Keanu was raised by a single parent who worked long shifts at a retirement home to support six children. With so little money and supervision, Keanu picked up on an unspoken message – he had to look out for himself. Growing up in the NYCHA Jacob Riis Houses on the Lower East Side, Keanu knew even at a young age that drugs were the way to earn cash. By age 16, he had lots of money from selling drugs.
When Keanu was pulled into the high school Dean's office and ordered to dump out his book bag, the contents were undeniable – drugs and an unregistered handgun he kept for self-defense. Keanu was shipped directly from the school to Rikers Island, where he was locked up for two days until his mother was able to scrape together bail. She took Keanu home but no one could predict for how long – if convicted, Keanu could have faced a sentence of up to 15 years.
Typically, Avenues for Justice (AFJ) won’t accept youth with gun charges. Before Keanu saw the judge, AFJ rigorously assessed him at its office inside the Manhattan Criminal Court. Staff decided, in this particular instance, that Keanu would respond to AFJ's strict regimen including mandated curfews, daily afterschool attendance for three hours of programs at its community center, and a staff person in contact and on call around the clock. The court assigned Keanu to AFJ's supervision instead of a jail cell.
AFJ took immediate action. We first referred Keanu to treatment for drug addiction, both inpatient and an outpatient, and then supported him throughout the process. As Keanu regained sobriety, he realized how critical his situation was. He knew if he didn't change, he'd go to prison.
Keanu was determined to beat the odds with AFJ’s support. He enrolled in High School Equivalency (formerly known as GED) classes and discovered for the first time that he was a promising student, earning a 90% average in all of his classes. Not long after, he passed all five sections of the High School Equivalency test.
In May, Keanu had his final court date and earned youthful offender status, meaning his record was immediately sealed. The judge also adjusted his probation from five years to two years, in addition to mandating that he complete his remaining year in AFJ programs. He is now a business major at Guttman College with dreams of owning his own real estate company.
At age 18, Keanu has learned that by chasing a life on the street, he almost lost it all. But by pursuing positive change, and having the right support from AFJ, a bright future awaits him.