Jesse Sa­hota – his mission: sav­ing lives!

Asian Journal - - Person in Focus - Ray Hud­son

There’s a pow­er­ful force in Sur­rey work­ing to help young peo­ple who are in jeop­ardy of los­ing their way, of slip­ping into a neg­a­tive and danger­ous life­style, to turn them­selves around. It’s called the Wrap­around Pro­gram, Wrap for short. “It’s a part­ner­ship be­tween the Sur­rey School Dis­trict, RCMP and the City of Sur­rey. The pro­gram’s ob­jec­tive is to pos­i­tively at­tach youth to school, their com­mu­nity and the home by build­ing a trust­ing and pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship. Par­ents, care­givers and/or guardians are in­cluded in goal set­ting while as­sist­ing the pro­gram’s ob­jec­tive in build­ing a pos­i­tive life­style and self-worth for youth.” SD36 re­lease. One of the highly mo­ti­vated, highly ded­i­cated mem­bers of the Wrap Team is Jesse Sa­hota, a young man who has ex­pe­ri­enced the neg­a­tive side of life and who, with the help of an in­ter­ven­tion pro­gram from the School, lead by his men­tor and Wrap Pro­gram Head, Rob Rai, has turned his life around, grad­u­ated uni­ver­sity and has be­come a Canadian Na­tional Wrestling Cham­pion and renowned Kabaddi ath­lete. Now he has turned his laser-like at­ten­tion to help­ing other young peo­ple turn their lives around. Dur­ing the re­cent spate of street vi­o­lence in Sur­rey, Jesse stepped up at com­mu­nity meet­ings to tell the par­ents and public what’s re­ally go­ing on from the per­spec­tive of one who’s been there.

He agreed to talk about his jour­ney and how he now passes along the pro­gram with the same in­tense pas­sion that he ex­pe­ri­enced not so long be­fore. He spoke with Ray Hud­son of the Asian Jour­nal, ask­ing him to de­scribe his role in the pro­gram: Jesse Sa­hota: I’ve been em­ployed in the pro­gram for five months, although I’ve been vol­un­teer­ing since 2010. My job is to deal with youth in­volved in se­ri­ous in­ci­dents, stu­dents from 12 to 19 years old who have been in­volved in shoot­ings, stab­bings, drug traf­fick­ing and pos­ses­sion of drugs. I build re­la­tion­ships. I don’t like to call them clients, I like to call them my friends or other sim­i­lar names. I tell them what I do is be­yond a job. I say, ‘I’m prob­a­bly go­ing to see you for the next twenty or thirty years, and I want to see you for the next twenty thirty years. This six, eight or six­teen-week pro­gram is not the end of our re­la­tion­ship.’ I want to build a friend­ship, be­cause that’s how I get the ef­fect that I want. That’s the ef­fect that Rob (Rai) gave to me when I was un­der his wing. Rob al­ways asks me if I’m happy do­ing the job I’m do­ing, and I tell him that I feel very for­tu­nate to do the work I do. It’s very re­ward­ing and I’m hum­bled by the op­por­tu­nity. I thank him ev­ery day for this.

Asian Jour­nal: With the ben­e­fit of hind­sight, do you have any sense of when it be­gan to go off the rails for you, and why? Jesse Sa­hota: I was an im­mi­grant stu­dent, even through I’d been here since I was two or three years old. I grew up in a fam­ily where my par­ents didn’t speak English, and still don’t. They were at work through most of my child­hood so I took care of my lit­tle brother from the age of seven, he is 2 ½ years younger. We were on our own and grew up on our own. My par­ents were very young and had to work very hard just to make ends meet. I know that not hav­ing that early parental guid­ance kind of threw me off. My peers be­came my big­gest in­flu­ences, and around grade four I could feel my­self slowly drift­ing away. I was fight­ing, not car­ing, in­sult­ing peo­ple, bul­ly­ing, steal­ing and wasn’t afraid of the con­se­quences. In so­ci­ety we have rules and I be­gan to not re­spect those rules. By grade seven I have been ex­pelled from school af­ter sev­eral sus­pen­sions.

Asian Jour­nal: How did your be­hav­iour im­pact your brother? Jesse Sa­hota: Not well, in his el­e­men­tary school he got into lots of trou­ble, and even into high school years he was get­ting in to trou­ble. But as I im­proved my be­hav­iour he did also. I made it my pri­or­ity, that even as early as grade nine, I would never mess up in front of my brother. I did try to be the best role model I could be for him.

Asian Jour­nal: When you were ex­pelled, what went through your head? Jesse Sa­hota: I was dev­as­tated. At the time I didn’t know what to say be­cause I couldn’t tell my par­ents. I was afraid. I thought about run­ning away from home, I thought about sui- cide. I was just so afraid I didn’t know what was go­ing to hap­pen. Ba­si­cally my prin­ci­pal said I wasn’t com­ing back to any school in Sur­rey. I re­mem­ber the day very vividly. It was a re­ally bad day in my life. Hav­ing had the suc­cess I’ve now had in my life, I wish I could go back and change that day, but from our hard­ships we be­come who we are.

