Every week, Daniel Westbrooks walks through a metal detector and several locked doors to visit teens at Nashville’s Juvenile Detention Center. He weaves through the shuffle of boys in matching blue polo shirts and gray slip-on sneakers, joking and chatting.
Westbrooks says he knows what it’s like to be locked up. He cycled in and out of juvenile detention, jails and prisons for nearly two decades. All the while, he was holding in painful secrets from his past.
It’s easy for Westbrooks to connect with the teens. He asks them questions and chuckles as they spit out rap lyrics and spill the daily gossip. But he also knows many of the teens in detention have experienced trauma, just like he did. As a kid, Westbrooks was sexually abused by a close family member.
“That’s probably when I started, you know, slipping from, you know, being a good kid to jumping into my shell,” he says.
When he was released from jail for the last time in 2015, Westbrooks decided to devote his next chapter to mentoring kids at risk of traveling down the same path.
When boys don’t get the help they need, they’re more likely to interact with the criminal justice system, says Gwen Bouchie. She’s the director of communications for
Darkness to Light, a national organization that aims to prevent child sexual abuse.
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