18-year-old Tyler Howell sits at the dining room table in his Dunedin home looking at old photographs.
He grabs his eighth grade school picture, staring down at a boy with glasses who is just about to take a turn down a troubled path.
"I was doing what I wanted at will,” Howell said. “Anything someone told me not to do, basically I was doing it."
Howell was arrested dozens of times throughout high school. Most of the time he was able to get the charges reduced, but most recently was serving time in a juvenile program at the Charles Britt Academy in St. Petersburg.
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“I always thought as soon as I turn 18 , none of this is going to affect me anymore,” Howell said. “Well that's not true.”
Howell’s parents said their interventions, counseling and the juvenile system just weren’t working for their son.
“You do a lot of guilt and a lot of self-blame,” Andy Howell, Tyler’s mother, said. “We believe we did the very best we could.”
But not Tyler has a chance to change. He was selected as one of nine juvenile offenders out of more than 100 across the country to be released from incarceration for the Sail for Justice program. The teens will train to compete in the World Atlantic Rally, a 2,700 nautical mile sailing race from Spain to Grenada.
"Our mission is just to prove juvenile offenders are capable of transformation, that it's not too late , that they're not too far gone,” Mark Hunter, Co-founder of Sail Future, said.
Tyler’s teammates include a 17-year-old who has been arrested more than 30 times, a former gang member from Los Angeles and a teen recovering from being shot in the kidney after a robbery went bad.
The team begins training at the end of September in Baltimore. In mid-October, they will travel to Spain to continue training and will compete in the race November 22 through December 8. After the race is the transition program, where the men will get help with continuing education and job placement.
The boat the juveniles will be sailing on is named Defy the Odds, something they hope to do not only in the race, but also in life.
"What we are about to do is, according to everybody else in the industry, is impossible,” Hunter said. “When we entered the race everybody laughed at us."
But the Howell family isn’t laughing. They know this is Tyler’s best shot.
"I think it's going to save his life,” Andy Howell said.
“I think it's going to give me more opportunities than the average person would ever have,” Tyler Howell said.