. When her son didn’t come
back out from the hearing she was informed that her son had been tried
as an adult and that he was to be held in D.C. jail. He was eventually
transferred to Wisconsin and then Devil’s Lake, North Dakota to serve
his sentence in adult prisons.

There was a period where Keela
had not seen her son for about a year and a half until she was given an
opportunity to fly out to see him. The Campaign for Youth Justice paid
for her flight and hotel and she was able to visit her son for a
weekend. When her son finally returned to D.C. he was not in the state
of mind to be relaxed. He was in an awkward stage because he knew he set
a bad example for his family and siblings. To be back in the community
that influenced him to take actions that eventually got him arrested was
one of the concerns that Keela had. He was eventually re-arrested in
2010. Keela saw that the community needed more resources to help youth
so she started working with Free Minds, a book club/writing workshop for
youth detained as adults. Keela worked with young adults who were out
of prison looking to re-enter society, and she tried helping them with
resources for housing, job readiness and anything they needed. The way
she puts it, “I would want someone to do the same thing for my son.”

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