As a teenager, Saiyd Joyce stole a lot of guns and cars and dabbled in selling illicit drugs. But now, crime is not an option for him, he says.
"I sit around sometimes and wonder how I did what I did," he says.
Today, 24-year-old Joyce spends part of his time trying to steer others away from the same road to destruction that he once traveled.
He's spoken to youth groups at the local parks and recreation department and the YMCA about the consequences of being involved in crime. Just Thursday he went back to Breathitt County to talk to youths enrolled in the Cadet Leadership and Education Program.
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"You tell them where it could lead you to," he said. "I've had a lot of people tell me I encouraged them."
On Friday, Joyce will be rewarded for his efforts when he receives the first Kentucky Spirit of Youth Award from the state Juvenile Justice Advisory Board and its Subcommittee of Kentucky Youth. The award is to be given annually to a person under 28 who is or has been involved in Kentucky's juvenile justice system and works to improve the lives of youths.
"He's always been motivated to change and be positive, and he's actually done it," said Kasi Phillips, a juvenile service district supervisor for the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, who nominated Joyce for the award. "It's not always a positive story that we hear."
Joyce's life story through his mid teens included many negatives.
His father died when he was 6; his mother just wasn't part of his life, he says. Joyce, a Harrisburg, Pa., native, was raised mainly by an aunt in Lexington's Winburn neighborhood, where he became a member of a clique that "claimed a certain part of town."
At 15, Joyce was charged with burglary after he and some friends broke into a business and stole guns. Because of a previous conviction for receiving stolen property, he was tried as an adult and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He served 10 months in jail, then spent about four months in the state department of juvenile justice's Cadet Leadership and Education Program for teen offenders in Breathitt County, and then went to a group home for a couple of weeks. After that, he received shock probation.
In the Cadet Leadership and Education Program, which Joyce calls a "juvenile justice boot camp," Joyce participated in one-on-one and group counseling and completed requirements for a high school equivalency diploma.
Joyce is one of two juvenile offenders who were treated as adults in the court system to go through the boot camp program, said Chris Banks, assistant superintendent of the program.
"Saiyd was a real good cadet when he was here. He earned the highest rank he could possibly earn while he was here, which was sergeant," Banks said. Joyce earned A's and B's in his studies and earned an outstanding leadership award while at the camp, he added.
"I guess one of the most memorable things I remember from Saiyd when he was here was his commitment not to go back to jail."
Joyce's experience at the Breathitt County facility inspired him to continue on a positive path.
Since boot camp, he has owned a couple of small businesses, sold real estate and has 34 college credit hours under his belt. A couple of years ago, he was a regional Golden Gloves boxing champion. He has played on a flag football team in the annual Bluegrass State Games.
Joyce now works as a cashier at a Shell service station and is scheduled to start classes at the University of Kentucky in May. He wants to be a social worker and get involved with families and children.
Changing his life has not been easy, Joyce said.
In March, he was let go from a dot.com business, where he had worked for seven months, because his employer found out about his criminal record.
Joyce has had a few more scrapes with the law since he left boot camp in 2002.
In 2004, there was a fight outside his apartment in which a child was knocked down. Joyce said he went outside to break up the fight, but the police charged everyone at the scene. He was charged with wanton endangerment, but the charge was reduced, then dismissed.
Later came a charge for alcohol intoxication while he was at a birthday party. And there have been several minor traffic violations.
Phillips said she knew Joyce's complete legal history before she nominated him for the award and is convinced that Joyce is still headed down the right road in life.
"I'm confident that he has all the ability, potential, and even more than that, the desire and motivation," she said.