A Diversion for Dennis


Dennis, a boy of 14 from a comfortable, suburban family north of Boston sees an ad on line for a legal “vape” containing flavored liquid. He contacts 17 year-old Natalie, the seller, who is from a low-income community in the Merrimack Valley. They agree to meet close to his home to make the exchange.

Natalie comes with her brother’s 15 year-old girl-friend, Jen, and Jen’s baby. Dennis arrives with several other boys, grabs the vape and runs off without paying.

Natalie notifies the police who arrest Dennis, who is now terrified. Natalie tells the police that she wants the money owed her, but does not want him ending up in court. The case is diverted to OurRJ, where all parties agree to meet in a Circle process.

Natalie and Jen bring the baby with them to Circle and explain to Dennis and his mother that they had to sell their vape to pay for diapers and other necessities for the baby’s survival. They mention that their family and friends could have found Dennis and beaten him, something they wished to avoid. Remarkably, they say they do not want to see Dennis get buried in the juvenile justice system as they, and many of their friends have been, something that has made their lives incredibly difficult.

They share a story about a beloved friend of theirs who, like Dennis, began with petty thefts, ignored their warnings, and was found murdered on his doorstep one day.

Dennis talks about how he never thought any of it through of his actions, and how sorry he is to have caused so much trouble for the family, and the baby. He is anxious to do whatever is needed to make amends. Natalie and Jen say they need money for the baby, and Dennis and his mother agree to send them a check covering the cost of the vape plus related damages.


Natalie suggests that Dennis get a job to pay back his mother, and because he has caused her such grief, that he also prepare a meal for her and his family--all of which he ultimately does. Finally, Natalie says she heard that Dennis is a hockey player and says she’d like to come to some of his games, which he enthusiastically agrees to.

A successful outcome for everyone. If the case was not referred to us, Dennis would have been in court for stealing. Please continue to support this work to help more children like Dennis stay in school.