Progress

Connections 2017

Goldsboro News Argus - Progress Edition

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10 C onnie Rouse held the phone to her ear and slowly closed her eyes. Her son, Spencer Rouse, breathed heavily on the other end as he sat in jail. At age 18, Spencer used his military ID to access Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and steal from the Base Exchange. His mother hung up the phone and waited. "The best thing we did was not going to get him immedi- ately," she said. She lingered at home for three hours before she and her husband, retired U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Michael Rouse, arrived at the jail. Spencer received a misde- meanor shoplifting charge, and his lawyer referred him to Communities in Schools of Wayne County's Teen Court. There he volunteered as a juror, he wrote an essay, and he compiled enough communi- ty service hours to complete the program all within one month. The charge was dropped. Spencer never knew his time in Teen Court would place him on a path to a much bigger challenge eight years later. Now, at age 26, Marine Corps Pfc. Spencer Rouse has completed the 13 weeks at Parris Island, and he is currently based at Camp Lejeune where he is hard at work on a civil engineering degree through Military Occupa- tional Specialties. "It really did change him and his whole outlook on life and how he looks at people," Connie said. It changed her as well. Connie remained angry with her son for months, taking away all of his privileges except his car so he could drive to Teen Court. She said Spencer graduated from Eastern Wayne High School that year, but he had to spend his graduation money on attor- ney and court fees. Spencer grew up in a military family, Con- nie said. Her son was a "good kid who made bad decisions." But she said Spencer always respected his mother. "The judge asked him when does his pun- ishment end," she said. "He said, 'When my mom's not mad at me anymore' –– I was mad for a very, long time." She continued to love her son, and she watched him grow into the man he is today. But two years ago, she took on the added role of watching other parents' teenagers make bad decisions and grow from their mistakes. Connie currently works at Spring Creek Middle School in data management, but she also volunteers her time at Teen Court. On the first and third Tuesdays of each month, she heads to the Wayne County Courthouse where she acts as an exit interviewer. Selena Bennett, executive director of Com- munities in Schools, met Connie through the school system and asked her if she would like to volunteer. Connie agreed, and so now she talks to each teenager after each court session to make sure they understand the requirements for a successful completion. "She saw the value of the program and wanted to come back as an adult volunteer," Bennett said. She reviews the teenagers' packet with them, informs them of their jobs in court as a juror, bailiff, clerk or attorney, and explains places where they can complete their com- munity service. "They get this whole packet and the sheet from the jury, and those go to BreAnna (Van- Hook)," she said. VanHook became the director of Teen Court last August, and she has seen teenagers successfully complete the 90-day program. She said there are currently 14 teenagers in the program. To avoid being charged in district court as adults, 16 and 18-year-olds with misde- meanor charges can complete their sentenc- ing through Teen Court, and convictions will not go on their record. Teens younger than 16 are referred to the program by school resource officers, and they can avoid the juvenile court system if they successfully complete the sentencing requirements. Sentences consist of reporting on the assigned Teen Court nights, volunteering as a member of court, but not the judge — who is a Wayne County judge or a licensed attor- ney — passing drug tests if required, attend- ing the Think Smart program one time and completing the assigned community service hours. Van Hook said teenagers will be dis- charged from the program if students receive another misdemeanor charge, do not attend Teen Court nights, or fail a drug test if they were referred for a positive drug test. If teens do not complete the program, they will face district court or juvenile court. How- ever, a teen who completes the requirements before the end of 90 days will see charges dropped. Some even come back as volunteers. Jordan Johnston, 16, completed Teen Court last April, after he received a charge for dis- turbance of peace. Jordan said he confronted a fellow student at Charles B. Aycock High School for having a gun on school premises. The Teen Court program gives juveniles an opportunity to learn from mistakes through volunteering and discipline. Jordan Johnston at the Wayne County Courthouse during a session of teen court. After completing his time in teen court for past offenses Johnston returns to volunteer and help others to complete the program. See TEEN, Page 11 Teen Court offers chance at SUCCESS

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