By Robert Florida
Twenty high-school students recently completed the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Summer Youth Internship Program, where they learned about law enforcement and local government, especially about the mission of the prosecutor’s office.
During the internship, the students, who will be seniors in September, took a business etiquette workshop and discussed the dangers of teen-dating violence, substance abuse, and gangs. They attended workshops on career readiness, college admissions, and social media safety, and met with local, state, and federal law enforcement officials.
Additionally, they participated in a poetry and art competition whose theme was the danger of the opioid’s epidemic. Intern Mercedes Manning, of Newark, won the poetry contest, while Alex Atlas, of North Caldwell, won the art competition.
In a ceremony held in the LeRoy Smith Public Safety Building, the interns were awarded certificates of completion from Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens II. He talked to them about crime in Essex County and how his office is working to prevent it. He cautioned them to listen to their parents.
“Crime doesn’t pay,” said Stephens. “Nothing in life is free. Sooner or later, you’ll get caught and there will be a serious price to pay. So listen when your parents tell you, ‘The stove is hot, don’t touch it.’ Because if you touch it, you’ll get burned.”
But if you do your best in every situation, Stephens added, you’ll exceed the expectations of others.
“If you give 100 percent in everything you do, you’ll impress people,” he said. “You have impressed us with the work you’ve done this summer, and we applaud you.”
Hashim Garrett, a motivational speaker, spoke to the interns about the false reality of street life. Garrett grew up in Brooklyn, where, as a boy, he was bullied. He thought that if he befriended his tormentors, the bullying would end. So he hung with them on the street. And at 15, he was shot and paralyzed. He’s now confined to a wheelchair. It took time, but he learned to forgive the man who shot him. Garrett encouraged the students to always use the F word: “Forgiveness.”
“Learn to forgive, and it will open the door to a happy future,” he said. “Don’t let revenge and regret eat at you. When you make mistakes, the hardest person to forgive is yourself. But you must do it.”
Acting Chief of Investigators Mitchell G. McGuire III spoke next, and began by asking the interns a question: “What’s the difference between a criminal and a law-abiding citizen?”
Answer? “One bad decision,” said McGuire. “That’s all it takes to go from a law-abiding citizen to a criminal. Always remember this when you make decisions,” he added. “One bad decision can destroy your future.”
Acting First Assistant Prosecutor Romesh C. Sukhdeo asked the interns if any were interested in working in law enforcement. All hands shot up, which delighted Sukhdeo. Some interns said they intended to work as detectives or prosecutors, while others said they wanted to work to ensure that law enforcement officers treat all suspects humanely. One said she was interested in helping rehabilitate juveniles. Sukhdeo and McGuire explained that the mission of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office is precisely that: To work with the community to deter crime and help juveniles live law-abiding lives.
Nicole Graves Watson, a Community Justice Coordinator who manages the Summer Youth Internship program, said it has had a lasting impact on hundreds of students. The program was founded in 2000 and is run by the Community Justice Unit. Several interns have gone on to study criminal justice and work professionally in the field, added Watson.
She proudly mentions Liselle Montrose, a former high school intern who works as a victim witness advocate in the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. Montrose assists crime victims in several ways, such as helping them prepare impact statements, testify in court, and receive assistant from the victims of crime compensation office. And it was the high school internship that first piqued her interest in law enforcement. She enjoyed the internship so much that she returned for the college internship program, assisting Watson with administrative matters. Montrose earned a master’s in public administration and was hired by the prosecutor’s office to be a victim witness advocate.
“The Summer Youth Internship Program exposed me to various units of law enforcement,” says Montrose. “And now as a victim witness advocate, I have the chance to pour back into community by helping crime victims recover from traumatic experiences. It’s very rewarding work, and the internship program was fundamental to my growth as a professional.”
For information on the internship programs, contact Nicole Graves-Watson: (973) 621-4317 or firstname.lastname@example.org