Portfolio

Portfolio of work created by witf.

Writing Entry: Brandi's Long Road

Written by Tim Lambert, WITF Multimedia News Director | Jan 15, 2018 9:43 AM

In November 2016, Brandi Keifer was placed on six months' probation in Cumberland County Juvenile Court at the age of 17. WITF's Tim Lambert spent six months chronicling her journey to find out if the juvenile justice system made a difference in her life. This entry consists of the first two parts of a three-part series.

 

Part I

LEAD-IN:

LAMBERT:

You're listening to WITF's Morning Edition. I'm Tim Lambert.

NAT SOUND: 

Car door shuts

LAMBERT:

Today, we introduce you to Brandi Keifer.

She was placed on six months' probation in Cumberland County Juvenile Court last November at the age of 17.

As part of our latest Real Life | Real Issues series on how the juvenile justice system works, we'll spend the next three days, chronicling her journey from that day in court until this week - and find out if it made a difference in her life.

The first time we were *supposed* to chat with Brandi was in the middle of December at her home in North Middleton Township.

But, there was a problem.

NAT SOUND: 

Front door opens

LAMBERT: "I'm doing well. How are you?"

TRISHA KEIFER:

"Good."

LAMBERT:

"Good."

TRISHA KEIFER:

"I do have some bad news though.

LAMBERT:

"Uh-oh."

TRISHA KEIFER:

"Brandi...I reminded her last night. 'Tim's coming from the radio station.' She was like, 'Oh...okay.' She's not here."

LAMBERT:

*Laughs*

NAT SOUND:

*Conversation*

LAMBERT:

It turned out to be a bit of a silver lining.

Her mother, Trisha Keifer had a chance to speak freely about her daughter's troubled past.

TRISH KEIFER:

"Brandi is..she's agood girl, but she makes bad decisions."

LAMBERT:

Brandi had been in out of Children and Youth Services for drug use since she was 14-years-old -- that's when she took her older sister's car for a spin.

We're talking rehab, counseling, out-of-home placements and special schools.

But, nothing seemed to help and Trisha says things spiraled out of contorl pretty quickly.

TRISHA KEIFER:

"She's done coke and heroin. She's done Mollies and ecstasy. Klonopins umm....and other stuff I can't pronounce."

LAMBERT:

Trisha is divorced from Brandi's father and the past few years have not been easy.

First, she was laid off work and with Brandi in rehab and out-of-home placement facilities, she just couldn't keep up with her bills and lost both her life savings and her home.

Throughout all of these roadblocks and challenges, she never thought Brandi's poor choices would ever reach the point they did.

TRISHA KEIFER:

"But, I don't think I ever saw the drugs and the stealing. I kind of just woke up, like the day I caught her with the car, I was like 'What the hell happened to my kid?'"

LAMBERT:

The craziness came to a head last July.

Brandi had run-ins with the police for underage drinking and retail theft as well as assault and harassment at school.

TRISHA KEIFER:

"I think she got cocky and that she's never going to get caught and she can get away with anything. She doesn't have any rules. They don't apply to her."

LAMBERT:

The ordeal has taken it's toll on Keifer, who's sitting on her couch with a box of tissues nearby.

Sleepless nights.

A lot of headaches and a lot of worry.

TRISHA KEIFER:

"It's stressful. I'm like tired...emotionally, mentally and physically tired. If she screws up anymore I've come to the conclusion it's not my fault. But, I still have to love her. But I prepare for the worst and its not easy. It's a roller coaster of life."

LAMBERT:

A week or so later.

NAT SOUND:

BRANDI KEIFER:

"You're really tall...."

LAMBERT:

*Laughter*

LAMBERT:

It was time to talk to the young lady sitting in the front row of that roller coaster.

BRANDI KEIFER:

"Hi...I'm Brandi Keefer..I'm 17 years old."

LAMBERT: 

Her free fall came to a head on the 10th day of school last fall at Diakon Family Life Services -- a school-based substance-abuse treatment program.

It started with a some smack talking from another student.

