Jay spent four months in the diversion program, operated by the Youth & Self-Empowerment Project, a community-based organization.

Related to: Youth Justice

When asked what was the most powerful part of his experience with the Healing Futures restorative justice diversion program in Philadelphia, Jay doesn’t hesitate. “Definitely it was meeting her,” he says, referring to the owner of the car he helped steal with his brother-in-law and two others in early 2023.

“I felt bad,” recalled Jay, who had recently turned 17 at the time of his arrest. “I felt selfish. Other people are going through stuff, and I’m putting more on them. Just because of me.”

Jay spent four months in the diversion program, operated by the Youth & Self-Empowerment Project, a community-based organization. The first two months, Jay and another youth who was arrested with him met weekly with Healing Futures co-managers Felix Rosado and Queen-Cheyenne Wade.

“It all led up to an apology,” Jay recalls. “We had to build our apology letter for her, so when she got there the last day, we got to apologize to her. We got to hug her. We ate with her. We got to know her.”

The meeting lasted two hours. “Our parents were there. We were all in a circle, and everyone got a chance to speak,” Jay recalls. “Our parents had written us letters… And then we were talking with her, just sitting down with her and eating.”

“It was a positive air. There was no hate in the room,” Jay says. “I was nervous. If someone took my car, I would probably want to beat them. But she was really really nice. She was just asking us what made us do it, why would we do it?”

After that, Jay and the other boy spent another two months making weekly visits to a nearby community garden, where they performed community service work overseen by a community volunteer. Some weeks Jay and the other boy would clean up the grounds, other weeks they would just talk with the volunteer, who still calls Jay regularly to check up on him.

“It really helped me set my head straight,” Jay says, describing the whole experience.

“I’m not glad I got caught, but I feel like if I didn’t get caught I would have gotten into it way way more. I would have gone more risky with it…” Getting arrested and participating in diversion “caught me,” Jay says. “It only took me once to figure out that what I was doing was wrong, and I could crash out if I keep doing this.”

Before entering diversion, “I didn’t have a job,” Jay recalls. “I was outside every day with my friends. Not even doing my online school work. I would just leave my crib. My mom would get mad at me sometimes. I was getting into trouble — a lot of fights. I didn’t take nothing serious.”

Now, Jay has a job, and he is helping his mom and sister pay rent on the new apartment they’ve acquired after years living with Jay’s grandmother.  He is doing his homework every day for online school, and he’s on track to graduate next year.

“All my brothers have been to jail. My dad’s been to jail. I just don’t want that,” Jay says. Then, after a pensive pause, he adds, “I’m trying not to end up like that.”

Related Resources

View all resources