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Dakota makes the most of his last shot

July 29, 2014
Dakota, center, with his mother, Michelle, and her fiancé, Dave.

Dakota, center, with his mother, Michelle, and her fiancé, Dave.

Michelle was told Dakota was a lost cause — her son, 17, was hopeless, abusing drugs and alcohol and breaking the law.

In fact, Dakota amassed 20 criminal charges in four months, including theft, drug possession, vandalism and other charges.

Today, Dakota is completing his junior year of high school and on track to graduate.

But this story is as much about a mother’s perseverance as well as Dakota’s decision to change his life. It’s about the transformation a family made in response to tragic events and dire choices. Dakota’s father had a severe motorcycle accident when Dakota was 12 and he was left in a vegetative state. Michelle had dual duties of raising a teenager and taking care of Dakota’s father, and it took the tension in the home to extreme levels.

“Dakota was on the wrong path and we couldn’t pull him out,” Dave, Michelle’s fiancé, said.

“Dakota was very close to his father, and when that happened he kind of went off the deep end,” Michelle said. “He went to three different rehabilitation centers and spent time in juvenile detention.”

None of the rehabilitation attempts worked. His alcohol and drug abuse were spiraling out of control, even accidentally overdosing a few times.

Dakota’s admission to Youth Villages-Inner Harbour Campus was a final shot.

It was either Youth Villages-Inner Harbour or jail. It took the efforts of Michelle, Dakota’s probation officer and others to get him admitted.

“I think Michelle blamed herself for a lot of Dakota’s behaviors and choices,” said Shereka Shaw, Inner Harbour therapist who worked with the family. “She fought to get Dakota the assistance and treatment he needed and honestly identified her needs as well.”

Through intensive therapy in a safe environment, Dakota found positive outlets for his feelings. He went through 7 Challenges, a drug and alcohol program for adolescents. He helped other youth. Most importantly, he saw where he was headed and decided to change. Through therapy and trust-building sessions, Dakota saw his mother as a support.

“It felt good knowing that Mom had my back,” Dakota said. “I didn’t have to carry it all myself.”

“Dakota had a willingness to change that I hadn’t seen before,” Shereka said. “Other youth are constantly asking about discharge, not worrying about what they need to change or accepting responsibility for their actions. Dakota would tell me, ‘I don’t want to go home until everybody believes I am ready. I don’t want to continue doing the same things and making the same choices.’”

He went home for a weekend and then decided that he was ready. He plays basketball and was even featured on the sports section front of the local newspaper. He cares about his appearance, and although 17, carries himself with a wisdom brought only through overcoming something so difficult.

“The accident caused Dakota to grow up faster than most,” Shereka said. “But he’s learned to communicate with his mother and talk things through.”

On the day he was discharged, Dakota visited his probation officer and showed her his djembe, a drum used as part of therapy at Inner Harbour, which he still practices. He then went home and ate dinner with his family. He’s since had all his juvenile charges dismissed and is off probation. He’s not sure what he will do after high school, maybe train to be a motorcycle mechanic or attend college.

“Shereka was wonderful and good for Dakota,” Michelle said. “I believe Youth Villages-Inner Harbour saved his life.”

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