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A Story Can Change a System

It’s one thing to hear the statistics. It’s another to hear the stories. Debt Free Justice is a firm believer in using our collective voices to enact change across the country. While we take pride in breaking down the details behind these fees and fines, we think it’s equally important to shine a light on the individuals who have had to navigate this unjust practice in society. Our website publishes stories that DFJ advocates can incorporate into their state and local campaigns by utilizing the embed link or contacting us for the downloadable file.

Aiden Decker

Abandoned, abused, and incarcerated, Aiden is an 18-year-old survivor preparing to rebuild his life. Holding him back are the thousands of dollars of court debts. One may wonder what’s more important: rehabilitation or restitution?

Yusef Presley

Yusef's path from foster care to prison exposes a system reliant on medication and punitive fees. He now seeks to mentor and support vulnerable youth towards a brighter future.

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portrait of Marcia Hopkins

Marcía Hopkins

Marcía Hopkins, author of "Authentic Storytelling: Supporting Young People in Sharing their Truth," and was previously the Director of Youth Advocacy...
portrait of Jessica Feierman

Jessica Feierman

Jessica Feierman has worked at Juvenile Law Center since 2006 . At Juvenile Law Center , she leads various projects and programs, including litigation...
System-Impacted Youth
portrait of Katlyn Christiansen

Katlyn Christiansen

Katlyn's tumultuous journey began with a traumatic childhood marred by her parents' divorce and was compounded by abuse. As a teenager, she navigated...
System-Impacted Youth
Portrait of Deshawn Leeth

Deshawn Leeth

Deshawn’s story is that of resilience and redemption. Facing early-life traumas and a penal system that often felt insurmountable, he has emerged as...
Portrait of Rachel Wallace

Rachel Wallace

Rachel Wallace is an Interim Deputy Director at the Policy Advocacy Clinic. She received a master of public policy degree from U.C. Berkeley’s Goldman...
Family Member
Portrait of Chandra Grayson

Chandra Grayson

For years, Chandra Grayson and her family lived through the emotional and fiscal upheaval wrought by the court's punitive fines and fees incurred...
System-Impacted Youth
Portrait of Yusef Presley

Yusef Presley

“The way my life went, it took a village,” begins Yusef Presley. Caught up in the system since the age of five, Yusef’s search for community was often...
System-Impacted Youth
Portrait of Priscilla Amao

Priscilla Amao

Priscilla Amao's encounter with the justice system began at the age of 13 due to her truancy. Being the eldest child of migrant farm workers...
Portrait of Nadia Mozaffar

Nadia Mozaffar

Nadia Mozaffar, a Senior Attorney at Juvenile Law Center, focuses on advancing educational rights for children in the juvenile justice and child...
Family Member
Portrait of Jessica Chavez

Jessica Chavez

Jessica Chavez, a program coordinator for the Lawyer Referral Service of Monterey County, bears the weight of fees and fines that have burdened her...
System-Impacted Youth
Portrait of Marcus Jarvis

Marcus Jarvis

Marcus Jarvis, an Outreach and Communications Associate for the Debt Free Justice Campaign and Juvenile Law Center, highlights the disproportionate...
Family Member
Portrait of Lynn Ausley

Lynn Ausley

In Lynn Ausley's heartbreaking journey through the juvenile justice system, we witness a mother's unwavering love and her relentless battle against a...
System-Impacted Youth
Portrait of Phal Sok

Phal Sok

Phal Sok's story highlights the impact of current criminal justice policies and the imposition of fees and fines on individuals like him. Starting at...
Family Member
Portrait of Jeannette Bocanegra

Jeannette Bocanegra

Jeannette Bocanegra is a mother who intimately understands the challenges of legal system policies that impact families and communities. Having...
System-Impacted Youth
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Dion Armour

Dion Amour, a 14-year-old in Wichita, Kansas, is on probation and wearing an ankle monitor. She works with a therapist four times a week and is trying...
System-Impacted Youth
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Phillip Pittman

At the age of 13, Phillip Pittman and his friends were on their way to buy a flip phone when he was unexpectedly arrested, starting his involvement...
Michael Harris Portrait

Michael Harris

Michael Harris is an attorney and Senior Director for Justice and Equity and Legal Advocacy at the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL). He works on...
System-Impacted Youth
Debt Free Justice logo

Sierra Jones

Sierra’s journey with the justice system began at the young age of 11. Still, at the age of 37, that trauma sits with her today. A misdemeanor as a...
System-Impacted Youth
Debt Free Justice logo

Kahlil Straxson

Kahlil had his first encounter with the court system at the young age of 16 – unaware of the dreadful experience he was about to have within the...
Portait of Ruddy Roye

Ruddy Roye

Radcliffe Roye is a Cleveland-based documentary photographer specializing in editorial and environmental portraits and photojournalism. Ruddy spoke to...
Family Member
Portrait of Julissa Soto in front of the Colorado state capitol. Photo by Lance Murphey for Debt Free Justice

Julissa Soto

Julissa’s son wanted to save their struggling family some money at the young age of 15. He shoplifted a tube of toothpaste, and when charged, the...
Portrait of Desmond Bryant

Desmond Bryant

Des the Poet is a three-time published author of poetry compilation projects titled "Adoer," "No Excuses," and his latest, "Better Days In 90 Days...
Portrait of Marquetta Atkins

Marquetta Atkins

Marquetta is a community educator who brings her passion for working with youth and her creative energy to the table as a facilitator. For years she...
System-Impacted Youth
Portrait of Adonijah Metcalf

Ado'Nijah Zaire Metcalf

Ado’Nijah Zaire Metcalf, 23, recalls tickets and court fee invoices arriving in the mail while his mom worked two jobs to try to pay them off and feed...
System-Impacted Youth
Portrait of Kristen Powell

Kristen Powell

Kristen Powell entered the justice system for the first time when she was 13 years old after she ran away from home to escape a difficult situation...
System-Impacted Youth
Portrait of Dante Brinston

Dante Bristow

Dante Bristow, 23, was raised by a single mother in Wichita, Kansas. As a child, he remembers his household would start to run out of food toward the...
System-Impacted Youth
Tyler Williams portrait in front of a mural

Tyler Williams

Tyler Williams served a 6-year sentence in a Kansas juvenile justice facility for a crime he committed when he was 13 years old. After Tyler finished...
System-Impacted Youth
Portrait of Nykia Gatson

Nykia Gatson

Twenty-year-old Nykia Gatson first entered the Kansas juvenile justice system for stealing when she was just 10 years old. While she was imprisoned...
System-Impacted Youth
Portrait of Aiden Decker

Aiden Decker

Abandoned, abused, and incarcerated; Aiden is an 18-year-old survivor who is preparing to build a family, rebuild his life, and repair a relationship...

Your Story Can Change a System

Debt Free Justice believes in the power of our combined voices to bring about transformative change throughout the nation. If these stories resonate with you or a loved one, know that you’ve found a safe space to share your truth. With your experience, and our expertise, we can build a community that’s loud enough to shake the room. And we can do so hand-in-hand.