Greg Bell went from a sentence in juvenile hall to a seat on a special advisory panel appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger. The panel will be making recommendations for improving the juvenile justice system in California.
Greg Bell educated himself while locked up and attended one of Leila Steinberg's workshops in juvenile hall. He wrote his first poem, Innocent Criminal, in her workshop. Years later he was invited to perform on Def Jam Poetry, a celebrated television program that airs on HBO.
Bell credits AIM, Leila Steinberg and Cheryl Rich for helping him to turn his life around. He recently appeared on stage with celebrated comic and actor Mike Epps at the Improv in LA. Bell is recording his first album and was featured in the Source Magazine as an artist to watch.
The following are excerpts from a meeting of the Children's Planning Council in LA, a panel that Greg Bell was invited to speak in front of.
Greg Bell was incarcerated at age 13 for felony vandalism and subsequently arrested on a weapons charge. He received a three-month sentence to juvenile hall. When a pistol was found on him at Washington High School, Bell was sent to Central Juvenile Hall for two months and then to a camp for four months.
His two-month sentence turned into nine months as a result of behavioral issues. Because of how the law handles juvenile felony cases, Bell accumulated enough time by age 17 for his next stop to be the California Youth Authority. Had it not been for meeting Chris Floyd at an alternative school Bell attended, CYA is where he would have ended up. Floyd and others from the Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches saw something in the young man and solicited district attorney Steve Cooley on Bell's behalf. Bell helped himself, too, achieving his GED in jail and passing both the math and English portions of the high school exit exam on his first try.
When Bell was released in October, 2003 he went directly to a job as a youth community organizer with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches. He met the Children's Planning Council's Laura Valles in April 2005 at a mayoral candidates' forum that his former alternative school helped him organize. A subsequent internship led to his current position as community organizer for the SPA 6 Council. Bell told this panel, "You have people working in juvenile hall who do not like kids. You have people working there who do not like black people, or Latinos. And if they don't like you, you are going to have one long day. There's no sympathy, no compassion. Influencing youth for good could make a tremendous change, but pushing them down only continues their unhappy spiral."
In thanking Bell for his remarks, Chris Floyd said he was "a joy" and encouraged everyone to take his tale to HeArt. "It's hard to relate to what he's been through, at only age 20. His presentation offers the other side of the coin."