Alameda County, Calif. — By the time Raiden was 15, he’d grown so tired of getting picked on and beat up that he figured the only way to ward off the tough guys was to become a bully himself.
The strategy worked too well.
“I went to juvy. I got into a lot of fights. I was an angry kid,” he said.
When Raiden was 16, he saw a prospective victim, a man walking down the street with a backpack. It wasn’t his first time acting in the manner that followed. Raiden mugged the man and took his cellphone.
“I thought he was dead,” he said. “I went back to see.”
A witness spotted Raiden and ran after him until he and a police officer caught him.
He spent nearly a year in a residential camp for youth offenders. After successfully completing the program, as part of Raiden’s transition re-entry plan, his probation officer referred him to Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. A community-based alternative to youth incarceration in 31 states and the District of Columbia, YAP began delivering services in Alameda County in late 2019.
YAP Advocates live near the young people they support. The program’s evidence-based model includes training that prepares them to help youth see their strengths and connect them with tools and resources to achieve their goals and stay on a positive track. At the same time, the Advocates connect parents and guardians with support systems they need to firm their family’s foundation.
“Raiden has a lot of strengths. He sticks to school, and he has a job with a landscaping company,” said his YAP Advocate Tyler Livingston. “He has an amazing work ethic and drive, and he’s determined to hone in on what it takes to reach his goals.”
With support from Tyler and his Alameda County YAP team, Raiden has come to recognize that while he made some bad youthful decisions, he has a lot of positive qualities.
“I’m a good listener. I can get the job done. I have a good sense of humor, and I’m helpful to my little brother,” he said.
Tyler and his YAP team helped Raiden get his driver’s license, set him up with a tutor to help him finish high school, worked with him on his resume, and took him to a job training. Since becoming Raiden’s Advocate, Tyler has been a steady source of support for him and his family.
“He switched to the Raiden I knew he could be. You don’t know how happy I am and how happy my family is,” said Raiden’s mother, Donna. “I honestly think YAP helps the whole family. I’m so happy that this program is there — not just to help me and Raiden but to help other teens.”
Donna, a single mom to Raiden and his younger brother, works two jobs and cares for her mother, whose health is failing. She said YAP has been a source of emotional support for her, even providing a gift card to make things a little easier during the holidays. She said Tyler is making sure Raiden pays the restitution fees he owes to the court as part of completing his probation.
“Raiden is the only one paying,” she said, adding that she tells him: “You’re working now; that’s your responsibility.” She said Raiden is also now helping with household bills. “He gives me half of his check.”
Raiden said it feels good to be a source of pride for his family, adding that his turnaround has made a big impression on his little brother.
“He was getting curious. He sees me home now and sees that I’m in a better situation. Now he wants to do that, too.”
Now 18, Raiden appreciates the change he has made and the positive path that it’s put him on. At the same time, he recognizes that he still has work to do, saying he often thinks about the incident that brought him to YAP.
“I still feel bad about it,” he said.
Raiden is thankful that he got a second chance at life; but he’s just as grateful that his victim is able to live his.