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This article was published in partnership with Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to investigating and elevating higher education. The college classes this writer took through Dixie State University were the result of legislation in Utah last year that gave juveniles access to higher education through dual enrollment. The story was told to an Open Campus editor and was lightly edited for clarity. Sign up for its College Inside newsletter.

I struggled a lot in elementary school. I was bullied and I kept getting in trouble. And then in middle school, it was the same thing. It was really rough. I didn’t get the best of grades. And then when I moved to high school, I didn’t really want to do it. I didn’t want to really be involved with school. Right at the end of my sophomore year, I dropped out.

I was having a tough time when I was out there. I was an addict. And since I got put in the juvenile justice system, I’m recovering. I’m learning new skills, new ways to cope with my depression, new ways to cope with this life.

In here, I started high school again. Because of the environment, I’m actually focusing more. I’m able to work on what I need to work on and it’s been better for me. When I got the opportunity to take college classes, I was like, “Wow, I didn’t even realize I was going to be able to do college classes.”

At first I was like, “I’m gonna fail these college classes. I feel like I’m just gonna screw up.”

But I didn’t. I’m taking the opportunity to better myself, so I put all I had into it. I’ve been doing really good with it. It looks good on my transcripts. I’m starting to embrace education a lot more than I used to.

I think the most challenging class I’m in right now is introduction to economics. We got a textbook and I’m reading through it. I’m trying to understand what the point of it is, but I’m really interested in it. The discussion questions my professor asks, they’re difficult, but I’m willing to learn, willing to give the answers to the best of my abilities.

I like personal finance a lot because in the past I struggled with saving money and spending it. So when I took that class, I wrote down some notes, so when I get out, I’ll be able to save money and financially support myself and my family.

I really didn’t think too much of college before because I always thought I wanted to go into a trade school to get my automotive and welding certifications. Now that I’m taking these college classes, I’m still debating it. Now, maybe I want to go into college to get my doctorate so I can become a veterinarian.

My son’s going to be one year old in March. I was incarcerated a month after he was born. That was a really big struggle for me.

I want to get a good education so I can get a good job so I can raise my son and financially support him in the way I wanted to be supported when I was a kid growing up.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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J.S.

J.S. is a high school student with the Utah Department of Juvenile Justice Services.