BRANDI KEIFER:

"It's kind of embarassing to talk about it. She weighs like 90 pounds. She would say comments that get me in trouble. But, I was high constantly, so it was just like, 'Alright, I don't even care like I'm high.' Then, the first week of school started and she tried to get me in trouble."

LAMBERT:

Those comments set off Brandi's hair trigger temper and a chain of events that led to her probation -- even though she claims she warned her teachers about the problem.

Her description goes from introspection one minute to bitterness the next.

BRANDI KEIFER:

"She was literally right outside of the door. But, I sat here and debated to myself. 'Is this worth it?' And I just got tired of debating and I said 'F*ck it.' And I just walked out there and I beat her up. I regret it so much. I wish I never did it. It messed up a lot things for me. A lot."

LAMBERT:

Brandi is working at a nearby Domino's Pizza, after dropping out of school.

Going into the juvenile justice system is something she clearly never considered -- until it acutally happened.

BRANDI KEIFER:

"My first thought was 'Damn...they're taking my fingerprints. My fingerprints are in the system.' So, when people look up..'Oh...who used this murder weapon to kill this person like my fingerprints are in with those people. That's sad."

LAMBERT:

On November 21, 2016, at a consent decree hearing in juvenile court for simple assault, harrassment and retail theft, she was placed on probation for six months.

She would have to undergo random drug screenings and mental health counseling, attend a victim awareness class and perform dozens of hours of community service.

The judge also required her to take a test for her GED and make a good faith effort to get her driver's license.

If she completes all those tasks, her record will be expunged.

BRANDI KEIFER:

"I mean this time it's completely different. Like before when I was in the system, it didn't matter what they said to me. But like now, it's like, 'What can I do/" I don't want to be on probabtion when I turn 18. I don't want my charges to be on my record, cause I want to be a paralegal. I can't be a paralegal with charges of assault on me or harrassment. I'm doing what I can to get that record erased and for me to be off before I turn 18, I 'm doing everything I can."

LAMBERT:

Listening to Brandi talk a mile-a-minute, there are glimpses of a teenager with a good heart, but also of someone whose biggest hurdles will be learning how to control that anger and finding a way to stay away from drugs.

BRANDI KEIFER:

"I liked getting high. I liked not having to like be here and not having to overthink everything all the time. It just...I was high and my mind was off things and that was that."

LAMBERT:

Just a few weeks into her probation, she's undergoing drug testing and claims she's clean.

But, her mother Trisha is shaking her head no.

NAT SOUND:

*Brandi talking*

LAMBERT:

As Brandi reflects on the current state of her life, she insists it's time to send thAT party girl lifestyle packing.

BRANDI KEIFER:

"I don't know. I just don't. I can't do it anymore. Now, it's just like I don't....I don't know. I don't see the purpose of it anymore. It's not helping me where I want to go. I think I'm starting to mature and realize that there's more to the world than just getting high."

MUSIC

LAMBERT:

Brandi's goals are clear get her GED and a driver's license and save some money so when she turns 18 in May, she and her girlfriend can get their own place.

They might seem like normal, everyday goals for most people.

But over the next six months, they're potentially crucial life-changing steps for Brandi -- as she finds herself at a bit of crossroads.

It sounds like a cliche...but it rings true.

She knows she can go back to her old lifestyle and maybe end up in the adult criminal system -- or even dead.

Or...

She can make the changes needed to complete her probation and start a path toward a new life.

MUSIC

LAMBERT:

Tomorrow in part two of our Real Life | Real Issues series on the juvenile justice system, meet some of the people who are working to help Brandi make positive changes in her life -- as she heads back to school and tries to pass her driver's test.

MUSIC FADES

Part II

LEAD-IN:

You're listening to WITF's Morning Edition...I'm Tim Lambert.

This week, our Real Life | Real Issues series is looking at how the juvenile justice system works in Cumberland County.

We were given unique access to the court -- which operates behind closed doors due to the confidentiality involved to protect the identity of the child.

