Incarcerated at age 14. Pulled from her home more than 16 times. Seven years later she’s a college graduate with a full-time job helping improve the lives of youths who’ve faced the disadvantages and barriers she did. A story of perseverance.
Jaclyn was first incarcerated at age 14, and spent a little more than three years of shuttling back and forth between home, child welfare and juvenile justice placements. There was no consistency in her life and moving from place to place meant different rules, new routines and a shortage of positive peers. Jaclyn described 14 different placements between ages 14 and 17 as “not exactly a positive teenage experience” let alone a normal one.
“I grew up in a challenging home environment, the most difficult part of that is I didn’t notice until I was an adolescent. I thought everyone’s family was like this. I thought excessive drinking and constant arguments were normal until I went over my friend’s house and realized how calm it was. I was so used to chaos,” she explained.
The one thing she craved during her time moving from placement to placement was a consistent and better education. She explained she was sitting in classrooms with youths ages 13- to 17-years old, not understanding what was being taught and tired of “feeling stupid.” By the time she was committed to the Department of Youth Services (DYS) she put her foot down. She demanded her education back. DYS thought it was a fair demand and have supported her ever since.
Jaclyn earned a Bachelors of Science in Psychology and a minor in Criminal Justice in May 2019 and began full-time employment as the first PbS Youth Coordinator in July. She loves to travel and enjoys working on juvenile justice reform in various ways.
It was the hope and determination for a better education that kept her going during the difficult times. She pushed through barrier after barrier. After she graduated high school she enrolled at Salem State University where she was able to transfer dual enrollment credits from classes she had taken at a local community college. Salem State University recognized she needed to take a few more courses to prepare for her first semester and accepted her into the Summer Bridge Program, where she took four classes and learned how to structure her time and focus on her academics. Her goal was to graduate in three years instead of four years, which she did. She credits her ability to graduate to tuition waivers, stipends for the school bookstore, tutors and multiple scholarships.
She was determined to leave DYS with the education she needed.
“I wanted an education so bad. My desire for it motivated me year after year. Without DYS I wouldn’t have had much of a positive support system. They showed me a path the second I asked for one and they continued to show me how to follow a positive path every year after to make sure I maintained the circle of success. I just needed a team to believe in me,” she said.
While working toward her college degree she was offered her first professional employment opportunity. DYS contracted with Jaclyn to work as a consultant to help them remove barriers that prevent youths with lived experiences from attending a four-year college or university right after high school. She assisted with school balances that contributed to student housing. “Safe housing and a space to learn is what many youths lack coming out of the system. DYS allowed me gain safe housing and a positive career start,” she said.
DYS staff also encouraged her and supported her in applying to become a member of the Annie E. Casey Foundation Youth Advisory Council. They made sure she was prepared for all three interviews by providing a quiet space in the office for her to have an online interview and helping her with what to say during the interview. In 2017 she was selected as one of 12 members of the council and she has continued her participation, learning to network and develop a professional skillset. Her role on the council led to her current full-time employment as the first Youth Coordinator at the Performance-based Standards Learning Institute (PbS).
She sums up her experience simply: “I was able to finish college and get a job because someone took the time to make sure I had what I needed to be successful.”