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Teen overcomes odds, graduates early, adopts dog she trained

By chirst
Nov. 16, 2012 at 5:16 a.m.


The 17-year-old Dallas senior was scared when she arrived in Victoria on July 13.

After spending three months in the Dallas County Juvenile Detention Center for debit and credit card abuse, Royce Session was transferred to the Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Facility for her six to nine month placement - about 300 miles away from her family and everything she knew.

"I had never heard of Victoria. On my way here, I was hyperventilating because all I could see was country and grass," Royce said. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh, where am I?' I did not want to be here.'"

Her parents, Patrick and Shantay Smith, were just as devastated. The distance meant they could not regularly visit their daughter.

"That was heartbreaking because we were hoping she would be local," her dad said. "She started out good, but she hit the low road. She was rebelling a little and getting with the wrong crowd and not knowing herself."

Royce said she did not adjust well, and was miserable her first few days in Victoria.

"I gave up on my hopes and dreams. I walked into this nightmare I could just not awaken from ... I hurt people close to me, I did things I know I shouldn't have ... I started to feel as if my life was a waste," Royce said.

But when the principal of the Victoria ISD branch in the detention center told Royce she could graduate high school before Thanksgiving - more than a semester early - she said she jumped on the new goal.

"It gave me hope. It made me really want to try and that is exactly what I did. I gave it my best," Royce said.

Three months later, when Royce had finished her six to nine month rehabilitation program early and could go home, she declined.

Even though she had only seen her parents once, she asked if she could to stay in the center to keep taking high school classes.

"We have never had one ask to stay. Never, ever, ever. I think that took a lot from her," said Regina Perez, compliance officer at the center. "She started looking into college and filling out the forms for being accepted into a college. She looked for grants and how to apply for those. She really took a lot of initiative."

Royce even joined the Dream Seekers program at the detention center to train a dog through Adopt-A-Pet.

Frank, an abused pug-mix, became her constant companion, even during class.

"Frank gave me someone to confide in. Frank really taught me empathy," Royce said. "When I first got him he was very hard headed, he did not want to listen. But I was not going to be mean to him, knowing where he came from and what his situation was."

Soon the disobedient dog could perform the most complicated tricks, like giving high-fives and making a whining sound Royce calls 'rev your motor.'

And on Friday, Frank was there for Royce again, as she graduated from Victoria High School with a plan to start college in January.

Her family, including siblings, cousins, grandparents and parents, made the five-hour drive to attend the ceremony in Victoria.

"I am just elated right now. It is unbelievable. I could not believe I cried ... but it just shows you how touching it is to see that today," her dad said. "To see where she started when she got here and where she is now - it is like night and day. It is a beautiful feeling and you can't explain it."

Royce's 3-year-old sister Madison was not only excited to get her big sister back, but to bring Frank home as well, after the family adopted the dog from Adopt-A-Pet.

"She does everything I do, she looks up to me," Royce said about Madison, as she tried to imitate the tricks Royce taught Frank. "It is very important for me to be a role model for her because I don't want her to be in this situation. I don't want her to have to go through this."

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