Incarcerated youth speak out for change in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- We often report on young people ending up behind bars, but we were able to actually hear from some of them on Monday.

The group “Incarcerated Youth Speaking Out For Change” formed about three years ago and is a collaboration between BRIDGES and the Shelby County Sheriff's Office.

The young men who are apart of it share their childhood experiences and offer advice to others with the hope they’ll have a better future.

They've all been locked up since they were teenagers.

Some of them say they’re not trying to tell people how to live their lives but want to spread the message there's a lot more to life than the choices that will send you to prison.

Gunshots, gangs and drugs plague many Shelby County neighborhoods.

Children are often stuck in the middle.

“Shootouts, gang fights and crime was a normal. I’ve seen it every day," said 17-year-old Jaylen.

On Thursday, we heard real accounts of being raised in that environment.

“I grew up with a lot of trauma," said 20-year-old Robert. "My dad got killed in my face, my mom sold dope all my life.”

And the toll it can take.

“Somewhere in my life I stopped caring.”

The eight young inmates shared what funneled them into the prison system.

Whether it was mimicking others…

“I started following the life that my dad, uncle and cousins did," said 20-year-old Marterius.

Or the appeals of the streets.

“I decided my dope money was good enough," said Sebastian.

All of these men wish they’d chased bigger dreams: College, professional sports, even becoming a mathematician.

“That’s the funny thing about life, once it’s done there are no take backs," said Charles. "What I’m really trying to say is walk a better path than me.”

They hope their mistakes can motivate others to have a better future.

Because they’ll tell you a criminal lifestyle will get you two places: Dead or behind bars.

“It can cause so much pain and depression, both physically and mentally.”

Their biggest pieces of advice for parents and mentors is to not give up…

Talk to your children even if they shut you out.

“Growing up I was seeking attention I felt was lacking or needed," said Antonio.

Make sure emotional trauma isn’t being ignored.

“When I witnessed my older brother get shot that’s when I feel like my life changed forever," said Jaylen.

Help them choose goals to work toward at all ages.

“I realized there was more in life I wanted for myself," said Marterius.

And know slip ups happen.

“Mistakes are made for learning purposes," said Sebastian. "Struggle and pain can be great things if used as an excuse to do better.”

Because it's never too late to do better.

You can find more information on the program online here.

If you’re interested in having these young men speak at an event or supporting the program, you can reach out to joyce.anderson@shelby-sheriff.org or MarkBerryhill@shelby-sheriff.org.