My definition of freedom is the ability to be able to do anything at will.

I was very young when my parents were divorced. My biological father was never around and because of that, my mother would shelter me in the house. When I turned 11, I started to hang with my older brothers more. We would go to other neighborhoods just to go do anything to get some money. Most of the time, our activities were illegal so we had to run from the police often.

I got caught once when I was living in the DC area. I was 13 and ended up in a juvenile detention center for nine months. When I got out I was still fighting and still not listening my mother. After three years my mother sent me from DC back to live with my biological father in St. Louis. I was put out of three schools within a two year time frame. I had started working and started to enjoy life more.

Then my father had me locked up. I kept hearing the same cursed words he uttered before he had me arrested: “You’re a manipulative bitch! You got to go!”

I thought about it every night I laid in my cell. I had lost hope. The food was horrific and the conditions of the jail were really terrible.

Finally, after a year my charges were dismissed and I was released. When I grabbed my things from the storage clerk and walked out those doors, I was the happiest man I had ever been. I was free. I had gained my freedom back!

–John O., LAYC Career Academy