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Mar 14, 2016

Warith Mustafa, Hope Partnership Youth Essay

7 years, 6 months, the Judge bangs her gavel; a practiced motion, as normal as getting a coffee cup down, a smile on her face that’s meant to be apologetic or reassuring but comes off as victorious or vindictive. I can hear my sister cry out in the background, but I don’t turn around for fear that if I see the person I grew up with, fought with, played with; my other half, crying, I wouldn’t be able to keep up the brave persona I was trying to execute.The Judge says I can hug my family before I’m escorted away to start my 90-month stay in OYA (Oregon Youth Authority). So finally, I face my family which consist of my lil’ sister, who’s still crying and my older brother, who shows no emotion what-so-ever. I hug my lil’ sis and tell her I love her and I’m bout to knock this time out and be back before you know it. She’s still crying.

Then I hug my brother. We say we love each other and he say’s “Stay up bro.” I hug my lil’ sis one more time.

Still determined not to shed a tear, she finally stops crying long enough to tell me she loves me and will be there for me. 

Side note: My dad got banned from the court room for threatening the judge (Bunny Fingers) that’s why he wasn’t there and my mom still had 3 years of prison time left to do out her 10 year prison sentence in Walla Walla Washington. So after my family de-union, the guard escorted me to a holding cell and I sat there for a second letting it all sink in. It felt surreal. I’m really going to jail for 7 years, 6 months.

In my head the world was over. My biggest fear was that the world was going to end before I got out. I couldn’t even dream what the world was going to be like 90-months from then. I don’t even look 7 hours into the future. So for me, it was just a total shock and at that moment, I allowed myself a tear. A tear for the years I was losing, a tear for the dreams that would stay that that-dreams, a tear for the years my family would lose with me, a tear for every experience I wouldn’t get to have like prom, like senior year in high school, like a big graduation. A tear for the people I hurt and a tear for the people I would have helped.

Fast forward 5 years and 6 months from then and I’m here with you guys and girls, honored that you would come and sit with us and talk and interact with us like real human beings instead of criminals or animals.

We are one in the same, we just have a different prescription lens on our glasses. You see the gate as an unknown. We see the gate as a familiar family member. We get used to it being there, we get used to the high curve of it knowing we can’t get out so we just come to regard it as a normal thing.

During my time in this class, I’ve come to get to know or at least try to know a couple people and my view of the outside people were the same as most people who come inside. The outside students all said they were nervous when they first came. Well, how do you think we felt? Will we look like criminals, are they going to be scared, are they going to judge us? Are they going to make us feel dumb? A thousand questions running through our heads and vice-versa in a different way. But to all the students credit, every answer was no, they didn’t make me feel any insecurities about being locked up. And along the way I learned that even though the outside students were different, we are all one and have a lot in common. For instance, Cullen liked music, Karisa liked to write poetry, Deb liked reading, Annie liked soccer and Gaby liked movies.

All these things that we have in common but we are conditioned to think that the people on the outside are different from the people on the inside. The outside students are told to watch out for us; we are dangerous, we will try to take advantage of them. We’ll try to hit on them, but nobody told them to keep an open mind. 

Nobody told them we are in school, we have jobs, have friends, family, feelings. We are so often reduced to animals that the people who don’t come here assume we are a danger to society and should be locked in a cage. It’s crazy to think that a lot of the students didn’t want to be judged by us because we were already impressed that you came in here in the first place. A lot of students had people close to them locked up before, so that kind of helped the transition, but for most of you guys, this was your first experience with the correction system besides what you studied. A teacher once quoted Desmond Tutu, “We can only be human together.” That to me means as fellow human beings, we need each other to understand ourselves. We won’t know how we are unique until we know how we’re different from others.

We are in a web whether we know it or not. We are all tied to the same center. So what affects people outside, some way affects us, maybe not in the same way but we are affected.There are so many different personalities in this room that it’s easy to view us as different people, but the way I look at it, we are just all different spokes on a bike rim or we are all just different pages in a composition. Because almost everybody has the same thing to say, M-11 is bullshit. We are the same and we are connected.

Annie could be my sister, Cullen could be my brother, Deb could be my Aunt, Gaby could be my best friend, and Karissa could be my boss.The most surprising thing I found out is that we are all around the same age, but just are in a different time zone. We took a different path and now through some divine intervention, our paths have crossed and we have become part of a community and have got an understanding that most will never get. 

So for the kid who only shed a tear when he got locked up, this young man will crack a smile. Crack a smile for the people I’ve met, crack a smile for the time we’ve spent, crack a smile for the jokes we’ve heard, crack a smile for the connections we’ve made. Crack a smile for the tear that smooths the cracks on my skin and heart that were dry from never having felt a tear. 

And I thank you for coming here and gracing up with your presence, Karissa, Cullen, Kaci, Gaby, Deb, Annie, Kierra, Claire, Aujara, Grace and Whitney.

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Jan 18, 2018
Employee Spotlight—Washington Outreach Specialists

Every day our Outreach Specialists in Washington are busy serving homeless youth who have no one else to turn to. The team of three staff—Keeva Haverkost, Jessica Villasenor, and Jean Withers—work like a well-oiled machine, supporting each other so they can provide high quality service to youth. All of them are passionate about their work. Bettina Boles, Program Supervisor of The Perch and Yellow Brick Road Washington, says of her team, “Each person brings their unique contribution and special reason to work as an Outreach Specialist.” According to Bettina, the team has multifaceted roles— hosting The Perch—our drop-in center for youth—conducting street outreach for Yellow Brick Road, Washington and leading educational presentations that help the community better understand human trafficking and its impact in Clark County.

Jan 09, 2018
Youth Spotlight—Noah Schultz and his” Inspiring Action Tour”

Noah Schultz is a 25-year old graduate of the Hope Partnership program who served 7.5 years in the custody of the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA). While at the MacLaren Correctional Facility, Noah received two Bachelor of Arts degrees. Since his release in October 2016, he has become an outspoken youth advocate, with a passion to drive reform in our justice system, inspiring hope, action and humanizing the stories of the incarcerated. In November 2017, Noah completed a two-month “Inspiring Action Tour” at ten correctional facilities throughout the U.S. where he showed the award-winning documentary film about him, “Perception from Prison to Purpose.” He is co-owner of Forgotten Culture Clothing and co-founder of Verbal Escape. Noah spoke to us about his tour.

Dec 18, 2017
Sixth Grader Organizes Sock Drive For Janus Youth

Eleven-year old Quentin Brown organized a winter sock drive at his school, Cascade Heights Public Charter School, collecting 582 pairs of socks for our youth. This is his second year organizing the sock drive.

 Last year, Janus awarded Quentin the “Stars for Kids Award” for his contributions to our youth. Each year on his birthday, Quentin asks family members to give him gifts that he can donate to Portland’s homeless youth. Rather than getting toys and games, Quentin gets socks, water bottles, hats and scarfs that he packs up in a bin and brings down to the Janus administrative office. Last year, he even brought a little piggy bank with all of his savings and gave it to Janus. He has been doing this for seven years now. By thinking of the needs of others, he sets an example for his peers, family and community, showing the impact kids have on helping other kids. Quentin demonstrates that acts of kindness can be cultivated at a young age. 

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