Over the past six months, we've been following 18-year-old Brandi Keifer, who was placed on probation for simple assault, harassment and retail theft.

KEIFER:

"I mean...this time it's completely different. I don't want to be on probation when I turn 18."

SOUND OF KEIFER TALKING FADES UNDERNEATH

LAMBERT:

Today, you'll meet two of the people who are not only helping Brandi fulfill her probation obligations, but make some positive lifestyle changes.

NAT SOUND:

*Outside Brandi's house, followed by opening of the door and knocking*

LAMBERT:

But first, we'll check in with Brandi at mom's house in North Middleton Township/ We'll see how things have gone through the first three months of her probation.

NAT SOUND CONVERSATION:

Lambert: "Hello."

Keifer's mother: "Hello."

Lambert: "How are you you?"

Keifer's mother: "Good. How are you?"

LAMBERT:

Brandi was a little under the weather as we chatted in early March.

She was still adjusting to returning to school -- taking classes like English, science and social skills at the alternative education school River Rock Academy's Carlisle campus.

BRANDI KIEFER:

"Cause like, I was basically an adult for an adult for a year. I didn't really go to school. I just worked. I just did what I wanted to do. Then, I went to school and it was like...it was different."

LAMBERT:

If she can avoid missing classes -- which has been a big problem for her -- Brandi will graduate next month.

That would help her meet one of the requirements -- getting her diploma.

But, another one -- making a good faith effort to get her driver's license -- hasn't gone so well.

BRANDI KEIFER:

"Yeah, I failed. Hmm...'cause I didn't go the speed limit and I didn't stop at the red light before I turned right."

LAMBERT:

The last time we last talked was in December. 

Her life at this point is -- in her words -- boring.

BRANDI KEIFER:

"I'm only keeping it that way because I'm on probation."

LAMBERT:

But, one thing is clear.

She hates being on probation and insists she's stayed away from drugs.

Brandi's looking forward to her 18th birthday and hopefully getting off probation in May.

Just a month after my visit, she did pas her driver's test, but was fired from her job at Domino's for missing too much work.

NAT SOUND SCHOOL:

"Hello, ma'am. You want to push the door shut."

LAMBERT:

Bethany Wheeler is a social worker with George Junior Republic.

The preventative aftercare program contracts with Cumberland County's Juvenile Probation Department and Children and Youth Services.

Basically, she's a mobile therapist.

BETHANY WHEELER:

"I'll pick her out sometimes and we'll drive around and hand-in resumes to follow up on applications we put in. We've had some issues with truancy, so sometimes it is showing up at the house and giving her a ride to school, if she isn't there." 

LAMBERT:

Bethany goes over things that may seem pretty basic -- llie how to act in social situations -- but they're important in helping Brandi handle herself better.

NAT SOUND CONVERSATION:

Bethany: "It's legitmate to feel frustrated when you're not feeling like you're being heard."

Brandi: "Yeah...especially when I'm trying to reach out for help. That's what bugs me the most."

BETHANY WHEELER:

"Things that she maybe just hasn't had and hasn't developed those skills. Not that I don't think she's ever been taught them, because I think she has.'

NAT SOUND CONVERSATION:

Bethany:  "Okay...the questions with the right tone of voice...so, right...we're like going to combine these two things. 'Cause the snarky question is probably still going to make people mad."

BRANDI KEIFER:

"Bethany's, like, the key to this whole thing, honestly."

LAMBERT:

But then, a bit of frustration surfaces.

NAT SOUND CONVERSATION:

Brandi Keifer:  "I''m just....I'm a mess."

Bethany Wheeler: "Yeah...but, what makes you say that."

Brandi Keifer: ''Like 'cause I know all the things I need to do. I know how to fix it. I know what's wrong. I know everything, but it's like I don't do it."

LAMBERT:

Bethany says she's seen some huge improvements -- noting Brandi's self-motivated and handles being held accountable pretty well.

BETHANY WHEELER:

"I think that she's had some successes -- especially with getting back in school. I think it's given her a little bit more motivation to make changes."

