Jose was a sixteen-year-old growing up in the Bronx who wanted a good job someday so that he could help support his mom, who was raising him and his two brothers on her own. However, as he entered the tenth grade, he began to struggle in school and increasingly found his peers to be a negative influence. Separating himself from them was not easy because he felt that belonging to the local neighborhood "crew" offered him protection that enabled him to safely get to and from school each day. One day, accompanied by members of his "crew," he got into a fight near his school, which resulted in a year's suspension. Despite the fact that it was his first arrest, he was also charged with attempted gang assault in the first degree-a felony offense that could potentially brand him a criminal for the rest of his life.
Jose made bail and was placed in an alternative high school, but skipped class at least once per week because he didn't like the school environment. He felt out of place in a school where the students were "problem kids," a term he did not feel applied to him. After a year, he still had made no academic progress and transferred to another school, which he eventually stopped attending because he felt he was so behind on earning the credits he needed to graduate that his best option was to enroll in a GED program. At the age of eighteen, he was given the opportunity to enter CASES' Court Employment Project (CEP) rather than serve a prison sentence, and enrolled in our on-site GED class, in which he maintained 98 percent attendance. Within four months, he earned his GED and subsequently entered CASES' Next Steps class, which helps students prepare for and enroll in college.
After graduating from CEP, Jose's criminal record was sealed and he was accepted at Borough of Manhattan Community College, where he is interested in pursuing a career in real estate or business. Now that he has joined the first cohort of students to enter college under CASES' new post-secondary success initiative, which includes monthly participant meetings, he has a new set of peers who share his goals. He says that, "Without CASES I don't think I would be where I am today. I'm so thankful that I got a second chance and CASES was there to support me."