Brandon Matties plays with his son, James, 3, in front of their Mandan home on Tuesday. Matties, who was helped by the Bismarck Police Department's Police Youth Bureau, wants to be a good role model for his son.

Brandon Matties is only 24, too young to be looking back on life. But as he matures, he realizes how much he learned in his teen years and how the help of a local program might have shaped his future.

As a teen he was making bad choices, was rebellious and didn’t want to listen to authority figures. He was never violent, but he wanted to do what he wanted to do.

“It wound up going farther than I guess most teenagers would take it,” he said.

Matties’ actions landed him not in court but in the Police Youth Bureau of the Bismarck Police Department. Youth are referred to the program by school resource officers, parents or law enforcement. The program is much less visible to the public than the court system, but that's one of its goals, said Luke McKay, youth worker supervisor for the bureau — keep kids out of the juvenile justice system.

The bureau, formed in 1975, is staffed by five civilians. A police lieutenant oversees it, and there are six resource officers in Bismarck schools. A process was added in 2014 by which resource officers can make a direct referral to a bureau worker instead of issuing a citation. Twenty-five referrals were made that first year, 100 in 2018 and 79 so far this year. The bureau has worked with as many as 1,000 youths in a year, but in the 10-year span from 2008 through 2017 the average has been about 320.

Matties is one of the success stories.

The Bismarck High graduate was referred to the bureau after he got a couple of citations for juvenile offenses. His father lived in Kentucky, and a one-month stay with him during the summer of 2010 hadn’t gone well. His mother, Matties said, was making poor decisions, so he went to live with his grandparents. But after his grandparents divorced, it seemed like any stability in his life was gone. He got into a yelling match with his grandmother one night and stormed out of the house. He came back, but it was then that he started to act out — staying out late, stopping communication, neglecting his homework. When he was home, he wanted to stay in his room.

He came to the bureau with a front, McKay said. He had to decide if he was going to keep that front or just be himself. He made progress initially, keeping appointments and staying in touch with bureau workers and counselors. But some peer pressure caused him to start staying out late again and led to a second argument with his grandmother. She pushed McKay to move some of Matties’ appointments up, to get him back to the path he’d been on previously. It wasn’t long after that Matties apologized to her and did some community service and some “grandma service,” where she called the shots.

Through all of it, even the rough spots, McKay said, he could tell Matties was headed in the right direction. Matties could have made excuses, but either on his own or with the help of the bureau he was able to process those thoughts and stay positive.

“He’s a survivor,” McKay said.

Over the course of a few months, McKay spent more than 20 hours on Matties’ case. There’s no such thing as an average case, he said, but that number is higher than it is for most. Some cases take more time, not because the youth was in more trouble but because workers might have a hard time connecting with a client. Strong-arm tactics seldom work.

“They have to trust that you have their best interest in mind and that you’re trying to help,” he said.

After he was out of the program, Matties ran into some issues with drugs, a habit he beat with the help of friends and some stubbornness, he said. He was in a bad situation and had to get himself out.

“I guess I take the crash course into the hard lessons,” he said. “There are good things to do, bad things to do, and the bad things are never worth doing.”

In January, Matties noted four years of sobriety. McKay was unaware of that time in his life, but he said some of his clients tell him the things they learned through the bureau don’t make sense until they go through experiences later in life.

“You plant a seed, but sometimes it doesn’t grow right away,” he said.

Matties at one point sent McKay a Facebook friend request. McKay normally doesn’t accept those but did in this case, he said, “because I really liked him.”

“You had to feel a little bit sorry for him with his situation and upbringing, but you never felt like he’d given up,” McKay said.

Being referred to the bureau turned out to be a positive thing for Matties. He believes he could have ended up in jail if his attitudes and actions had gone unchecked.

"It was honestly for my own good and my own personal protection," He said.

He is employed full time and living in Mandan with his son and girlfriend. He said he can’t ever be too sure what his future holds, but he knows he’d “rather not screw all that up.”

“For right now all the future holds is living, breathing, working, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle to set an example for my son,” he said.

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(Reach Travis Svihovec at 701-250-8260 or Travis.Svihovec@bismarcktribune.com)