LAMBERT:

In her experience, Wheeler says kids like Brandi are often undersold -- because they're seen as troubled and not caring.

BETHANY WHEELER:

"In most kids' cases, you'll find that they have been through trauma and they have dealt with things that you'll never know about. And I think if more people could at least be aware of that and be sensitive to that, they might approach kids like that with a different approach that might be actually helpful to them...":

LAMBERT: 

But clearing probation rests upon the recommendation of another person.

NAT SOUND: Bell tone

Voice: "River Rock."

Frank Shartle: "Probation.

Voice: "Oh...come on in."

LAMBERT:

Frank Shartle is Brandi's juvenile probation officer.

NAT SOUND CONVERSATION:

Frank Shartle: "How is she doing today? Okay?"

Teacher: "Yeah...yeah...she's in a good space."

LAMBERT:

Shartle has a first-hand view of kids in the courtroom, the community, the classroom, at work and even at home.

FRANK SHARTLE:

"It can be difficult to find stuff to talk about and kids don't want to be browbeat about this stuff. I had noticed a bin with baseball bats and a basketball in there and I started out with asking about her...did she play sports? Was she a former athlete?"

LAMBERT:

With Brandi, it's a once a week meeting -- and this particular chat is taking place at River Rock Academy -- on a big day for her

NAT SOUND BRANDI ENTERS THE ROOM:

Frank Shartle: "Hey Brandi."

Brandi Keifer: "Hi!"

Frank Shartle: "Come on in. Sit down."

Brandi Keifer: "It's my birthday, guys."

*laughter*

Frank Shartle: "Happy birthday, Brandi."

Brandi Keifer: "Thanks!"

Frank Shartle: "The big 1-8. What are you going to do? Do you have any plans?"

Brandi Keifer: "Not go to jail?"

*laughter*

LAMBERT:

Shartle's approach is to work with the juvenile to get them off probation and make sure their court-ordered requirements are done appropriately and in a timely fashion. 

NAT SOUND CONVERSATION:

Frank Shartle: "Well Brandi...we went over it before. Your money is paid. The community service is complete. You did the victim...."

Brandi Keifer: "I did?"

Frank Shartle: "Yeah. Really, the only thing left on the docket is a clean drug screen."

LAMBERT: 

Shartle says Brandi's been pretty good about being transparent -- like telling the truth about her drug use.

NAT SOUND CONVERSATION:

Frank Shartle: "I'd be wary of your test..."

LAMBERT: 

Pleased with her progress, he offers both an encouraging assessment and a cautious reminder.

NAT SOUND CONVERSATION:

Frank Shartle: "If you attend the rest of the school year, you may just cross the finish line with a high school diploma, which would be awesome Brandi, and completely your doing. But, I don't want you passing the drug screen and then going out and partying like 'Yeah i passed the drug screen and let me smoke a fat blunt.'

Brandi Keifer: "I'm not doing that until I'm off probation."

*pause*

*laughter*

Frank Shartle: "Let's just cross that bridge when we get to it." 

LAMBERT:

Brandi is just weeks away from being released from probation -- but Shartle does have the power to extend it another six weeks or up to six months if something does go awry.

NAT SOUND CONVERSATION:

Brandi Keifer: "Oh...there's no more charges after this."

Frank Shartle: *Chuckle*..."That would be great..."

Brandi Keifer: "I'm not going to jail."

Frank Shartle: "That would be great Brandi."

Brandi Keifer: "That's not an option."

MUSIC:

LAMBERT:

Over the last few months, Brandi has made some significant progress -- getting back to school and passing her driver's test.

She's also re-evaluating her lifestyle and the choices she makes.

But some big obstacles remain.

She still needs a job, to stay clean and graduate.

Tomorrow, we'll check in with Brandi Keifer one more time to see what she's learned and what -- if any -- changes -- she's made in her life over the last six months.

MUSIC FADES OUT

back to top

Give Now

Estate Planning

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Smart Talk

National Edward R. Murrow Awards

DuPont Columbia Awards

Support Local Journalism

Latest News from NPR

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »