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By Briana M.
I was 17. I was a 17-year-old child who was convicted of a misdemeanor assault and battery for a mall fight. The impact this had on me from that point forward cannot be conceptualized. I feel in order to tell my story I have to include a little background history.
At the age of 14, I moved to Michigan from Colorado with my parents due to my father’s job. I was an isolated outsider and was bullied nonstop, which drove me into alcohol consumption at the age of 16. Halfway into my sophomore year I was sent back to Colorado to live with my grandparents in my hometown. I did well at the beginning, but struggled to find myself and lacked appropriate coping mechanisms. The only coping that worked at the time was substance abuse. I was set to graduate a year early, as a junior, but halfway through my junior year, I was using methamphetamines and decided to drop out of high school all together.
I came back to Michigan to live with my parents and to figure out where to go from there. The events following are a symbol of my lack of decision-making skills and reflect a mind not capable of thinking through consequences of actions. On Feb. 11, 2004, I was at the Oakland Mall with two other girls who were two years older than me. We came upon another girl who we had a history of conflict with. The girls I was with kept telling me to do something, and as I stood there, all I wanted to do was leave, but the more they pressured me the angrier I became. I eventually provoked a fight. Afterwards, I ran out of the mall and was not arrested at time of the fight.
I took my GED test two days later and passed. I later received a notice to turn myself in, and I remember being dumbstruck because I was 17 being charged as an adult! 17-year-olds in Colorado are seen as juveniles. I felt doomed and boxed in. This mall fight and the charge I was facing shaped my mind and labeled me as a criminal, not a young delinquent.
Shortly after this happened, I moved back to Colorado to live with friends, often living in my car. I was running from a mind that I was unable to escape. On May 20, 2004, I jumped off a bridge into three feet of water and broke my femur. Since I had no stable place to recover, I ended up coming back to Michigan, so I had to face the charges before me.
I entered the courtroom on crutches on June 22, 2004. It was four days before my 18th birthday. I was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery, taken for fingerprinting, and ordered to one year of district court probation. The only help I received was one session of the Learning Experience in Addictions Program (LEAP) and some counseling sessions.
After I finished healing from my injury, I moved back to Colorado in August 2004 while on probation, and I had to send in written reports and drug tests every month. I attempted to comply with those orders for about four months, eventually checking myself into rehab for the first time on Dec. 6, 2004, out of fear of violation of probation. I was unsuccessful in rehabilitating myself, and gave up on reporting and dove back into my addiction stronger than ever.
In my eyes, I was already a criminal, and so who was I to think I could be anything but that? After my six-month lease was up on my apartment, I became homeless for three months and on June 16, 2005, I was sent to jail and charged with a Class 4 felony charge of drug possession. I spent 20 days in jail and 30 days in drug rehab. I moved back to Michigan to straighten up my act and faced my violation of probation on the assault and battery.
The judge told me he was not going to send me to jail because he knew that I would screw up my current felony probation and that they would punish me more than he could. He essentially had no faith in my rehabilitation and was betting I would go to prison.
Well, I did comply and was discharged from probation without incident. As of now, I am a licensed and working Cosmetologist and a full-time student at Oakland University in my senior year holding a 3.92 GPA. I am interning at the Waterford Senior Center and giving back to the community. I am also in the middle of applying for graduate school at Wayne State University for a master’s in Social Work. I should add that on March 8, 2011, I entered Narcotics Anonymous and have been clean and sober ever since. I even volunteered at the Macomb County Jail for two years offering N.A. meetings to female inmates.
I wish that I could say I have recovered from my criminal history, but the fact is I have not. It follows me at every turn. When applying for my cosmetology license, college, an internship … It will follow me in all my future career applications. Will I always be paying for the mistakes I have made so many years ago? Will people be able to see past my mistakes and take me seriously?
In an attempt to correct and overcome barriers, I appeared in court on May 23, 2017, before Judge Maureen McGinnis at 52-4 District Court, who allowed my conviction to be set aside. Unfortunately, I am still required to say I pled guilty if asked, and my record will show up in any background check done by the Michigan State Police. Most social work jobs require this type of background check.
So, did my appearance in court actually help? I do not know. As I look at my future, it is easy to go back to the label of “criminal” and think that I am out of my league in trying to better my life. It is very easy to think about giving up when I believe that I will not be given a fair chance due to my criminal history. I take accountability for the mistakes I have made, and I don’t blame anyone for them.
I must remind myself that I am fighting for a better future for that little girl who was sick and needed help. I am standing up for her and not allowing a court judgment to decide her future. Therefore, I am telling her story. I will no longer be boxed in and told what I am and am not capable of doing.
However, I do think about what would have happened if I had received juvenile intervention rather than being treated as an adult. Would my outcomes be the same, or would I have been open to receiving help and guidance to prevent further offenses? I will never know these answers because I was not given that opportunity. I will speak out in hopes of preventing another child from asking those same questions. I believe that Raise the Age is the right path, and I hope that in sharing my story I can be of some help.
— Briana M.