Asian Jour­nal: That was the day you hit bot­tom. Jesse Sa­hota: It’s very rare for some­one so young to get kicked out of el­e­men­tary school, you have to be re­ally bad. They had a set pro­to­col, and had a dis­trict meet­ing and de­cided I would be sanc­tioned off the school prop­erty, which sucked be­cause I lived right next to the school. There were a lot of terms and con­di­tions, I couldn’t play with my friends or as­so­ciate with cer­tain peo­ple, and I had to meet with Rob Rai on a weekly ba­sis. My par­ents got the call from the prin­ci­pal that week­end say­ing that I was in some se­ri­ous trou­ble and that she had a list of some 25 of­fenses that I had done over a year and a half. I hadn’t told them be­cause I was too scared. Still, I kept say­ing I didn’t do it, deny, deny, deny. My par­ents went into de­nial as well say­ing ‘no, it was not my son.’ It was 48 hours un­til I ad­mit­ted that I had done ev­ery­thing. Then my par­ents ac­cepted what the prin­ci­pal said, and ac­cepted that I was in some se­ri­ous trou­ble.

Asian Jour­nal: When you ac­tu­ally came clean and took re­spon­si­bil­ity for it, how did you feel? Jesse Sa­hota: It made me feel kind of pow­er­less. There was no sense of re­lief. It was like ad­mit­ting to my mis­takes, but even so it wasn’t the end of it all. I wasn’t re­lieved be­cause I knew I was still in deep trou­ble. Even though I’d ac­cepted it, my mind hadn’t changed yet. At that point I hadn’t com­pletely changed. The first day I went to my new school I got into a fight, and if my prin­ci­pal had known my record I would have been kicked out. But my teacher said, “I’ve never done this be­fore, but I see some­thing in you and I’m go­ing to give you one more chance.” So I was re­lieved be­cause get­ting kicked out on my first day would have sucked. I guess some of the kids were push­ing me around and I punched one in the eye and he just dropped. Ob­vi­ously I did it but I was think- ing, ‘what the hell did I just do? Come on!’ It was my first day, lunchtime! So that was kind of scary. I never had any more trou­ble af­ter that and I had a re­ally great ex­pe­ri­ence at that school. When I went into high school, you know my men­tal­ity was ‘don’t get caught! You’ve been caught be­fore, don’t get caught,’ which is not the right men­tal­ity be­cause I was still do­ing the bad things. I got busted again in Grade 9 for sell­ing il­le­gal fire­works. I called the kid sell­ing then them and told him I wanted to buy a bunch, then beat up the kid and stole the fire­works. The Constable hap­pened to be driv­ing by and saw me. That day was a real wake up call be­cause I fi­nally re­al­ized, it’s not about get­ting caught, it’s about be­com­ing a bet­ter per­son. Af­ter that day I didn’t even get a detention. And that was the point when I said, I’m done with this! Coin­ci­dently, the day I de­cided I was go­ing to be­come a bet­ter per­son, I de­cided I was go­ing to de­vote all of my time to wrestling. I’d get up at 5:30, go train at the lo­cal gym, come back and eat break­fast, go to school, come home, do homework, go to prac­tice, come home and sleep for the next three or four years. That was it. I missed ev­ery party, but I did go to my grad­u­a­tion, but that was it. I didn’t care about be­ing the most popular guy any­more. My only fo­cus was that I had to ac­com­plish my goal. My ath­letic suc­cess re­ally picked up in my se­nior year of high school. The first year of hard train­ing is to build a foun­da­tion, the sec­ond year is to catch up to the com­pe­ti­tion. My se­nior year was my third and fourth year of hard train­ing, and that year I won na­tion­als in the heavy­weight class for the first time. Aca­dem­i­cally, I had a schol­ar­ship so I went to SFU and did a Crim­i­nol­ogy De­gree. Im­me­di­ately upon grad­u­a­tion I started vol­un­teer­ing with the Wrap pro­gram and the sis­ter pro­grams, be­cause Rob has al­ways been a men­tor and I al­ways go to him for ad­vice. He told me that he wanted me to help out with the pro­grams, to give back to the pro­grams that helped me out. I said, no prob­lem, and here I am. Next week, in the con­clu­sion of the in­ter­view, Jesse talks about the im­pact his clients (friends) are hav­ing on him and his sat­is­fac­tion when things work out.

Photo: Ray Hud­son

Jesse Sa­hota with BC Pre­mier Christy Clark and Sur­rey Mayor Linda Hep­ner.

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