- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - Being shuffled through the court system didn’t teach Reginald Hardison any lessons the first several times around. The 20-year-old Shreveport resident said he’d been arrested for misdemeanor offenses, only to repeat the scenario.

Then a judge assigned Hardison to attend a life-skills seminar sponsored by Shreveport City Court.

“I haven’t been in no trouble ever since,” said Hardison, who graduated from the four-day course in June and found a job at Domino’s Pizza.

“Now I think things through,” he said. “I don’t want to be back in the situation I was in before, going to jail.”

Hardison is one of 1,277 people who have attended the court’s diversion program since it began in January 2012. The class promotes goal-setting, self-esteem building, relationship management and job readiness among a population that may have dropped out of school or might lack positive role models. Judge Pamela Lattier asked life-skills instructor Ron Anderson to develop the curriculum for repeat offenders roughly ages 17-25.

Paid for by probation fees, it’s a bright spot in a system often maligned as a revolving door for troubled youth.

“I loved it,” said Misty Thomas, 27. She was assigned to the course after committing a misdemeanor offense and said it taught her a different way of dealing with anger.

Ninety-one percent - or 1,157 of total attendees - have successfully completed the course, according to Anderson. Of those, 76 percent have avoided returning to Shreveport City Court, he said, adding that those who do re-offend are guilty of traffic violations or other minor acts.

“The focus of the class isn’t to put anyone down or judge them,” said Anderson, who has built a career in professional development and training for over two decades.

“I’m totally honest with them about the experiences that I had, of growing up in poverty, growing up amidst violence,” he said.

His sincerity, and that of his co-teacher, Wayne Bryant, seems to resonate with young people.

On a recent Tuesday night, Bryant addressed six new students, some slumped on the benches of a courtroom, skeptical of yet another demand made of them by the judicial system.

Bryant asked his pupils to look at a drawing of a mother with two children in her messy living room, which had cracks in its walls. The students called out every detail wrong with the picture. The mother seemed distracted, and it was an “unfit home,” as one put it.

Then Bryant asked the students to start naming all the positive aspects of the image. She has food, one chimed in. She has a house, another offered. She’s spending time with her kids, one said.

“We really tore her down at first, didn’t we?” said Bryant. The students nodded. “That’s how people do us sometimes.”

Thomas admitted she was at first doubtful of the course, and hostile.

“I’m thinking that anger can show a way of being strong,” she said of her belief before the class, “but it’s actually a very obvious sign of weakness.”

There are positive ways to channel rage, Thomas learned, “instead of being so angry and wanting to hurt another person because they hurt you.”

Thomas, who has a daughter, said she’s sticking to the goals she made during the class. She will enter nursing school next month at Southern University, she said.

“I exceeded my own expectations,” she said.

___

Information from: The Times, http://www.shreveporttimes.com

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