Joshua Pinter spent most of his childhood in and out of foster care and his teenage years behind bars.
Now 23, he has a full-time job and his own apartment and he just bought a brand new car.
“That’s something I’m proud of. I didn’t have anybody to co-sign to get this car. I was able to do it on my own,” he said.
He credits Devon Harris and Full Circle Refuge Juvenile Justice Ministry with helping him turn his life around.
“They don’t get paid, but they come in and they show us love,” Pinter said of the Full Circle volunteers. “They’re there on a consistent basis. They’re people we can count on.”
Harris started Full Circle Refuge in 1999. After 20 years in the military, he turned down a promotion to retire and go into ministry. Leading Bible studies and working part-time as a volunteer coordinator at the Augusta Youth Development Center, he saw first-hand the problems the kids were dealing with.
“They were dealing with real problems that needed real solutions,” he said.
He developed a method of creating relationships with the young men and women and pointing them in the right direction using a Christian focus.
“People traditionally read about Jesus and the disciples (as if) they were out of this world,” Harris said. “They were the worst of the worst. Jesus found 12 thugs and he changed the way they think and acted.”
The disciples found within their group a sense of belonging that they didn’t have as individuals, he said.
Harris said gangs work the same way, to the point that members will die for something bigger than themselves.
“That’s what all these kids are looking for,” Harris said.
Through counseling sessions, mentoring, Bible discussion groups and Promise Groups – an eight-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous but focused on issues the juveniles are facing – Harris and Full Circle volunteers teach them how to change their own lives.
“This takes time, meeting with the good, the bad and the ugly,” Harris said. “I see kids fail, fail, fail. We just reset the goal and continue the relationship. We’re just there for them and challenge them in their sin and redirect them.”
Pinter said even though he has been out of incarceration for two years, he feels he can still call on Harris.
As a child, Pinter was very angry and became difficult for his parents to manage, sometimes coming to blows with his father.
He bounced between his parents, who were divorced, foster care and a short-term mental hospital (and took a variety of psychotropic medications) before ending up at YDC at age 14. Looking back now, he said he realizes he had the wrong attitude.
“I felt like I was a victim. I had terrible self-esteem,” he said.
Through counseling and mentoring sessions with Harris, Pinter began changing his thinking and setting goals. He is now medication-free.
“Devon was my guide, somebody that held me accountable,” he said.
Pinter said that while he has heard some things have changed within the juvenile justice system since he was incarcerated, in his opinion the system is set up for juveniles to fail because it focuses on keeping individuals out of society rather than rehabilitating them to get back into it.
That’s where Full Circle steps in to fill the gap, he said.
“When you put a bunch of broken people together, you expect them to rehabilitate. Broken people can’t fix themselves,” he said. “I don’t see how I could have succeeded like that.”