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Photos By: Naomieh Jovin

Dark Nights, Bright Stars

Childhood is not always easy. Supported by a constellation of family members, Imena grew up in and around Philadelphia, trying to find her place in the world. Imena’s constellation lacked a North Star; it was constantly shifting, as was her experience of childhood. While Imena struggled at times, she also became an artist, a swimmer, a horseback rider, and an honor roll student. She tried to find her way in an ever-changing world.

Always aiming to please the various adults who came in and out of her life, Imena tried her best to make others happy. But, succeeding wasn’t easy; the rules weren’t always clear. As the adults around her struggled, Imena fell off track. At 16, Imena was arrested, for the first time in her life, in suburban Philadelphia. She was held in a juvenile detention center for several months, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while the District Attorney decided whether to charge her as an adult. If her case was moved to adult court, Imena could have faced a potential sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

With support from YSRP – especially mitigation specialist Annie Ruhnke – and her attorney, Imena’s case remained in the juvenile system. Sent to a residential treatment facility, she received therapeutic and academic support and persevered to pursue her goals. Now, at home and entering adulthood, Imena is focused on more important things: “My goal [is] making myself happy in life. I keep going [because of] the things I still have left to do.” For Imena, that’s liberation.

Now building a life of her own, Imena is working. She’s also working at repairing relationships with those in her constellation. She looks forward to the future that lies ahead. She’s excited about “finally being able to be everything [she wants to be].” And, there’s something really exciting about that future. Imena is preparing to be a mother. She’s going to be the known, stable center of – to provide leadership in – her own child’s life. She can’t wait.

For young adults, the road ahead is not always clear. Imena knows: “I want [people] to know that, regardless of all I’ve done and been through, I tried my best to be positive and make everyone around me happy.” Imena, in her constellation, didn’t always have a North Star, but she found her way anyway. Soon, she’ll hold a newborn in her arms. She will become the North Star.

And that, that will be her legacy.

Before the end of the year, we aim to raise $200,000 to enable YSRP’s continued work to keep youth out of the adult system and to support Juvenile Lifers in their transition back home. If inspired, please consider making a gift in Imena’s honor.

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