Aspiring lawyer was once inmate at rehabilitation center
“This could be your only opportunity to change your life.”
August 2016—Eighteen-year-old Jimmyliah Finch is studying to be a lawyer in St. Kitts. But unlike many of her classmates, she understands what it is like to be on the other side of the law.
A few years ago, Finch was heading down the wrong path. Between dealing with a new responsibility of supporting her siblings and taking on the “adult” role in the family, she was spinning out of control.
“I was addicted to drugs, sold marijuana, skipped school, got into a lot of fights—I was just terrible!” she says.
She found herself in court, charged with police battery and other serious offenses, but, fortunately, Finch was not sent to prison for her crimes. Instead, she was sentenced to two years at the New Horizons Juvenile Rehabilitation Center.
Finch’s time at New Horizons was life-changing. The facility, supported by USAID, provides counseling, skills training, and educational opportunities for at-risk youth before they are integrated back into society.
Although she admits to “giving a little trouble” while she was at the facility, Finch is no longer angry, aggressive or involved in destructive habits.
“New Horizons taught me how to want something better for myself and how to be a more productive young woman. Everything has changed—the way I think, the way I talk to people, my lifestyle, my personality—everything has changed for the better,” she says.
She attributes much of her success, especially in academics, to studying, hard work, and the support of her counselor, Zahra Jacobs.
“I never had the opportunity to talk about myself with anybody without them chastising me or saying something when I just wanted them to listen. She was the first person to listen to my whole story and then work with me to make the needed changes,” Finch explained.
Jacobs was full of praise for her former charge: “Jimmyliah is bright, funny and articulate. She is a leader and gets more confident each passing day.”
Life hasn’t been easy for Finch since her release. She has endured gossip, whispers and stares from classmates and people on the street, and she doesn’t have much support from her family.
Nevertheless, she remains full of hope and is determined to accomplish her dreams. She tries to surround herself with positive people who can help to motivate her and anticipates that, in 10 years, she will be admitted to the bar and able to help other young people who might choose the wrong path in life.
“Since I had the experience of being a juvenile delinquent, my interest is in criminal law,” says Finch.
As she works toward her goals, she hasn’t forgotten those she left behind at New Horizons. For them, she offers this piece of advice: “Don’t take it as if they are punishing you. Don’t fight it—just accept it and make the best of it. You never know, this could be your only opportunity to change your life.”
USAID’s Juvenile Justice Reform Program was designed to strengthen the juvenile justice system in all six independent countries of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States by supporting reform of the legal framework, building the capacity of the justice sector, promoting the use of diversion and alternative sentencing options, and reforming detention processes to focus on rehabilitation of youth in conflict with the law. The four-year program, which ended on June 30, aimed to modernize approaches for treatment of at-risk youth in all the territories, and ultimately bring the region’s juvenile justice system in line with international standards. The New Horizons Center was the first of its kind in the region to offer comprehensive rehabilitation services to juveniles, including vocational and remedial training, computer training, individual counseling, and the use of modern case management tools and approaches.