Mikva Juvenile Justice Council member, Keondre Jones, addresses Cook County Justice for Children’s “A Celebration of Progress” reception.
Good evening everyone. First off I would like to thank Lanetta Haynes-Turner and the CCJC for having me. My name is Keondre Jones and I am currently a Senior at Orr Academy High School and a member of the Mikva Challenge Juvenile Justice Council. I’m a native Chicagoan born and raised on the West Side. I was always that kid who prided himself on not getting caught, but then one day I got caught. I started hustling at the end of my Freshman year and had numerous encounters with police, some good and some bad. Earlier this year in March at the age of 17 I was arrested for felony possession. “Get on the ground” was the first thing I heard and the next thing I know I was tackled. The officer handcuffed and put me in the back of the squad car. On my way to the station all I could think was “I can’t keep screwing my life up.” This was the beginning of my experience with the juvenile justice system.
I was given a public defender to handle my case. She told me that my options were either to plead guilty and go to outpatient rehab for 6 months or go to trial, be tried as an adult and possibly face up to 3 years in jail. The logical choice was rehab, going to trial would not have suited me at all. Even if they didn’t give me 3 years I didn’t want to be on probation forever. During my probation I had the best probation officer and the best drug counselor. My probation officer helped me network and find job opportunities. Being on probation helped me get my life together. I stopped smoking weed and I met the Mikva Challenge through probation.
For me Mikva Challenge is a way out, it’s an opportunity for youth to succeed. I joined the Mikva Juvenile Justice Council in the summer of 2014. When I first joined, I thought I was going to be doing hard labor. But it turned out to be a lot of fun. I learned how to network better, I’m a lot more comfortable talking to strangers now. Over the summer we talked to civic leaders like Justice Anne Burke, we interviewed people on the street asking them “what do opportunity youth need to stay out of the juvenile justice system?” and posted their responses on Instagram, and we had Mass Action Fridays. Mass Action Fridays are when all 5 of Mikva’s youth councils get together and share their knowledge about the issue that they are working on. During the JJC’s presentation we taught our peers about the demographics of the juvenile justice system, Adverse Childhood Experiences, and Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC). Finally, we taught them about juvenile expungement and the Expunge.io app we made to help youth expunge their RAP sheet. At the end of the summer we created a white paper report with 15 recommendations focused on preventing opportunity youth from entering the juvenile justice system. We presented the recommendations to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and we plan to meet with other civic leaders to bring our recommendations to fruition
Mikva gave me some strange confidence, like I’m proud to say I am a part of this organization. It helped me realize that you don’t have to be a dope boy to have money and that if you work hard you can have anything. At first I wasn’t going to go to college, but now I’m planning on furthering my education to become a psychologist. I want to listen to people because I feel like people talk too much and don’t listen enough. I want to understand why people do what they do. In the beginning I didn’t think that probation would open all of these doors for me and help me realize my potential. I’m not proud that I got in trouble but I’m grateful for the opportunities that I now have.