A Client’s Congressional Testimony

On June 19, 2007, DeCario Whitfield of our YouthBuild Program testified before the US Congress Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. My name is DeCario Whitfield. I am 19 years old and I am a student enrolled in the Sasha Bruce YouthBuild program. I came to the YouthBuild program after coming home from jail. I was locked up at the age of 16 for armed robbery. There were a lot of circumstances that lead to that terrible time.

I was in high school. I was not getting the attention and assistance that I needed from my teachers. I did not understand any of the lessons and I was constantly behind in my assignments just because I didn’t understand. I was scared to go to class because I knew I didn’t know the stuff. The classes were out of order. The students were running the halls, disrespectful to the teachers and each other. I was roaming the halls and smoking weed to escape the misery of feeling stupid and left behind. I couldn’t wait for the 3:15 bell to ring.

Even though I lived with my grandmother, I did not have guidance at home. Although I was not starving and had a roof over my head, I was not getting attention from my family. My father was doing a ten-year sentence in jail and my mother was running the streets too often to pay me some mind. Her habit kept her busy getting her fix. I had nowhere to turn for structure. I lead myself wherever I wanted to go. I was in charge of my life, even though I was not wise enough to make decisions for myself. I lived in the ghetto. I saw people getting shot, stabbed; using drugs, and getting robbed everyday. It was easy to follow the crew and do the same thing.

After I was arrested, I felt ashamed of the fact that I hurt others. I was sentenced to three years in jail. I was sentenced to a Title-16 sentence. It’s when a 16 year old is charged and sentenced as an adult. I went to DC Detention Center, Shelby Training Center in Memphis TN, and United States Penitentiary in Pennsylvania. I was not going to get an education, a job, or any kind of direction and development in those places.

Then one day after serving 2 ½ years of my sentence, I came home. I was released to my family; the same family that did not give the guidance that I needed in the first place. I was still on my own, again. I knew I needed to make a change. I found out about the Sasha Bruce YouthBuild while I was in jail. I wanted to get my GED because I didn’t graduate from high school. I wanted to be able to get a job so I didn’t ever have to hustle. I knew I needed some kind and skills and training.

I came home on a Friday. Ms. Tara from Free Minds Reading Club called Ms Kym from Sasha Bruce YouthBuild and asked her if I could attend the orientation on the following Monday. I was in. She allowed me to come to the orientation even though I had not tested or interviewed. She took a chance on me. I’m glad.

Now that I’m in the program, I feel that I’m back on track. Some people feel that they are too old to go back to school to get an education. YouthBuild made it possible for me to get a way to get my GED. I also get a chance to go to school and get some money at the same time. I don’t have to worry about getting to work after I have been to school all day. I get both in the same place. The environment stays the same. I am allowed the chance to have a regular stable environment.

In my classes, there is a smaller amount of people. I am able to get the attention that I never got before now. The teachers are respectful and they care about me. I have two teachers who care, instead of one all crazy and stressed out.

The counselors are there for me. I am able to get guidance when I need it. I can discuss trouble when it comes. Before, I would deal with it in any way I could without any outside help from a responsible adult. I’m even able to talk about man stuff. I’m able to hear from an adult and not feel like something is wrong with me. This program gave me a way to get back to what’s supposed to be normal. I never knew normal. It feels almost strange.

When I’m all done with this program, I will have training in a trade to use to get a job. I have other skills, but they’re all illegal skills. I can only use them for other type stuff. I was told that the construction piece could be seen as a means to an end. I have a career counselor to help me with any field I choose to enter. I have not made up my mind yet. I got some help with all that too. My counselor told me to redirect my other skills to use in legitimate professions. Instead of breaking and entering, I could be a locksmith.

Programs for young people, like YouthBuild, need to be everywhere. Not everybody is able to get to the right people to help them get back straight. Not everybody that fell off the track is in a place where they get word of the chance to do better, fix the wrong stuff, and make something of themselves.

Without the program I would be selling clothes at a stand in the mall with no GED or any type of good money. I would be stressed out and feeling stupid, still. It would take me a long time to get my GED on my own. It would be a minute before I would be able to figure out that nothing is wrong with me. It would also take awhile to figure out the right things to do. Right now, I have supervision, even though I’m not on probation. People actually want to know where I’ve been when I don’t show up for class. I am responsible for learning, instead of ducking the teachers and smoking weed. I even have some pocket change, enough to satisfy immediate needs for a little while. I’m doing good, and nothing is wrong with me. I’m not a crazy kid running the streets.