Doing Good: Reentry Mentor Helps Juvenile Get Back on her Feet
K.O. Ibrahim, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate and former participant in the Juvenile Reentry Program through UNO, is not new to building relationships with juvenile offenders. Ibrahim’s brother is currently detained in a state facility and has been in and out of the system for years.
And while Ibrahim worked to be a positive role model for her brother, she also realized there were others with similar problems that might benefit from her help.
So it didn’t take much for professor and researcher Dr. Anne Hobbs to convince the young criminology major to enroll in the JJI Juvenile Reentry Project, a two-semester service-learning course administered through the University of Nebraska School of Criminal Justice and Criminology.
The course begins with students meeting weekly with course instructors to learn the ins and outs of mentoring at-risk youth.
Students are then paired with teens currently detained in one of the state’s youth detention facilities.
Ibrahim was paired in September of 2013 year with Paula*, a young woman residing in the Lincoln Detention Center. Paula told her mentor she has been in and out of youth detention facilities.
The two built a relationship slowly at first. “So many [juvenile detainees] are let down by adults in their lives,” said Ibrahim. But a bond of trust and mutual respect began to develop once the mentor’s role became clear to the young offender.
“She didn’t want anyone else telling her what to do,” said Ibrahim. “I said I was just there to listen and talk about whatever came up.” She established what she called a “positive friend influence” with her young mentee - much like that of an older sister.
The juvenile justice community has for a long time recognized the positive effect mentoring has on at-risk youth or youth with a criminal history.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reported in 2012 that evidence-based mentoring programs can have positive effects such as reducing truancy and increasing the likelihood of pursuing higher education; it may also decrease the probability of substance abuse problems in the future.
Program director Dr. Anne Hobbs encouraged Ibrahim to stay in touch wither mentee even after the course ended. A consistent and healthy relationship, said Hobbs, will improve the mentee’s chances for long-term success and decrease the likelihood of future involvement with the criminal justice system.
Up to the time of the writing of this article, Ibrahim has kept the relationship going. The women still see each other every few weeks, talk on the phone regularly and keep in touch on social media.
Over the last few months Ibrahim also helped her mentee find a job, driving her around Lincoln to search for work and pick up employment applications. Their efforts paid off, and the young mentee now has a job working at an area fast food restaurant.
There is no end date for the relationship said Ibrahim. “As long as she’ll have me, we’re going to try to work it out.”
Ibrahim said she has learned a lot from her experience - and also that what she took away from the program is helping her in her new career in law enforcement. Ibrahim now works as a corrections officer at the Lancaster County Jail.
The mentoring experience, she said, taught her to interact with people who have been on the other side of the criminal justice system. “I have a better understanding of where they’re coming from and how they view the guards.”
Her mentee also helped her understand the culture of the detainees. Most of the inmates, she says, are not much older than Paula.
Ibrahim said she loves her new job and plans to stay for the foreseeable future. Looking long term, though, when she has gained enough experience, Ibrahim said she plans to apply to a federal agency. As a fluent speaker of Kurdish, the young woman says her ultimate career goal is to work as a translator for the FBI.
When asked what kind of advice she would give to potential mentors, Ibrahim said, “I’d tell them to definitely do it. It’s very rewarding just knowing you made an impact. You really could be that changing factor in their lives.”