By David N. Krough, TJJD Communications

It is whispered among those tasked with guarding the security and safety of the public that the biggest successes remain silent, while the smallest of failures can be deafening.

JM graduation 5 24While there are so many stories of success out of TJJD every day, it’s not often enough that the life-changing stories of those who go on to achieve greater goals post-institution are amplified.

This spring, 23-year-old J.M. is one such success.

J.M. grew up in the Brownsville area and was sent to the Evins Regional Juvenile Center in 2016 when he was 15 years old for a five-year term. He was able to graduate from high school a year early, take college-level courses and enroll in the campus work program at Evins. This spring, he graduated with his Associate’s Degree in Nursing from Texas Southmost College, in Brownsville.

“I remember student (J.M.) very distinctly, because he was such a dedicated student here in school,” said Education Reentry Liaison Chris Lopez. “He always strived to do his best and earn the highest grade possible, often even taking homework back to his dorm.”

The TJJD Parrie Haynes Trust scholarship has played a big part in J.M.’s journey.

The scholarship was started when Texans Parrie Haynes and John C. Wende set up the Trusts in their wills to benefit the Corsicana State Home and orphans of Texas. The home later became the Corsicana State School and was a facility of the former Texas Youth Commission, now TJJD.

J.M. recalled that Lopez and Evins’ Academic Counselor Araceli Sanchez both worked to help guide him towards obtaining the grant.

“They reached out to me to inform me that I was actually approved for it,” J.M. said. “And that's when I was about to go back into school for my associates in general studies. (It) was perfect timing, in the sense that I got the aid I needed when I was about to start.”

To qualify for the scholarship, a student must already have their diploma or GED, had experience in the loss of a parent by death, incarceration, or parental rights, complete the application process and write an essay for acceptance.

“The students discharge at different times and most of the time we try to catch them before they are discharged from the agency so we can at least get an application and we can explain the benefits to them,” TJJD Reentry Trust Fund Coordinator Myra Chandler explained. “We try to plant this seed of higher education or even a vocational or technical certification," Chandler said. "We want the youth to be aware of the opportunity that is available to them."

“(J.M.) was definitely a student that stood out from a crowd,” Sanchez said. “He was serious in his determination to achieve educational success and make his family proud. Teachers and colleagues that worked with him speak of him often as being a great success story, considering the environment he was in.”

Lopez explained that once J.M. was motivated to continue his interest in post-secondary education in the community, they helped him complete his college application and even got a furlough approved so he and the JCO staff could bring him to take the SAT. From there, J.M. was able to finish up the scholarship application process and essay.

Taking on opportunity at TJJD

During his time at Evins, J.M. said he felt his opportunities were somewhat limited, but he took on everything he could, earning his high school diploma a year early in 2018. He also dove into any number of courses to obtain certifications, as well as taking advantage of college-level courses.

“I guess I took it as a learning experience. I tried to make the best of it . . . I did the agricultural certificate, some carpentry . . . I took advantage of the college courses,” he recalled.

J.M. also completed a lifeguard certification in a program that partnered with the Red Cross.

“I was kind of exploring different career paths,” he said of his time at Evins. “I was thinking about welding, eventually pursuing a degree in that or dentistry.”

That path eventually led him to the healthcare field.

“It's been a pretty good career choice, actually. Since being a recipient of the scholarship offered through TJJD, I actually acquired a certificate that allowed me to go into the nursing field and I (now) enjoy it quite a bit,” he said.

Once in nursing school, J.M. said it was very challenging. He had taken the general studies before moving into the prerequisites of basic sciences, anatomy and physiology.

“I was a bit nervous but, I just feel like I kind of just set my mind to it and I didn't want to limit myself … I want to try and fail before even giving up and not trying at all.”

J.M. said his time in the nursing program also had the unique challenge of being during the COVID pandemic, which enabled him to integrate some of his learning into an evolving and challenging situation.

From school to work

Currently, J.M. is working at a trauma level two hospital in the area.

“I've definitely had a little bit of everything, I guess. I'd actually had to initiate compressions on a patient and kind of resuscitate them. I had the opportunity to see how. Every discipline kind of comes together and just homes in on that one patient.”

“I had the respiratory team come in and pretty much intubate, help manage the airway. I had a physician come in and kind of coordinate the medications, the health history. I had other nurses on the unit come in and help with establishing intravenous switching on compressions and I was pretty much just there coordinating, pretty much letting the new emergency team come in and updating them on the patient's status. (Reviewing) what medications were last given, any abnormal rhythms that were coming in.”

“That's when I first had the opportunity to kind of put everything I learned in school together, because it was not only an emergent situation that called for quick thinking, but also I had to communicate very efficiently, because it was a matter of time kind of thing.”

Looking back on his time with TJJD, J.M. said he saw “a little bit of everything.”

He described his time there as “just trying to focus on yourself, improving anything you can while you're there taking part,” and reaching for any opportunities.

He recalls telling himself to not get discouraged over waiting for his release and to focus on his education.

“It's worth it, any little investment that you do for yourself, whether it's just getting your high school diploma or taking any certification classes that they offer or college courses. It definitely helps upon release, whether it's continuing education or landing a first job.”

“I wish J.M. nothing but the best in his bright future. I am humbled to learn of his success and how I may have helped him on his way to a great future,” Lopez said.

Sanchez noted that she had spread the word to her Evins’ colleagues about the graduation this week.

“We are all very proud of him and wish him nothing but success in the future. It’s refreshing to hear news like this and gives us hope that his success can repeat with other students,” she said.

For now, J.M. is getting ready for his national nurses' licensing exam and hoping for a full-time position in the intensive care unit at his hospital.