An 18th birthday can symbolize many things. You can vote, go away to college, and the doors may seem to open one by one before your eyes.
For Americle, that was not the case, but she didn’t let it stop her. On her 18th birthday, the doors slammed behind her – and they were the doors to prison.
She could have taken that misfortune as a sign to give up.
But she continues to do much more. Instead of taking her challenge as a sign to give up, she chose to self-reflect and become the best possible version of herself, which is where she is today. One of her biggest goals is to become a leader and advocate for other young people who have experienced the same struggles.
Now, at 21 years old, Americle continues to focus on self-improvement. Part of her plan includes participating in PALS coaching, part of Central Plains Center for Services (CPCS), and Nebraska Children and Families Foundation’s Connected Youth Initiative (CYI). An older youth initiative, CYI provides supports and services to young people like Americle who have experienced incarceration or foster care, among other challenges.
Given all she’s endured, Americle and other young people are an inspiration, as they refuse to be a victim of their circumstances.
One of the best ways, of course, for a resilient young person to move forward into positive transformation is through using her voice and accessing some of our supports.
“My dream isn’t just telling my story, but letting others know that we all have a story. Someone somewhere relates to your story; someone somewhere needs your story; it’s all about being honest,” said Americle.
Still, she has other dreams.
Americle said, “My end goal is that when I’m successful with my bills paid on time and rid of my debt, I’ll look back on my life as a 21-year-old and laugh. I can’t wait to load my cart up at Walmart and take it to The HUB,” she said.
The HUB (in Lincoln) is a part of Nebraska’s community collaborative prevention and older youth support system that offers CYI services, including coaching, financial literacy, economic assistance, and more to young people experiencing challenges.
Now, as she partakes in coaching and leadership opportunities, Americle sees herself making a difference. As she continues to work with her coach, who supports young people like her, she is determined to build a new life for herself and find the perfect job.
“On my 18th birthday, it hit me,” said Americle recounting her experience. “The door opened. Six sheriffs and a cop took me to the county prison.”
“I thought, ‘Whoa; I’m on my way to the adults now.’ I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I got to the county [jail] and stared at people. I’d only gone to visit but never been on that side. I was embarrassed.”
Americle said, “On the sentencing day, the guards hugged me. They already knew me from being a little girl visiting my family. The reality hadn’t hit me yet, but all of a sudden, they said, ‘Get your stuff; the van’s here.’ On the ride, I was in my head; I was scared.”
Despite her fear, Americle assigns responsibility to herself and those around her.
“At 17, I didn’t take accountability. Even though I didn’t know everything that was going on [in my peer group], I still refused to hold myself accountable.”
Americle said she grew up visiting family members in prison, all the while never thinking that she would be there.
“Growing up, I saw things that led people to go to prison. As a teen, I thought, that could never be me. I never pictured myself in a mugshot. When the situation occurred, the experience was even a tougher one,” she said.
When charged, Americle’s world momentarily crumbled. She said that different factors led to her incarceration, such as her peer group, family, and acting out.
“I started skipping school before I went to prison, although I remained on the honor roll,” she said.
“Many [factors] led me to prison. I was doing and being a part of what I shouldn’t. I never thought I’d be a part of a group with gun violence. I was so mad. I was angry.”
Determined not to succumb to fear, when the doors to her cell opened, Americle entered the scene of her discomfort and refused to look away.
Instead of allowing her terror to consume her, Americle drove her survival instincts to transform her.
Although she was terrified and remorseful, Americle combated her fear and depression by remaining resilient and encouraging others to do the same. She reflected on her past while searching for some positivity in the present despite its difficulties.
“I taught [other inmates] words they never heard, I started getting everybody to love magazines; we started making posterboards of what we wanted to manifest, and I worked in the kitchen from 5 to 10 am,” she said.
“That moment is when I got out of my depression. I began reading The Power of Positive Thinking,” she said.
Once alone, she planned for her life on the outside by creating a healthier one on the inside.
“I began writing stories and journaling and put together a game plan for when I came home,” she said.
For Americle, her journey of surviving included helping others, including her fellow inmates.
“I obtained my high school diploma while still in prison. It took me two weeks to finish the classes; everyone was shocked. I ended up walking into the yard, and the other women held a party for me! From there, I worked with other women to obtain their GEDs,” she said. “I even helped another 35-year-old inmate who hadn’t initially passed her GED to pass the test!”
In addition to earning her GED, Americle said that she loved participating in mandatory classes, from therapy to even financial literacy, which she uses to help others to this day.
“While serving my sentence, those classes helped me become less judgmental, learn other people’s stories, and when I got out, I showed my friends my budgeting techniques! The next day, she created the perfect budget,” said Americle. “The prison classes, MR classes, and therapy sessions were requirements, but I never minded going!”
