Home News Stories 2009 July Memphis Agents Help At-Risk Children

Memphis Agents Help At-Risk Children

Positive Role Models
Memphis Agents Help At-Risk Children

07/03/09

My Harrison, special agent in charge of the Memphis Field Office, speaks to young girls at the juvenile detention center in Memphis, Tennessee.
My Harrison, special agent in charge of the Memphis Field Office, speaks to young girls at the juvenile detention center in Memphis, Tennessee.

The teenagers were all dressed in orange jumpsuits—standard attire at the juvenile detention center in Memphis, Tennessee. They were sitting in a windowless room, listening to FBI Special Agent in Charge My Harrison talk to them about turning their young lives around.

Some of these offenders—boys and girls ranging in age from 18 to as young as 9—are charged with serious crimes, including assaults, carjackings, and even murder.

“Seeing successful people, especially ones who had a difficult start in life, can have a positive effect on these children,” said Harrison, who heads our Memphis Field Office. “Many of them have never seen an FBI agent before we walk through the door.”

Judy McEwen, administrator for the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County, runs the state grant program that brings volunteer leaders from the community to the detention center to talk with the young offenders. Most of the children are held there for only a few days—they have a court date to determine the disposition of their case, after which they could be transferred to adult court, a juvenile facility, or be sent home to their parents.  “While we have them here,” McEwen said, “we want to do something good with them.”

The grant program is called GOAL—Greater Opportunities for Additional Learning—and Harrison, along with other agents and staff from the Memphis Field Office, are happy to participate.

Agent Eric Jackson speaks to young offenders at the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County detention center about turning their lives around.

“My message is simple,” Harrison said: “Just because you’re here today doesn’t mean you have to be here for the rest of your life.” Her words hold a special meaning when she tells her personal story.

Agent Eric Jackson speaks to young offenders at the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County detention center about turning their lives around.

Agent Eric Jackson speaks to young offenders at the Juvenile Court of Memphis
and Shelby County detention center about turning their lives around.

Harrison grew up “very poor” and on welfare in the housing projects of Tampa, Florida. She and her siblings “could have gone one way or the other,” she said. But she was determined to better herself, and people helped her along the way. Harrison eventually graduated from college—she and her mother attended together—and realized her goal of becoming a police officer. She later joined the Bureau and has been special agent in charge of the Memphis office for the past four years.

“I could not have done this alone,” she said. “Growing up, people helped me.” And now it’s her turn to give back—to let at-risk children know they, too, can set goals and achieve them.

The FBI has a number of programs aimed at young people, including Junior Special Agents in Training and the Adopt-a-School Program. But GOAL—while not specifically a Bureau program—is different because it reaches out to troubled youth who are already in the court system.

“We want to instill something positive in their minds,” said Sheila Mosby, our community outreach coordinator in Memphis, who also participates in the GOAL program. “Right now their actions are leading to nowhere, and it doesn’t have to be like that.”

“Obviously we can’t reach all of these children,” Harrison said. “But if you can help just one, then that’s a good day.”

Program administrator McEwen sums it up this way: “A lot of these kids do not have hope for a brighter future, and this program provides hope. That’s one of the things each speaker leaves them with—the idea that they can change.”

Resources:
- GOAL program
- Adopt a School program