An Essay by GNB Youth, Quintavious Jennings 

Your past Does Not Determine Who You Are      

All I could remember was seeing the sun slowly creeping through the clouds as the officers put the handcuffs on me and escorted me to the back of the police car. I did not understand it then but being arrested and charged with several accounts would save my life. Life is full of experiences that will teach you lessons that you can either learn from or overlook. I chose to learn from every experience after this defining moment in my life. After that night, walking through doors took on a new meaning in my life and there are 3 doors that have made the biggest impact in my life: the Courthouse, the Regional Youth Detention Center and Goshen New Beginnings. 

The first door that I entered that made a big impact on my life was the door to the County Courthouse in November 2014. As a thirteen-year-old, African American young man, just the idea of facing a judge with such serious charges is terrifying. Yet, four months after being charged, I had to appear in court and meet face to face with a judge, as she would be the one to give me my official sentencing. I walked to the podium and looked up at her. She stopped, stared into my eyes and said,

“You are too young, and it is not too late for you to turn your life around, but you have to want it. I can’t want it more than you.”

She reduced my sentence and added a stipulation that with good behavior I could be released early to a program into the community. After that moment, I decided to change and break the cycle of my family going in and out of jail. 

The second door that I had to walk through that had a major influence on my life was the Regional Youth Detention Center. From the moment I walked into the RYDC, I realized that I never wanted to come back to a place like that. I saw young men get into fights and get beat up. Everything at the RYDC reminded me of what I wanted to get away from; gangs, fights, criminal activity, and pain. After being at the RYDC for three years, I finished my sentencing and was given the chance to go to a program that would help me achieve my goals. I went to a few programs, but it was not until I went to Goshen that I felt a true sense of family and acceptance. 

In July 2019, I entered through the third door that has helped shape me into the young man I am today, though I am still growing and evolving. Goshen New Beginnings is an independent living program that supports youth like me. I needed someone to believe in me and see past my story. I needed a group of people to believe in my dreams. I needed people that saw my pain but would help me work through the pain and not give up on me. I am so blessed to have found a community that has accepted me and is providing me with the tools I need to become better. I want to do better because I know that, typically people with my story end up back in jail or dead, and that will not be my ending. 

Six years ago, the chapters to my story were ugly and sad, but today I can proudly say that my past will not determine who I am or where I am headed. I have spent countless nights praying and asking God to help me turn my life around and show me the correct path to take. God has surrounded me with people who care about me, but I have learned that I need to do the work - for my past not to determine my future. My thought process, goals, and decision- making need to change, because it all starts with me, and I am worth it. Life is full of doors, and I will continue to open doors to new opportunities, happiness, and a story full of change, grace and second chances.

Steven and Mark's Story

Steve and Mark were neglected from a young age. As brothers, they looked out for each other. Steve often stole money or food in order to bring some back for his younger brother, Mark. At age 7, Steve would be responsible to look out for 5-year-old Mark when their mother would go missing for days. Steve and Mark’s parents were enmeshed in drug abuse which left Steve and Mark on their own most of the time.

With an absence from school and curious neighbors, Steve and Mark were taken into the custody of the state foster care system at ages 11 and 9. Mark was placed in a foster home, but there was no room for Steve. Steve was sent to a group home located 2 hours from Mark’s new foster home.

The boys struggled. Steve, now missing his sense of identity as the protector of his brother, spent most of his time being angry and causing trouble. This caused him to be moved to several different foster families and group homes. Mark stayed for a while at his first foster home, but he was very unhappy being away from his brother.

After 1 ½ years of being in foster care, Steve was told that his mother’s parental rights were being terminated. She could not agree to the court’s list of rules in order for her to regain custody of her boys. Even though Steve saw this coming, he was devastated.

In the wake of this overwhelming news, Steve received something good. He was to be moved to Goshen Valley where, shortly after, his brother Mark would be joining him. After 2 years, the brothers would be able to be reunited.

After the boys were reunited, they continued to work on shedding the sense of shame that covered their hearts. What they went through was not their fault, but they couldn’t help but feel a sense of ownership over the breakdown of their family. The boys slowly healed. They could not forget their parents, but they chose not to be defined by their mistakes.

Steve and Mark lived at Goshen Valley for two years and, one day, were introduced to a husband and wife who wanted to get to know them. They were unable to have children. They thought about adopting a baby, but realized that there were older children who also needed parents. Steve and Mark got to know the couple over weeks and months.

Within a year’s time, they were officially adopted. Steve finished high school and went on to technical school to pursue a career in sports management. Mark is still in high school and is planning to graduate next year.

Jim's Story

Jim’s father was never in the picture. He left when Jim was just a baby. Even though Jim grew up without a dad, things were good most of the time. He and his mom did not have much money. Sometimes it was difficult for Jim’s mom to keep watch over him since she worked 2 part-time jobs to help pay their rent. With extra freedom, Jim would get in trouble on occasion and sometimes did poorly in school.

All of this changed when Jim’s mom got sick. His grandmother tried to help, but she was very old herself. Jim missed school a lot in order to take care of his mother.

Jim’s mother died when he was in 8th grade. A couple of family friends and relatives tried to care for Jim. They loved him, but they had a very difficult time controlling a young man who experienced lots of freedom and deep hurts.

A year after his mother’s death, Jim was put into the foster care system because of truancy. Jim had a difficult time dealing with the grief of his mother’s death. Jim also had a difficult time attending school since he had spent so much time on his own.

Jim arrived at Goshen Valley his freshman year of high school. Defined by his sense of “independence” he had gained from having very little family and a life of his own decisions, Jim struggled. He struggled to value relationships and his school work. He often wondered who he really was. He missed his mother.

At Goshen Valley, Jim met other young men like himself. In fact, several young men had also lost their mothers. Slowly Jim opened up and began to trust again. Jim received counseling for his loss and opportunities to excel in things he enjoyed. Jim has lived at Goshen Valley for 2 years and is looking forward to High School graduation.

Jason's Story

Jason’s home life had always been turbulent. Jason’s parents got divorced when he was young, and he spent much time traveling between his parents' two houses. His mother struggled to maintain a steady job and had a new boyfriend whenever he came over. Jason’s father worked late hours and drank alcohol on a daily basis.

As Jason got older, he tended to spend more time at his father’s house. When he was there, he had more time to himself and did not have to care for his mother. Unfortunately, staying with his father meant that sometimes he was beat up when his father drank too much.

From late middle school to early high school Jason learned how to exist at his father’s house. Most of the time he tried to avoid him. One evening, Jason’s father came home to see Jason’s report card on the table. Jason had stopped trying in school, and he had many failing grades. Jason’s dad had been drinking a lot that evening and proceeded to hit Jason repeatedly. Jason escaped and spent that night at his friend’s house.

The next morning at school, Jason’s bruises were apparent. A school administrator called him into her office to ask Jason about the source of his bruises. Jason was scared, but hurt. He admitted to his father’s physical abuse.

The administrator called the Division of Family and Children Services. By the day’s end, Jason was in a local case worker’s car headed to a safe place to sleep.

Jason arrived at Goshen Valley that evening. He discovered that he already knew a few other guys who lived there. Although he was scared and confused, he felt safe. Jason spent the next two moths getting to know his house parents and the other young men in his house.

Jason’s father was remorseful. Through the court system, Jason’s father agreed to counseling, parenting classes and a rehabilitation program. Jason and his father began to have weekend visits at Goshen Valley where their relationship began to be repaired. After months of work, Jason and his dad were reunited. Jason continues to go to school and live with his father. Their relationship has improved, and Jason will graduate high school next year.