For at-risk kids, seeing death and despair up close starts young; intervention must start young, too

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The Common Ground Initiative
The Common Ground Initiative
For at-risk kids, seeing death and despair up close starts young; intervention must start young, too
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My Turn’s core leadership team includes, from left, case manager Bryan Boilard, outreach team member Travis Turcotte, Executive Director Allison Joseph, outreach workers Joseph Lascaze, Carl Connor and Jocelyn Mahoney, Director of Finance and Development.

In part 1 of the series, “Avoiding Prison or an Early Death,” I write about my experiences growing up as at-risk youth in Brooklyn, New York, and how decades later, in a different state, communities are facing these same issues.  

In this column, I look at an effective organization in Manchester, MyTurn.

MyTurn gives at-risk and disadvantaged youth the chance to focus on their goals and succeed in life. It provides mentorship and safe spaces for these young men and women to gain the skills and knowledge critical to becoming upwardly mobile members of society. I also spoke with a mentor who’s been involved in the criminal justice system and was at-risk himself.

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RELATED STORY ⇒ MyQ&A with Allison Joseph of MyTurn, an organization promoting mentorship and safe spaces for at-risk kids

Click the podcast player above to listen, or read the transcript below.

I was 12 years old when I saw my first dead body. “Calvin” wasn’t much older than me, and he lay there with two bullet wounds through his head that slightly protruded from the other side. I can only remember trying to avoid that fate, even though sometimes it felt inevitable. The more gun violence and death I saw and heard about, the more numb I became to it. At that age, in that environment, you don’t appreciate life and death.

Homicides later grew out of control in New York City, and soon our borough had one of the highest murder rates in the country. Most of these feuds resulted from drug dealing disputes and all of the ancillary parts therein: jealousy, turf disputes, and revenge on enemies. Our life expectancies shrank with every homicide that happened around us. To the average person, it sounds unbelievable. But if you asked the at-risk youth who live in those conditions, they’d likely tell you that murder was a normal part of their daily lives.  

For my generation, economics was the motivating factor for violence. And for many young residents, the lack of father figures and good role models almost sealed their fates. However, my story isn’t usual. I’m from a two-parent home in those housing projects. Still, I later became a significant player in some of the despair in my neighborhood. My parents held jobs and put us through summer prep schools. We had bikes and toys for Christmas. Yet  – and still, once our stable and comfortable home was shaken by addiction and illness, I took to the streets to “help out.” Soon, that survival instinct became corrupted by money, power, greed, and the desire for respect.

And the financial and material success one had from an illegal lifestyle can leave an aftertaste on the person who wants to return to society on the right path. This can spiral into a vicious cycle of risks and shortcuts, leading to incarceration and being released back into society.   

Some of my dearest childhood friends come from homes that foster chaos. Years later, those children became menaces to society that other at-risk youth idolized, and so the cycles continue. 

Murder, revenge killings, Rikers Island, a prison sentence. How’s that for a school-to-prison pipeline?

I have friends and family in the social work field who would be searching for the points of intervention. But I believe it should never have to get to this point.

I’m a big proponent of utilizing people who’ve changed their lives for the good as a viable option for mentorship and gang mediation. Those men and women can become a point of intervention before the criminal justice system steps in.  

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At the My Turn drop-in center on a Saturday evening. The new location is on Granite Street on the West Side of Manchester. Kids and teens were enjoying video games, augmented reality, pizza, relaxation, some magic tricks and more. Andres Rivera, 10 1/2, and his cousin Xavier Rodriguez, 12, were having fun sharing the augmented reality glasses there. Photo/Allegra Boverman

Carl Connor is a mentor with MYTURN who knows the streets of Manchester all too well. His home life was the typical story that engulfs at-risk youth. In 2020, Carl faced the biggest fear that every parent in violent neighborhoods could ever imagine: his 17-year-old son was gunned down, which left Carl’s grandson without a father. Now 40, Carl reflects on his life and talks about important moments. His mother and grandparents raised him, and his father went away to federal prison while Carl was still in kindergarten. After his release, his father would eventually die from a heroin overdose. 

Like most young kids who face similar circumstances, Carl went down the wrong path. Time stops for no one. Carl eventually began selling and using drugs himself while having his first child at 18 and a second child at 20. During that period, he’d lose a cousin to the streets, and his best friend was shot and killed over drugs.

After serving 11 years in federal prison, Carl was released in May 2019 and hasn’t looked back since. As fate would have it, Carl was a DoorDash driver who made a delivery to Allison Joseph, Executive Director of MYTURN. This meeting would officially spark his career in mentoring at-risk youth from Manchester 

Although the violence in Manchester is not on the same scale as in Brooklyn or Boston, the recipe for these disasters is all the same. And the pain of seeing a loved one inside of a casket or laying dead in the streets like I saw Calvin and countless friends due to drugs and violence is a feeling that transcends geography.  

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Carl Connor of Manchester is part of the street outreach at My Turn in Manchester. File Photo/Allegra Boverman.

If the ’80s and 90’s provided more options for young folks in my neighborhood, maybe things would’ve turned out differently for me. At that time, the programs offered didn’t seem to be as assertive or spot-on as programs like MYTURN. This is where I can see the effectiveness of this program. The program has gaming, recording studios for budding rap stars, and pizza parties. Those are the things that resonate with those kids. These are activities that they love, which keep them off of the streets and out of chaotic homes.

And just as important, those battle-tested veterans from the streets, like Carl, serve as mentors. When those kids see a man or woman who’s walked their path, their message tends to hit differently. Seeing the Carls of the world can show kids that their dreams are tangible, and they can get off the path they’re currently on. MYTURN catches most of these kids at a pivotal moment where they can recalibrate and make those prosocial adjustments. 

In addition, this program helps with continuing education, job development, job training, and assisting youth in overcoming barriers that have been put before them. This is great for the kid who becomes frustrated with a lack of money and stability and uses his innate entrepreneurial skills to become a drug dealer.

I know this feeling all too well. 

Any New Hampshire resident should be open to supporting initiatives like these. Getting involved can potentially change the life course of the young trigger-man who’s about to take another life here on the streets of Manchester. His victim could wind up being a relative, a friend, or like Carl, your own child. 

If you have a skill set, formal training, or life skills that you can pass on to others, I highly recommend contacting MYTURN should you feel philanthropic with your time. I believe the entire state should embrace programs like these because when we enrich the lives of our young residents, we build up our communities brick by brick.

GSNC 2 ColorThese stories are part of The Common Ground Initiative which aims to highlight the diversity of our communities with stories of people the average Granite Stater might not get to see or meet, clarify misconceptions and find the threads that bind us all together as one New Hampshire community.  They are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit 



About this Author

Anthony Payton

This column is part of The Common Ground Initiative which aims to highlight the diversity of our communities with stories of people the average Granite Stater might not get to see or meet, clarify misconceptions and find the threads that bind us all together as one New Hampshire community.