NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Ameer Baraka, a convicted felon who turned his own life around, spends at least one day a week at the Orleans Parish Jail mentoring youth inmates.
On his way in today, he received the news that 15-year-old Jaquin Thomas took his own life.
"This kid had a future. He was a smart, intelligent kid. He did wrong, just like I had done wrong in my life," says Baraka.
The Sheriff's Office is investigating, but they say a deputy found Thomas unresponsive in his cell around 9:20 Monday night. They believe he used a mattress cover to hang himself.
"I think that, in my opinion, he feared the outcome of the situation which was possible life in prison without parole. Being a kid, like him, that was hard," says Baraka.
Thomas was in jail on charges of second degree murder and aggravated battery. Police say Thomas and his 34-year-old uncle forced their way into a New Orleans East apartment on July 21st.
According to the arrest warrant, the uncle told police his nephew fatally shot a man during a scuffle. Baraka says during his weekly visits to the jail, he had long talks with Thomas.
"I had given him my book, 'The Life I Chose', and I told him life is about choices. He knew that he had been lied to because he had made some bad choices," says Baraka.
Baraka says Thomas was just a child when he was led into a life of crime, and while he knew he'd have to face the consequences, Baraka could see the changes within the 15-year-old already.
Thomas told him he wanted to be a writer, and just days before he took his own life, he wrote a passage to Baraka titled, Time and Thought.
Parts of it read, 'Live and learn. Enjoy soaking up knowledge and strive for wisdom, courage and understanding. Know that there will be obstacles, but you can overcome all when you make the right choices.'
"It's powerful because that's what it's all about. I told him it's about choices, and he understood that. I'm going to put this in a frame," says Baraka.
Baraka says the teen taught him something too.
"I'm going to put 100 percent into my effort every time I come to this jail. Sometimes, I come and I'm tired, but I'm not going to be tired anymore because I never want to read another letter like this from a kid again. This was a good kid," says Baraka.