Ken Smith, Credible Messenger, Queens Defenders

In 2012 I was just another teenager looking for answers. What would my life be in 5 years?

Things began to take a turn that year. I was 17 years old and a junior at Grover Cleveland High School. Not attending classes, not even showing up to school became my new norm.  My friends were doing the same. We thought we were cool. We thought this was ok. One morning, when I actually did show up at school, I saw an opportunity to steal a phone, right out of a kid’s hand.

Why did I want to steal this phone? Just to get a few dollars? Was it worth it? What consequences would I face? None of these thoughts came to my mind.  What I thought was, I have a great phone.

The next day at school, I was sent to dean’s office and later arrested. I had to go to court where a lawyer from Queens Defenders was assigned to be my attorney. She arranged a plea for me which required me to attend Queens Defenders’ summer internship program. It was the very first one, and the first day, July 15, was my 18th birthday.

Although I didn’t know it then, this is when my life began to change.

There were 12 other teens like me who had committed crimes and had to go to court where the judge then referred them to Queens Defenders.  During the day, we spent time at the law offices, learning about public defenders and gaining office skills. We also had plenty of activities outside the office: rock climbing, bowling, wood carving, health and wellness classes. I attended pretty much every day. I met a lot of people and got a lot of experience.

In the fall, I needed to find a job. McDonalds offered me a position. It was my first job. The Executive Director of Queens Defenders, Lori Zeno, offered me a job a few months later, but first I either had to return to school or get my GED. I attended a New York State-run GED program and was the Valedictorian for the entire state that year. I also went to trade school at the same time and earned certificates Electrical Installation and Building Maintenance. Ms. Zeno hired me as a data entry clerk and I am now working as a Credible Messenger, mentoring teens who find themselves in the position I was in seven years ago.

Queens Defenders supported me when no one else would. They encouraged me to look within myself for the answers I sought. Now, I am 24, engaged to be married, and a proud homeowner! My goal is to become a urban farmer, teaching people how to grow their own food. I want to be a successful Youtuber too, so I can share what I have learned with others.