17-year-old felon speaks out on teen violence in Fox In Focus series

Joseph McSweeny Jr., or Jojo, found himself cuffed to a hospital bed at 15-years-old. 

He was in the car with some friends and asked someone to hand him his gun. The gun went off and a bullet shot through his side, hitting someone else in the leg. 

"It just went off, boom. My ears started ringing," he said. 

His ‘friends’ left him and the other gunshot victim there. It was one of Jojo's many encounters with a gun as a young teen. 

Over the next couple of years, he racked up some charges. Now, at 17, Jojo's a felon. 

"I just went down the wrong road and my life turned out to be like that," he said. 

His dad, Joseph McSweeny Sr., knows that road all too well. He says his father was a drug addict and the impact on his life was heavy. 

"I got involved in gangs real young. Real early, 13, 14-years-old," he said. 

He had Jojo when he was 19 and was in and out of jail as Jojo grew up. 

"One wrong move, and I'm up the river for two to three years, and he has to raise himself. Which he had to a little bit," he said. 

When asked if Joseph blames himself for Jojo turning to a life of crime, Joseph said, he did. 

"I didn't want him to fall in my footsteps, but he definitely did."

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But Jojo was quick to jump in and say there were many other influences that led him to make the choices he has. 

Jojo says drug, gun, and gang culture was pushed on him at school. He started hanging out with the ‘wrong people’ and found himself in bad situations. 

"People I've been around at school, skipping school, going to go do stuff you're not supposed to do," he said. 

Jojo also says rappers influenced him to try and live a certain lifestyle. 

"Music videos, these rappers out there these days," he said. 

Jojo says he considers himself lucky to be alive after all he's been through at only 17, and just one of hundreds of youth in Houston who are arrested and charged with crimes every year.

According to records from Houston Police, they arrested 328 juveniles for violent crimes in 2023. To be clear, these are violent crimes that include murder, negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, human trafficking and kidnapping.  Crimes like burglary and auto theft are not included in these numbers. 

According to the records, the following reflect the number of juvenile arrests made in each category in 2023. 

Murder: 8

Negligent manslaughter: 0

Rape: 4

Robbery: 162

Aggravated assault: 153

Human trafficking: 0

Kidnapping: 1

According to records, the following reflect the number of juvenile arrests made in each category from January to March 17, 2024. 

Murder: 2

Negligent manslaughter: 0

Rape: 0

Robbery: 33

Aggravated assault: 32

Human Trafficking: 0

Kidnapping: 0

Reggie Gordon, or OG1, is the Founder of Operation Outreach. He was involved with gangs as a young teen and works with youths now to try and break the cycle of crime and violence. 

"Hurt people, hurt people. But hurt people heal different also," he said. 

He says the root of youth committing crime is pain and trauma that goes unnoticed and unhealed. Something Daphine Jack, Founder and CEO of Prevention Zone Inc. agrees with. 

"They might not have had food to eat, mental health, dysfunctional families, that's where it starts. What is bringing them to commit these crimes, versus lock up, and throw away the key," she said. 

Alfredo Alberto with Prairie View A&M University Prairie View Wellness says the best way to get to these problems and solve them, is to get into the schools and be present with these kids. 

"The biggest thing is, for a lot of these kids, is presence," he said. 

FOX 26 Houston is now on the FOX LOCAL app available through Apple TV, Amazon FireTV, Roku, Google Android TV, and Vizio!

All three experts say what they need the most is help. From people like you, reading this. They need volunteers to give their time to help reach these struggling kids. 

"It's gonna come to your door eventually, if we don't deal with it where it's at. It's going to come to your doorstep," said Gordon. 

Joseph McSweeny Sr. says he's really cleaned up his life. He got a job as a grip and electrician and has continued to build a career out of it. 

He's hired Jojo to work with him, who's on a good path too. He's expecting a son in the next month, finishing school online, and working towards a brighter future. 

"I want to be a truck driver, so I'm just following my dreams," said Jojo. He says he's made family a priority and it's changed his life. 

"If you make a choice that ain't going to take care of your family, I don't think you should make that choice," he said. "That's what changed me, my family.'

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