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When Jayru Campbell was a sophomore at Cass Tech High School and a member of my newspaper club, we walked to the 36th District Court on a field trip.

Judge Kenneth King allowed us to tour the holding cells of the court, and we sat in on a handful of cases related to offenders under 20. I recall a gang-related case of 19- and 20-year-olds — none of the young men possessed a high school diploma. One of the young men we saw was an unwilling witness on the stand and was already serving a life sentence. His mentality was so carefree, it was painful to watch. At the time, Campbell told me the young men seemed unreal, like something in a movie.

But this became Campbell’s reality, as he sat in jail a second time in a year for a parole violation.

My heart broke to know that Campbell was housed with 17-year-old offenders in the Wayne County Jail, and that his education was being compromised and his anger issues were not being addressed.

Prior to his first incarceration this summer, Campbell visited a therapist every Saturday and attended church every Sunday. He told me he would feel calmer after the anger management sessions and he was learning to talk through his traumas. When he was in jail this summer, those sessions, the help he wanted and needed, were not available. During his most recent jail sentence, help was made available, and his anger management teacher who worked with him over the summer visited him in jail.

I am not an apologist for Campbell’s actions, and I do not condone violence. But I saw him transform and learn lessons from his time in court and in jail. He accepts therapy.

I have seen Campbell become more conscious of negative comments and ill feelings from the community. Walking around Detroit, he is easily recognized, approached, judged and questioned. He understands how many people rallied around him to succeed. But I can’t help but wonder, what type of humans are we creating inside of the criminal justice institutions around the country? We are not clueless to the demands of the metaphorical “system” and the survival culture.

I have to echo what educational consultant William Tandy asked on Fox (Channel 2) “Let it Rip” in September: “Isn’t it cheaper to send him to Penn State, than the state pen?”

If given the proper help, I know Campbell can thrive, not just survive.

Erika Jones, teacher, Cass Tech High School, adviser to CT Visionary newspaper, Detroit

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