MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It’s no secret that gun violence in Memphis is a serious problem. Our youth are seeing death and living it, and some are even getting their hands on guns at an alarming rate.
A program offered through the courts called JIFF, or the Juvenile Intervention and Faith-based Follow-up Program, is hoping to make a difference and show youth they do not have to walk through those dark places alone.
“It’s just real-life stories. You have young people coming here on a day-to-day basis,” said Ronald Frazier, the program director.
Carlos Robertson completed the program and is now a volunteer, hoping to make a difference in other’s lives. He shared his story with WREG’s Symone Woolridge.
“My brother, he passed away in 2012, February 25. He died due to Memphis gun violence,” he said.
His brother was shot inside a home on Pope Street in Binghampton. He was only 12 years old.
“I was at the wrong place wrong time. I guess they had like a raid or something going on, and people were just throwing guns everywhere. I ran because they started chasing me. They just hopped out of the truck and started chasing me,” he recalled.
Robertson ended up in a juvenile courtroom.
“Unlawful possession of a firearm and evading arrest,” he said. “They gave me a brief break and was like ok we got this program, you can try it out.”
The program was JIFF. It’s where some 10 to 18-year-olds charged with non-violent crimes are sent for 16 weeks to be instructed by mentors.
It’s a chance for a turn around.
“When I first got in the program, I can’t lie, I didn’t want to go because I was like, I got stuff to do,” said Robertson. “You can come here every day and not even be involved, but they will make you involved. But still, your attention is not here, so when you leave here you want to go do something else.”
Inside JIFFis a wall of handprints – one for each of the kids who make their way through the front doors. Some like Robertson graduate the program while others don’t make it due to violence.
“I see handprints on that wall of youth who died due to violent crimes and it is heartbreaking,” said Frazier.
“You gotta change what you’re doing, or you’ll be dead or in jail at the end of this,” Robertson said. “It was times when it was some kids that didn’t make it through the program. You know how that feels to be beside somebody, the next day they’re being shot? Beside somebody and the next day they rob somebody or are dying? I don’t’ want to go through that.”
Robertson sadly knows death all too well.
“I have lost friends, brothers. I have been in situations where I was in the hospital. I just got shot 10 times last year,” he said.
Recently, he’s been investing in himself, changing who he associates with, the places he goes and the things he does. He even started a lawn care service and invested in a car detailing business.
His path to overcome setbacks made a stop when he was shot.
“I had tubes stuck all down my throats, my arm, my stomach, my leg. I couldn’t move my arm, couldn’t move I got shot up so many times,” he said.
He said God was the reason he’s here today and JIFF helped him turn his life around.
“Me and God got a real connection,” he said.
“People are playing with their life, and they don’t even know it,” he added.
He said he hopes kids will see his story and choose life.
“I just love being here because this changed my life for the better,” he said of the program. “JIFF is the first part but the second part is you. See what I’m saying? Like JIFF is placed there for you but you got to want to be here at JIFF as well.”
“We’ll take everyone we can get because the only thing greater than production is reproduction and we want our youth that comes through our doors to just shine and be a proponent of change and be a component of reproduction,” added Frazier.