Troubled teens turn over new leaf

Youthful offenders plant tree in honor of national Victims Rights Week

Paul Henderson, in the DYS program, talks at a tree-planting ceremony in honor of Victim Rights Week in front of the Mesa County Juctice Center.

A newly planted flowering crab-apple tree at the entrance to the Mesa County Justice Center requires 18-year-old Lyndon to look squarely at his past.

The teenager from Rio Blanco County, who is nearly three months into about a year-and-a-half assault sentence at Grand Mesa Youth Detention Center, is serious when he says he wants to repay his debt to society. He knows now that his actions not only affected his victim but his family and the larger community.

“I learned that you don’t have to make everyone else unhappy for you to be happy,” he said.

“The best advice: Don’t think you’re always right.” 

With a handful of others from the youth detention center, Lyndon, whose last name is being withheld, helped dig the hole and plant the tree Wednesday afternoon in front of the Justice Center in honor of national Victims Rights Week. The youths marked the area with a donated, decorative rock and plaque honoring all victims, in the hopes that it will offer courage to those walking into the courthouse.

The event this year also coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Victims Crime Act, a federal law that prioritizes funding for services for victims of domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault, as well as victims of other violent crimes.

Repaying societal debt or restorative justice in the form of restitution, community service and empathy classes is one of the pillars of the detention center’s program, Director Dave Maynard said.

Youths are tasked with earning money either by working with the nonprofit group Partners on the weekends, in the center’s kitchen, or by holding fundraisers while incarcerated. In some cases, victims and offenders are reunited in supervised sessions.

Groups such as Latimer House and Mothers Against Drunk Driving recently offered presentations to youths at the center to hammer home the consequences of making harmful decisions against others. In return, the youths donated to the groups $500 from their fundraisers.

During the past fiscal year, youths paid back a little less than $20,000 in restitution costs, Maynard said.

“This brings them full circle, and they figure out who they’ve affected,” Maynard said.

Lyndon said he has taken a test to get his GED, but he still plans to earn his high school diploma. He’ll be attending Job Corps until he completes his sentence in June 2010. After
that, Lyndon plans to stay far away from the courthouse, though he may swing by for a visit.

“I’ll probably come back when everything’s said and done and take my family here and say, ‘I did this,’ ” he said of planting the tree.


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