Making an Impact

Theresa (not her real name) came to a realization: “I didn’t want to be broke with no job, no GED and living with my moms.”

What had brought her to this point was her habit of smoking marijuana regularly, and even selling it. Theresa used to think of this as a victimless crime, but at Bronx Community Solution's first community impact panel (for pictures, click here) it became clear that seemingly victimless crimes can severely effect a person's life.

The community impact panel - an idea borrowed from the Midtown Community Court - brought together community stakeholders and young people who had been charged with marijuana offenses, allowing an honest and free-flowing exchange about how these offenses can affect the community.

Melanie, a police officer, said to one of the youth participants, “You see me sitting here and you might just see the uniform, but I am also a person who cares about you and about our community.” The community members — Melanie, a police officer; Pattie, who works for a substance abuse agency; Ruben, a leader in a human service agency, and Inga; a peer counselor for a youth program - shared stories from their professional perspectives and from their personal lives.

Sixteen-year-old Daquan, who is truant from school and not living with his mother, said “I don’t smoke weed, I sell it.” Daquan sees selling marijuana as his only career option. Inga, Ruben, Pattie and Melanie, all speaking directly with Daquan, helped him realize that there are other choices for him. He saw that he was in a room with people who could connect him to services that he did not even know existed.

Luis, 17, does not see that smoking marijuana is such a big deal, but his eyes widened when Pattie talked about her brother, a young drug user who committed suicide.

As an employment specialist from FEGS Health and Human Services System, a Bronx Community Solutions partner, I moderated the panel along with Resource Coordinator Elizabeth Taylor.

We started the group because we felt the usual punishments for marijuana offenses (typically a time served sentence or a few days jail) do not go far enough in helping a young person understand why their criminal behavior is not only self-destructive but also damaging to the community. The underlying issues (such as stress about jobs or school, dependency on the chemicals in the marijuana itself, and self-medication for underlying mental health issues) are not addressed and the young person may not learn anything except that they were unlucky enough to get caught.

By contrast, the participants in our panel opened up about some of the reasons they're using marijuana: peer pressure, lack of role models and the need to numb feelings that they don't want to talk about were cited in the group. By the end of the session, three out of the four panel members said they were interested in pursuing the voluntary services (such as a job referral) that we offer.

Going forward, community impact panels will be a big part of what Bronx Community Solutions offers the Bronx community. Along with the youth basketball league, it's also part of our effort to provide specific services to a population of younger adults.