From there, she began befriending the library books, especially The Power of Positive Thinking. Before long, she and her fellow inmates were creating vision boards of their dreams.Then, a few weeks shy of finishing her sentence, Americle felt fear strike her heart. “In prison, everyone is a felon; I was coming home as a felon. People know me; I have a target on my back,” she said.
That said, since finishing out her sentence, Americle refuses to let her past define her. She continues to work with her coach to seek out new opportunities. She is currently working with Dan on a series of job applications.
We’re grateful for CYI partners like CPCS, whose empathetic, professional coaches like Dan regularly provide services and supports for young people throughout the state with education, employment, and financial support.
“I’m trying to find something stable that I love. I know that I have so much potential. I know that I can wow a company and grow with them,” she said.
Americle continues to put her past farther behind her and utilize these supports to polish her bright future.
“I want the eight to five!” she said. “I want to wake up and feel happy about what I am doing. I want to OWN [my past] instead of trying to hide and be ashamed of it,” she said.
“I know I can; I have so much I want to do; I’m trying to figure out where to start.”
As she reflects, the ever-present fact remains true – parts of her journey were pebbled with difficulty.
“Obviously, I didn’t experience rainbows and unicorns. As a young kid growing up, my father was in prison; my biological mom used drugs,” she said.
Still, she remains confident that she can and will shape her life into a leader, and it all begins by listening to young people who have undergone similar challenges.
“Every kid is different,” she said. “Sometimes, somebody will tell you that life gets better, but in reality, life gets worse before it gets better. I’d be happy to tell someone that,” she said.
Americle said that she can inspire others by being transparent with her tribulations.
“There are only a couple of things that people can say they went through as a youth that I didn’t go through. I could tell a kid my story, and she would be OK to open up and tell me why she’s acting out at school or what happened at home. If the adults in my life had taken the time to explain themselves, that would have helped,” she said.
Even so, Americle remains firm that her resiliency and supports have helped her become who she is today.
“As a 14-year-old, I needed people to go through what I went through. All of the feelings that young people in the foster care or juvenile justice systems have had, I have had. I have a game plan to open my nonprofit and teach kids. I want to do so much, like create a little class to lead. In the class, we’d talk to each other!” she said.
“I know those feelings those kids will have. Also, I want the class to be for a few months. The first book I’d like us to do is The Power of Positive Thinking. I wish I had known some of that stuff before I went through what I went through. There’s a lot of different information that I wish I could have learned before experiencing the justice system,” she said.
Today, Americle takes every step to help other young people in her situation.
“The help that I want is the help that I want to give. A lot of the things I went through, the things I witnessed, I believe that God put me there for that reason because I am going to help kids,” she said.
“For example, the other day at Russ’s Market, a girl began freaking out. I went over to talk to her. She said she was a few dollars short of paying for her baby’s formula. I gave her The HUB’s information and covered the rest of her order; it was only $5! I told her how The HUB works and said, ‘You can get diapers.’ Then, I gave her my number. I said, ‘I’m not a perfect person, but a good listener; I give good advice.’”
The HUB, which Americle was referring to, is yet another part of CYI’s supportive partners across the state! On behalf of our Bring Up Nebraska prevention model, we’re glad to lead a series of individuals, businesses, organizations, many of which deliver supports for systems-involved young people, including The HUB, which offers Central Navigation and other opportunities for Lincoln-based youth and young adults.
Central Navigation is another Nebraska Children CYI support, which allows young people to make a single stop to an empathetic expert who can put them in touch with all the appropriate resources with minimal paperwork or confusion.
Best of all, Americle is happy to report that the young woman found assistance!
“She texted me and said she got a response from a Central Navigator. She said they scheduled a time for her to go there! That was something I felt good about doing. When I was 17, I didn’t know about those resources,” said Americle.
Americle said she continues to refer other young people to these resources in preparation for her path to becoming an advocate.
“I sent many people I met in foster homes and probation classes to The HUB,” said Americle. “I needed tires when I was 16 years old! The HUB paid for my tires! I cried; I owe them $100,000,” she said.
We’re honored to work with partners like CPCS and The HUB, which provide services for Americle and now other young people in her life! As our partners deploy CYI supports and strategies such as coaching, educational opportunities, financial assistance, and Central Navigation throughout the state, with a little help, resilient young adults, including Americle, can thrive.
Americle is an embodiment of how, when faced with challenges, a person can be the driver of her own life.
With the right supports, young people like her can leverage their resiliency, step through doors that were walls, and become agents for positive change in other young people.
If you know any young people who would benefit from CYI’s resources, be sure to send them to our new CYI website, www.NEConnectedYouth.org, to connect to supports in their own community!