President Shane Murphy Goldsmith sits down with movement leader Justus Jones from Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network
The worlds of art, social justice, and youth activism have long worked together to drive social change within the community. Engaging youth in the arts can promote powerful change in countless ways, improving creativity and social skills, enhancing critical thinking, building confidence, and creating deep cultural and personal connections.
The same is true for formerly incarcerated youth. At the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network (AIYN), art is used as a vehicle to build resiliency and wellness, eliminate recidivism, and inspire young activists to transform the juvenile justice system. AIYN envisions a future where youth are empowered, and the systems that serve them are transformed by using arts as a foundational strategy and catalyst for change.
Ending youth incarceration as we know it is also a top priority for Liberty Hill Foundation. The goal of Liberty Hill’s Youth Justice initiative is to shrink, close and invest. We seek to shrink the number of youth entering the system, close the juvenile halls and camps that are holding youth in dangerous conditions during COVID-19, and invest significantly to transform Los Angeles County’s youth justice system into a new countywide youth development system focused on prevention rather than punishment.
To gain a better understanding of why Los Angeles arrests and jails more kids than anywhere in the world (mostly Black and Latino boys), Liberty Hill President and CEO, Shane Murphy Goldsmith began an oral histories project as part of her Stanton Fellowship program. She sat down with young men who had recently been incarcerated in one of Los Angeles' youth jails to hear firsthand about their experiences and learn more about their stories. Through this process, she met Justus Jones, an artist, activist, and now a Youth Engagement Specialist at AIYN.
Shane and Justus recently linked up to reflect on their past conversation and to share a short film that AIYN produced on the project and its impact on Justus. Throughout their discussion, love became the overarching theme of what could have made a difference in his life. Justus faced adversity and extreme loss at an early age, losing both his mother and brother from brain tumors by the age of six.
He shared that many youth in his position never had the opportunity to experience love or were hurt by love, and as a result, many fill that void with life on the streets or drugs. He realized that the trouble he often found himself in as a youth was self-inflicted and was not a form of loving himself.
“It’s really just about being loved and being accepted by somebody. I had to start loving myself and realizing who I am. I’m somebody, and I do want to get somewhere further in life than the streets.”
– Justus Jones
Justus also made it clear that his personal triumph was also made possible by having good mentors. He looked back on the love and support he received, which has put him in a position to give that same love and support back to other young people. He noted that persistence is key to gaining the trust of a young person who is just learning to trust again.
“I always tell them that I’m here to learn from you, you’re here to learn from me. Outside of this classroom, I still do care for you. I still appreciate you.”
– Justus Jones
Justus continues to pay it forward, stepping into the Art Advocacy lane, becoming a mentor to other youth, and sharing his struggle and perseverance through his art and music.
About Justus Jones
Justus Jones is a Los Angeles native, teaching artist and aspiring rapper. He graduated from New Earth Youth Build in 2016 and soon after began teaching poetry to formerly incarcerated youth. As an artist and rapper, Justus loves to tell the real and uncut in his music. He has facilitated poetry and creative writing workshops with system-impacted youth in South Central L.A. and countywide. Justus is currently working to support the reentry and youth leadership programming at Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network. He has participated and performed at various events throughout the country, including Create Justice, the LA County Youth Diversion Summit, and the Youth Power Summit where he engaged with legislators and advocated for statewide youth justice bills. Justus continues to work with formerly incarcerated youth with the intention of creating space for them to know they are not alone in the traumas they experience.
Justus Jones Comic Stip Series
Are you struggling during this quarantine? You're not alone. Check out AIYN's comic-style tips on how to survive from youth who know what it's like to be "locked up”. These comics as a means of sharing some of the knowledge youth have about coping in isolation from family, friends, and making the most with limited resources. If folks are having a hard time being confined in the comfort of their homes, maybe they can find compassion with kids locked up away from family and support. Here is the first set from this series, starting AIYN's very own Youth Engagement Specialist, Justus Jones!