When schools talk about “mentoring,” they typically refer to well-meaning adults who seek to provide wayward youth with direction or motivation — shining examples of attainable success.
Willard Jimerson is not that kind of mentor. Now 33, he spent the last 20 years in state prison for killing a 14-year-old girl in 1994, when he was only 13, and he has been free only weeks. Yet he does embody an unexpected version of ambition attained.
Willard Jimerson talks to students at Cleveland High School. Photo by Claudia Rowe / The Seattle Times.
On Thursday, Jimerson spoke to a crowd of students at Cleveland High School about the power of mentoring, the value of a relationship forged on nothing but hope, with no strings attached.
“Jobs are going to want to use you, other people may have an agenda for you,” he said. “But with mentors, there is no ulterior motive except to see another person succeed.”
This was Jimerson’s second visit to talk with the school’s Youth Ambassadors, a group of teenage counselors working to redirect their peers at risk of dropping out. But he had been thinking about this moment for more than a decade.
He imagined it as a 16-year-old sitting in solitary confinement at the Washington State Penitentiary. He thought about ways that his story might be of use. He often told visitors that he now needed to live for two people — himself and Jamie Lynn Wilson, the girl he killed.