Juvenile delinquent turns into high school graduateWritten by Mary Petrides | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Devonn Palmer is about to break the cycle.
He spent his sophomore year incarcerated for gang-related violence. Then, he got arrested for robbery.
But in a few days, the 19-year-old will graduate from Woodward High School.
“I’m shooting for the stars,” Palmer said. “I see the finish line of high school.”
Palmer said he earned straight As from kindergarten until fifth grade, but he “started running with the wrong crowd” in sixth grade.
His freshman year, Palmer was absent about 140 days out of the 180-day school year, he said, and when he did show up, “I’d just run around the halls from first hour until they kicked me out.”
Then, during his sophomore year, he shot someone. He was found guilty of felonious assault and spent about two and a half months at a juvenile detention center and nine and a half months at the Youth Treatment Center in Toledo, he said.
Palmer said his uncles are in jail, and when he visited, they wanted something better for him.
“They always said, ‘break the cycle, man, do something different.’”
Palmer is about to, but it wasn’t easy.
In July, right before his senior year, he was arrested for robbery. He was eventually found not guilty, but wasn’t released from jail until November and then he was put under house arrest.
“Every night I was in jail, I was praying,” he said. “They were talking 15-20 years. I’m this close to graduating…I kept telling them, ‘I’m about to graduate.’”
When Palmer got out of jail, he asked to meet with Robb Slusser, assistant principal of pupil personnel at Woodward.
Slusser said he was not required to let Palmer back into Woodward, but Palmer begged him.
“I tell [students about] rules and regulations, but I also tell them about life,” Slusser said. “I tell the kids ‘you get one chance around. If you get a second chance, you better make use of it,’” he said.
Palmer enrolled at Woodward High School’s Polar Academy, an alternative school program four evenings a week at the high school.
Slusser told him if he did well there, he could come back to Woodward.
Palmer worked hard and came back to Woodward at the beginning of second semester, the third week in January.
Palmer attributes his success in part to school administrators — “they just showed me so much love,” he said. He also credits his mother and God.
“My mom, she didn’t give up on me,” he said. “She never washed her hands of me, never gave up on me…she said, ‘I’m not trying to lose you to these streets.’”
Palmer said he was given a Bible at the Youth Treatment Center — a Bible he still has today.
“[That was] the only thing I started really counting on,” he said. “I started reading the Bible every day. I started going to church.
“I strongly believe in God,” he said.
Recently, Palmer took a girl to prom. He had never seen himself dressed up before, and when he looked in the mirror, “I didn’t know what to think of myself,” he said.
“He looked like a different young man compared to three years ago when I first got to see him,” Slusser said.
“Mrs. Slusser said he was one of the sharpest ones there,” Alexander said.
Palmer said he hopes to join the Navy after graduation. He thinks getting away will help him focus.
His mother, Keesha Winters, thinks so, too.
“They’ll teach him who he is. He’s still young right now,” she said. “It’s gonna help him focus on what it is he wants to do and show him how do it.”
Palmer said he wants to be a defense lawyer. He wants to talk to people in situations like his own and help them stop “slipping up.”
“Whatever he wants to do, I’m there for him,” Winters said.
“Students like Devonn who go from bad to good — that’s what [teaching is] all about,” Slusser said. “It’s about the smile you see on a kid and that walk when they walk across the stage to get their diploma.”
His guidance counselor Jim Alexander is proud, too.
“I’ve worked at Woodward for 16 years and I don’t honestly think I’ve been more proud of anyone than Devonn,” Alexander said. “Steadily, year by year, month by month, week by week, Devonn has improved himself dramatically.”
Palmer is ready to move on.
“I never thought this day would come. I thought I would never walk across the stage,” he said.
“It’s been a long ride,” he said. “I’m 19 and I feel like I’m 40.”