How a once-juvenile lifer found redemption by finding the good in himself, with the help of a Catholic deacon
(0:00) We meet James Thomas, a.k.a. “Jaymo,” who shares a memory of his younger life. He was 15, entering the juvenile justice system, and a psychologist at his trial — whom he’d only met briefly — described him for the court. It was the first time he was in trouble, but he was written off as a “sociopath” — a young man with no hope, no future. Jaymo disagreed.
(1:57) Jaymo describes how this formative experience shaped who he ended up being — but not in the way the court expected.
(3:38) Jaymo talks about his upbringing, being raised by his grandmother until he was 6 years old because his mother — who had him when she was 13 — was too young to care for him. His father, then 16, was in juvenile prison when Jaymo was born. He would only see his father six times in his life.
(4:34) Jaymo and his mother moved to Georgia, where his mother worked at an Army base. She married and had another son. He describes this part of his life as a “middle class suburban life,” where he wanted for very little.
(5:03) It wasn’t until his mother and her husband became caught up in the drug trade that things began to fall apart. His mother — like many members of his family — was incarcerated, and Jaymo and his brother moved back to Detroit.
(6:40) Left to fend for themselves, Jaymo and his brother began selling drugs. After about a year, he was arrested and given a sentence of life in prison. It was then that Jaymo realized that if he wanted a second chance in life, he’d have to seize it.
(8:48) We meet Deacon Mike Chesley, executive director and the founder of the Wayne County Jail Outreach Ministry, who has devoted his life and ministry to helping those in Jaymo’s circumstances.
(10:47) Deacon Mike describes his first visit to a prison, and how much the inmates appreciated the chance to talk to a Catholic chaplain, have Bible studies, Communion services and pray. Some even joined RCIA.
(13:18) Because of his love for those incarcerated, and his belief in the human capacity for redemption, Deacon Mike worked to develop ways to help those recently released from prison adapt to life on the outside, including the Wayne County Jail Outreach Program.
(16:24) Jaymo re-enters the story. He was released from prison after 31 years behind bars after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled sentencing minors to life in prison was “cruel and unusual.” He describes how his prison experience changed him for the better. He prayed, became a spiritual mentor to other inmates, earned his GED and began to pick up the pieces. He became connected with Chance for Life, a similar outreach program whose volunteers help inmates like Jaymo.
(19:14) After his release, Jaymo began working with Deacon Mike to help others in similar situations fight to become the best versions of themselves.