Related to: Youth Justice

Amber had never been in any legal trouble before she was apprehended trying to deposit a forged check at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.

“It was peer pressure,” she says. “The people I was around, trying to convince me to do it.”

Amber said she got caught the very first time she tried it: “the bank figured it out.”Rather than prosecute her case in delinquency court, the Philadelphia district attorney’s office referred her to the Healing Futures restorative justice diversion program, operated by Philadelphia’s Youth & Self-Empowerment Project (YASP).

Before her first meeting at YASP, “I was very nervous,” Amber recalls, “because I didn’t know what I was walking into. But about halfway through the meeting it was very clear that the people were there to help me.”

For the first two months in the program, Amber met weekly with Felix Rosado, the Healing Futures program co-manager, and other members of the YASP team. “We discussed how I would write an apology to the person and actually learn how to say a sincere apology,” Amber recalls.

When YASP convened a restorative justice conference for Amber, no one from the company she tried to defraud attended. “We reached out to them, but they didn’t want to be a part of it,” she says. “But we still had a meeting at YASP with the people who are with me, my grandmother and my mother.  We got together to discuss the end of my program, and I read my letter to them.”

After the conference, Amber attended classes about finance at Bryn Mawr College, “so I could actually learn the importance of money,” she says. Amber was also assigned a mentor, a Temple University student, who became a trusted advisor for Amber.

“She helped with my college applications, the essays, all that,” Amber says. Until then, Amber had ideas about applying to college, “but I really didn’t know what to do,” she says.

Since Amber completed diversion at the end of 2022, her life has changed dramatically. She now lives in Virginia, where she moved with her grandmother and where she is attending a four-year college.

Amber’s behavior problems, which were serious enough to get her suspended from high school repeatedly, are a thing of the past.

“I really did a 180 with my whole life,” Amber says.

“I’m getting older,” she says. “I realized that I can’t keep getting in trouble my whole life. I want a career, so I need to get my head right.

“Virginia is more positive, and more peaceful,” she adds. “All I hear is the birds chirping. In Philly it wasn’t like that at all.”

Amber also gives a lot of credit to her diversion program.

If not for her experience at YASP, she says, “I feel like I probably would have never gone to college.” I mean, I really wanted to go, it’s a really big thing, but not having someone there to help you, who understands what’s going on, makes it very hard.” And had Amber been prosecuted in court, she says, it would have been difficult to get into college.

Finally, Amber credits the positive connections she forged with the people she met as part of her experience in diversion.

“YASP really did help a lot. It opened me up to that there are actually people in the world who are really nice, and actually understand. It gave me a sense of hope that not everyone is mean. Some people walk around with good hearts.”

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