MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Each year, more than 70,000 American kids land in jail.
When released, 70 percent of them wind up back in prison within five years. A Shelby County program is aimed at changing those statistics.
On Thursday, several young men stood behind a podium to convince other young men not to wind up behind bars.
Incarcerated Youth Speaking Out For Change is a joint venture by the Shelby County Sheriff's Office and BRIDGES--a non-profit committed to youth-led social change.
The three-year-old program allows young offenders to improve their writing and speaking skills while offering unique insights on what led them to a life of crime.
Sebastian, 18, has been locked up since he was 16.
"I was in a constant struggle with myself. One side trying to do bad for a bad reason, and one side trying to do bad for a good reason. All I had was excuses," he said.
Stealing, gun violence, drugs--no matter the crime committed, the program let participants talk about how they turned their behavior and their lives around.
"I turned the excuses into motivation," Sebastian said.
For 20-year-old Robert, in jail since age 15, finding your inner strength is key.
"It's more about making an internal change that will empower us to make a difference in the world around us," he said.
Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham--the Incarcerated Youth program's biggest supporter--offered advice to parents and teachers.
"Show them you love them and the next thing is stand by them. Give them a shoulder to lean on, and then if they are incarcerated, encourage them to change their lives because they can," he said.
The Incarcerated Youth Program is always looking for additional volunteers and mentors. Click here to learn more about the program and see how you can help.