From Violence to Victory

A Central Florida teen is shot during an attempted robbery, but recovers with a new outlook on life.

A Downward Spiral

Cornelius Turner never dreamed he would be where he is today.

Born in San Bernardino, California, Neil lived in Tennessee for several months before moving with his single mother and brother to Orlando, Florida at three years of age. Living on Mercy Drive, Neil earned above average grades in elementary and middle school, although he did not particularly enjoy academics.

Upon attending Evans High School in ninth grade, Neil began to allow his negative environment to change his attitudes and ambitions. He began snatching wallets and books from fellow students, stealing cars, drinking liquor and smoking marijuana before finally becoming a drug dealer himself. As he embedded himself deeper and deeper into the street culture which surrounded him, his actions grew evermore reckless. Caught up entirely in pleasures of the moment, the street culture offered him easy access to money, women and mind-numbing substances. He repeatedly ignored warning signs that his situation was spiraling out of control.

In the tenth grade, Neil’s life changed forever. A few days after a successful hold-up, Neil and his usual friends decided to rob a man they saw entering a convenience store. But when it came time to initiate the plan, Neil’s friends backed out, leaving him to go on alone. During the confrontation that followed, the would-be victim shot Neil in the back.

A Violent Culture

The adolescent years play an integral role in the mental development of youth. Lifestyles and skills developed at this time can have a deep impact on how individuals behave as adults. According to statistics published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center, 7,302 youth under the age of 18 spent residential time in juvenile detention and correctional facilities in 2006.That same year, approximately 836 Florida teens between the ages of 15 to 19 died from all causes; 656 of these teens died violent deaths by either homicide, suicide or accident.

Steve Dalsemer, director of the Orange County Juvenile Assessment Center, reported that in 2009, just over 8,200 children under 18 years of age were arrested and processed through his center.

A Change in Vision

Neil’s life could have ended in that one, painful moment. Paramedics quickly transported him to a local hospital, where doctors described his prognosis as grim. The bullet had severed his ninth vertebrae, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. The resulting trauma kept him in a coma for nearly two and a half months. He regained consciousness on his sixteenth birthday and entered a rehabilitation therapy program. Several more months passed until his condition improved enough for his mother to take him home.

Although a visiting nurse tended to his needs at first, her visits soon became irregular and then stopped completely. His mother could not correctly deal with her son’s medical needs alone. As a result, Neil suffered from a septic infection due to bedsores, which caused him to return to the hospital for nearly eight more months. Due to the seriousness of his condition, the Florida Department of Children and Families intervened to place Neil in a medical foster home in January of 2010.

A New Dream

After his 18th birthday, this courageous young man has decided to share his experiences with the world. As a fortunate survivor of a brutally violent teen culture, he earnestly believes he has a message for others who may be facing the same choices he made three years ago.

“I’m young, so [I’m] a better person to reach out and talk to them and they’ll have a better understanding through me than some [older person]” said Neil. “You know, its all about how you make your decisions. If you wanna be a drug dealer, [you can be] be a drug dealer. If you wanna be a star, you can be a star. You know, anybody can be what they wanna be as long as they put the[ir] mind to it.”

Amidst the uncertainties that lie ahead of him, Neil knows one thing: he possesses a gift for music. Although he has had no formal training, he plays guitar, drums, harmonica and piano all by ear and he holds a deep passion for writing free-style rap about his life. “The reason I’m putting it out in music is ‘cause its a better way of communicating to people…They can do whatever they wanna do [after they hear it]. I’m just giving a warning. They say warning comes before destruction.”

For this extraordinary young man, life has taken on a new meaning with the possibility of following his musical dreams to a lasting purpose. “[My message] is this right here,” he boldly stated. “This goes out to everybody out there who’s going through somethin’. Just know that you gonna find the sunshine outside in the rain… Keep your head up.”

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