Jena 6 Teen Gets Chance to Turn It Around

Illustration for article titled Jena 6 Teen Gets Chance to Turn It Around

Being accused of attemped murder has a funny way of turning someone's life around. In Jesse Ray Beard's case, one of the teens accused in the Jena 6 case, his turn was for the better thanks, in large part, to the lawyer who represented him, Howard Alan. From CNN:

Beard, 18, now interns at a New York law firm as he prepares for his senior year next month at Canterbury School, a Connecticut prep academy where Beard is highly regarded among peers and teachers.

"I didn't change the way I act. I didn't do nothing different. It was just that I was at Canterbury instead of Jena," he said. "It was like Jena was out to get me — and not just me, but other people, too."

If not for the controversy surrounding the Jena Six and the palpable racial tension in the Louisiana town, Beard never would have met the attorney who changed the course of Beard's life by removing him from everything he knew.

Howard said his first impression of Beard — that he had "tremendous character, tremendous resilience and tremendous potential" — was so strong he invited the teen to live with his family in New England.

It's been a tidal shift, Beard said, moving from a Louisiana town of 3,000 to Bedford, New York, a well-to-do city of 18,000 situated an hour north of the Big Apple.

The biggest shock? "Where I'm from in Jena, I think the only time it snowed is when I was 6, and it was like 1 inch."

The Howards say Beard meshes seamlessly. Though he struggled with the curriculum at Canterbury — a Catholic school in New Milford boasting a six-to-one student-teacher ratio — he is seeing tutors and showing improvements.

He spent the summer helping attorneys at Howard's firm prepare for court cases and looks forward to his senior year as a three-sport athlete.

Head football coach Ken Parson said he "can't wait to unleash" the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Beard.

Beard is a candidate for team captain, Parson said, and the coach hopes Beard's leadership and "quiet confidence" will draw recruiters from Division I schools. Division II schools are already snooping around, he said.

"When he gets going, he's like a freight train. He's also got the softest pair of hands you could ever imagine on a high school football player and can make moves in the field like Barry Sanders," Parson said, invoking the Detroit Lions' legendary running back.

Though football, baseball and basketball are his preferred sports, Beard has picked up lacrosse from playing with Howard's sons — Nick, 14, and Tommy, 11 — and tennis from playing with Howard's daughter, Jessie, 17. She said his tennis skills are "ridiculous."

Other fresh experiences include snowboarding in Utah, surfing in Long Island, visiting the Hamptons and attending baseball games at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium.

Around the house, he's a big brother, said Howard, whose children welcomed Beard immediately.

"My kids were the ones who said, 'If it means getting out of Jena, let him stay here,' " Howard said. "My 14-year-old son said, 'He can share my room,' and he doesn't even let his 11-year-old brother in his room."

Beard is prone to the same gaffes as any teenager, Jessie said, giggling as she recalled a time he replaced a box of snacks in the cabinet after finishing the last one. Her mother, Patti, left the box on his sneakers with a note: "Would you like more of these?"

"He's just another member of the family," Jessie said. "Now, when people ask me how many brothers I have, I say three, not two."

Beard said he could never be proud of his involvement with the Jena Six, but he believes God put him through tribulations to deliver him to a better place.

"I'm not glad it happened, but I'm glad I came to a good family," he said.

Beard's mother, Stella, is a "remarkable woman," Howard said, but Beard didn't have much supervision at home. Howard thought to himself in 2008, "It's not just enough to keep the kid out of jail one time because the system is stacked against him."

Five of the Jena Six had already made tracks — to Texas, to Georgia, to other parts of Louisiana — but Beard had nowhere to go. That he was on house arrest for another juvenile offense confounded matters.

"I promise you I will get you out of Jena, whatever it takes," Howard told Beard. "You promise me that you'll hang in there, keep doing what you're doing, going to school and keep out of trouble."

Beard's mother made "the ultimate sacrifice," allowing Howard to pursue guardianship and ferry her son 1,500 miles to New England. She put aside Jena Six donations to help Howard pay Canterbury's $40,000-a-year tuition, he said. She declined to be interviewed."


Get the full scoop here.

A heartwarming though somewhat troubling tale of redemption.