COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Five young men became graduates at the Department of Juvenile Justice on Saturday as part of the department's Blazer Program.
The Blazer Program is a 10-week program that teaches inmates how to become leaders and public speakers among many other life skills. But not all make it through and the five who did were recognized Saturday at a graduation.
"When I first got here, I was kind of getting into trouble," 17-year-old Quantarrus explained, "and I turned myself around."
Their stories are not easy to tell and some of the young men say it is what put them behind bars.
"My dad died last year and my mom is incarcerated," 17-year-old Jacob Mauney said.
But others, like Mauney, say it was just a chapter of life they are putting behind them.
"I have been here 18 months and over the 18 months, it feels longer, but at the same time, it doesn't feel that long because I have learned so much. Without being here, I would have been the same person I was and I don't want to be that guy," Mauney explained. "So, part of it is a blessing, which is kind of odd because you came to jail, but I learned a lot. I'm glad it happened. If it didn't happen, I wouldn't be who I am today. I feel like I became a better person in all."
From behind bars, a preparation for outside life begins with the Blazer Program at the Department of Juvenile Justice.
"Young people are often times faced with so many things that go against them day after day. And often times, I have heard people talk about how our youth, they are just so unruly, they don't care these days, parents don't know how to parent and then teachers are frustrated because of low pay and not being able to teach effectively. But one of the reasons I volunteer is because I would like to break that mold of perception," Tamara Baldwin, a DJJ volunteer said.
The graduates will be able to take the blazers home with them and many hope to one day wear it to a job interview.