Graduates of the Northwest Credible Messenger Green Hill School pilot program, in green polos, proudly celebrate with the program’s mentors after the ceremony on Friday, June 21. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Graduates of the Northwest Credible Messenger Green Hill School pilot program, in green polos, proudly celebrate with the program’s mentors after the ceremony on Friday, June 21. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Program prepares youths to succeed after prison

Green Hill School inmates become first Northwest Credible Messenger graduates in Washington state.

The last time King County Superior Judge Judith Ramseyer saw one of the Green Hill School inmates was in the courtroom where she sentenced him to five years at the maximum security facility in Chehalis, Washington.

One year later, Ramseyer sits in the crowd at the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration (JRA) Northwest Credible Messengers graduation to show her support for that very teen.

Eight incarcerated youths graduated from the mentorship program on June 21, now equipped with the workplace and real life skills needed outside the barbed-wire fencing of Green Hill School.

Green Hill School is a medium to maximum security facility for male juvenile offenders, managed by the State Department of Social and Health Services’ Juvenile Justice and Rehabilitation Administration.

This is the first graduating class of JRA Credible Messengers in Washington state.

For the past six months, the incarcerated youths have met with Credible Messengers leaders every Friday for two hours during the pilot program session.

“I really believe in the work they’re doing,” Ramseyer said about the Credible Messengers program. “I think our juvenile and adult criminal justice system needs a lot of reform and they are part of that process.”

Ramseyer is also the chief judge of the King County Juvenile Court.

She met with the 16-year-old graduate before the event started; it was the first time they had seen each other since the courtroom.

“I told him that I believe that he was capable of becoming whatever he wants to be,” she said of the conversation.

The 16-year-old inmate still has four more years at Green Hill, which gives him time to put the work he’s already accomplished into everyday action, she said.

“There’s a reason why their title is Credible Messengers; they know what these young people have been through and that’s so different than me, this sort of middle-aged white woman who has had a life of privilege, saying, ‘Atta boy, you can do it. I believe in you.’”

While her sentiments never hurt to hear, she said, it does not make as powerful of an impression as someone who has walked the walk and lived on the same streets as these boys have come from.

“I’m more than just this story,” said Willard Jimerson Jr., the keynote speaker of the graduation.

In 1994, Jimerson was 13 years old when he was sentenced to 23 years for fatally shooting a 14-year-old girl in the back.

“They gave me 286 months,” he said. “I didn’t know how much time that was.”

Only when an employee of King County Juvenile Court pulled him aside and showed him the newspaper front page headline did he find out how much time those months accumulated to.

“I feel like I have an obligation to live for two people now,” Jimerson told the Seattle PI in 2006. “A life was taken that shouldn’t have been so I’m obligated to make sure that next person does get a chance to live. I don’t want to see nobody else go through this, I really don’t — on both sides.”

He also told the PI he hopes to see himself mentoring at-risk youth one day.

At the recent graduation, Jimerson, now 38, stands before the group of boys.

“There’s a lot of people who throw people like us away,” he told the graduates.

“What helped me transition out of a certain mindset that said it was OK to gangbang, to hustle, to pick up a gun, to cause destruction to myself and also adults that look like me — because I didn’t like me so I definitely wouldn’t like you — I had to really re-address some values inside myself,” he said.

He saved himself through reading. Everything from the Quran to Alice Walker. By educating himself, he realized there is a concentrated attack against people who look like him, he said.

“I was pissed off at everybody who was in an adult role that’s supposed to be supervising and taking care of young folks, but they keep ostracizing us and pushing us away. I was pissed the hell off,” he said, his evident fury spewing throughout the silent room.

A hopeful solution to end this recidivism cycle is for the graduates to recognize they are the pillars of change for this at-risk society within Green Hill School.

“You guys are the frontline, the strength of the community,” he said, adding without these graduates, the chance of breaking the cycle crumbles. “If you don’t do it, we aren’t going to make it.”

Green Hill Superintendent Jennifer Redman said these graduates were among the hardest of the hard-to-reach youth at the prison.

Never been done before, it challenged the thinking of Green Hill administrators to invite formerly incarcerated individuals to connect with the youth — a chance that turned out to be a success, Redman said.

“We need a program that is going to connect with the kids that I can’t connect with, that our staff can’t connect with … We weren’t doing a good job of connecting with those young men,” she said. “I appreciate Credible Messengers; they didn’t even bat an eyelash, like, ‘bring it, those are the ones we want to meet with.’”

After more than a year of incarceration, Eleeott Logitu is transforming his life. The 17-year-old graduate “made a mistake,” he said, which landed him a nine-month stint at Green Hill School.

“It was rough at the beginning,” he said. “I don’t like hearing people talk all the time, I don’t like counseling, none of that. But then I built a strong relationship with Eddie.”

Eddie Howard is the president and founder of Progress Pushers which leads the Northwest Credible Messenger groups. The program has now expanded into Lewis, Thurston and King counties. The NWCM groups were also led by Coy Graham, vice president of Progress Pushers.

Logitu grew up in Federal Way, no stranger to the criminal justice system as his dad had been incarcerated. Logitu found the Credible Messengers program in Federal Way, but didn’t take to it immediately.

In a conversation one day, he discovered Howard had been locked up at the same time as Logitu’s father. Suddenly, Logitu said, “… That’s when I really got to open up, because he knows my dad.”

“They got me through my life struggles,” he said about the NWCM leaders. “They’ve just been there like my older brothers. I look up to them. A lot.”

He’s learned how to interview for jobs, how to execute a proper handshake, and even completed a college class while at Green Hill.

Logitu sits at a wooden picnic table outside the multifunction room near Green Hill’s entrance on the sunny graduation afternoon, just days away from his release from Green Hill. Identical to the other inmates, Logitu is dressed in the issued uniform of a green polo with yellow GHS initials and navy nylon pants with no pockets or fasteners.

Upon leaving the prison, Logitu will live in a group home until he’s fully released in September.

He doesn’t make eye contact often, but glances at the sprawling, empty campus of Green Hill School throughout the conversation.

“Now I’m changing my life.”

More in News

Police searching for two men who robbed 7-Eleven in Federal Way

Police said it is unclear whether the men used a weapon during the robbery, according to preliminary information.

Detectives investigating sexual assault of 17-year-old girl in Federal Way

Police have not yet arrested the suspect, nor released his information.

Two Federal Way gang members charged with murder of teen dumped in Green River

Suspects allegedly brutally beat boy with a bat, chopped him with a machete before dismembering and dumping his body.

Survivor finds meaning, blessings in journey with cancer

Woman discovers healing for her mind, body and soul at Salish Cancer Center.

Council approves $425,000 to bridge Federal Way performing art center’s budget deficit

PAEC budget falls short at the end of the 2019 fiscal year.

Man attempts to lure two girls with candy

The male was unknown to the girls, but had been seen watching several neighborhood children in the recent past.

Federal Way Council candidates address shootings, pride flag and more

Candidates discuss the issues at Mirror’s forum on Wednesday.

Police nab second suspect in killing of Des Moines teen found in Green River after police shooting in Federal Way

Detectives apprehended the Federal Way man following the shooting — the second suspect now in custody in Juan Carlos Con Guzman’s murder.

Man killed in shooting at Federal Way gas station identified

Federal Way resident Moisef Vega Mendez, age 37, was shot in his head on Sunday.

Most Read