Humans of SWFL

From a Life of Crime to a Life of Inspiration

Monique Smith spent a year in prison for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. After spending several days in solitary confinement, Monique made the decision that when she was released, she will turn over a new leaf.

Monique is now committed to helping young at-risk girls stay on the straight and narrow. “I focus on the throwaways,” Monique said, “the young girls nobody wants.”

Florida is No. 15 when it comes to at-risk youth. Several factors may lead a child to become an ‘at-risk youth’ including;

  • Alcohol Use
  • Drug use
  • Homeless
  • Mental Illness
  • Parental Neglect
  • Sexual abuse

In efforts to help young at-risk girls, Monique holds ‘Pamper Me Pretty’ workshops. She shares her story of how she transformed her “ugly past into something beautiful.”

“I start off with my mugshot, and I ask the girls, ‘what do you see?’” Monique then explains to the girls they are looking at a “broken woman.”

Monique works with girls in groups and privately. Oasis Youth Center, in Fort Myers, is one of the group homes that’s on her list.

The young girls who attend Oasis Youth range between 12 and 17 years old. Most of the girls come from difficult backgrounds and encountered rough situations, according to Taylor Grant, a Youth Care Specialist at Oasis Youth.

Some of those situations include: behavioral issues, mental health, suicidal ideation, substance use and truancy.

Taylor said having Monique as a mentor to the troubled girls has been a tremendous help.

“Monique is very relatable to the girls because of the situations that she has been through,” Taylor said.

By the end of each session, Monique’s primary goal is to be the person these girls can turn to for guidance. She tries to let them know that it is okay to ask for help.

“I learned how to empower myself and to empower others,” Monique said. “ I encourage other girls to grow and to care for one another.”

Reporting by Gabriel Castaneda, Tamika Cody and Anna Kohls