Mother of Trenton murder victim talks about struggles of parenting a troubled youth

When Jamer Greenfield was eight or nine years old, the man he thought was his father told him that he no longer wanted to be a part of his life.

“I came home from work one day and Jamer was crying,” his mother Talaya Greenfield said. “He said, ‘My dad said he wasn’t my dad anymore.’ I thought to myself, ‘Oh God. Why didn’t he let me tell him?’”

The father mixup was an honest mistake, Talaya said, but the news “destroyed” her son. It set Jamer on a path of mischief, with little-to-no direction for life goals. At the age of 10, Greenfield stole someone’s bike, his mother said, and by the time he became a teenager, he turned to street hustling.

“Things started getting terrible at the age of 14 or 15,” Talaya said. “He started driving cars and I didn’t even know. He sold drugs as a teenager. But he never played with guns.”

Jamer Greenfield, 23, was shot and killed on July 19. Word on the street is that Jamer was gambling shortly before he was gunned down. Police, though, have not disclosed a motive for the killing.

Image of Jamer Greenfield, his mother and two brothers taken from a memorial booklet from Jamer's funeral. (Contributed photo)

Image of Jamer Greenfield, his mother and two brothers taken from a memorial booklet from Jamer’s funeral. (Contributed photo)

Talaya Greenfield agreed to share her story so that others will understand the struggles of single moms. She raised three boys with the help of family and friends. Her other two sons have fathers who were in their lives, she said. But after Jamer — the youngest — learned that he was mistaken about his biological father’s identity, he was left without a full-time father figure in his life. While the children were young, Talaya stayed home and raised them, but as they became older, she found a full-time job. But when she started working, Talaya said, she found it difficult to keep Jamer out of trouble.

“I was working and really didn’t know what was going on,” Talaya said. “I would run out from my job because they were always calling me, telling me that Jamer was doing this and doing that. I told him to behave himself. I didn’t raise him to be the way he was.”

According to government statistics, between 1960 and 2004, the percentage of children under the age of 18 living in father-absent homes increased from 11.2 percent to 27.6 percent. Statistics also show that more black children live in father-absent homes than do Hispanic or white children. Today, more than 24 million American children live in homes in which their biological fathers do not reside, according to a 2012 government report.

Researchers have found that single-parent homes correlate with violent crime, and that adolescent boys in single-parent families have a higher risk of delinquencies, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Shannon Battle has worked with single moms for over 14 years. She does not know the Greenfield family, but Battle agreed to share professional knowledge gained throughout her time helping at-risk kids. Battle said that kids who are raised by single, working mothers have a greater risk of engaging in illegal activity, even when other family and friends help raise the child.

“Kids thrive on the attachment to their parents,” Battle, who owns a foster-care agency, said. “And young boys face a lot of self-esteem issues.”

Young men are constantly looking for development and guidance, Battle said, and often parents are providers of that knowledge. But when personal development is not learned in the home, Battle said, the child will seek that knowledge from outside the household.

“We look at them as being in the street getting into trouble, but they’re out there trying to learn,” Battle said. “They’re trying to see what they can do to manage independently and there’s someone out in the streets willing to show them.”

Jamer Greenfield dropped out of high-school, his mother said, but he later earned his GED. When he was in middle school, Jamer’s mother tried to interest him in sports such as basketball and baseball, but he didn’t enjoy any of those activities. Her son wanted to have a lot of money, Talaya said, but he never actually articulated how he would accomplish that goal.

Jamer Greenfield

Jamer Greenfield

“He wanted to be a star, or a millionaire, when he grew up,” Talaya said. “He wanted to own businesses and he wanted to be ‘on top.’ If you ask me how he planned to do that, I couldn’t tell you. I listened to him say that a lot, and I always said, ‘You have to finish school to do that.’”

Talaya now partly blames herself for her son’s inability to achieve his dreams. She believes she wasn’t strict enough as a parent, even though she tried the best she could to raise Jamer to be responsible.

“I tried so hard to change him and to make him go the right way and do the right thing,” Talaya said. “But I wasn’t strict on my kids. I always spoiled them. I never let them make their own beds, clean up, or take garbage out; that wasn’t their job. They never had to do anything. Maybe that’s what the problem was.”

Battle said single parents will often try and be more of a friend as opposed to a parent to their children in order to compensate for whatever may be lacking in the home. But that type of relationship can sometimes have adverse effects, Battle said.

“Children need accountability,” Battle said. “If you never allow them the opportunity to maintain basic activities of daily living, then they’re going to have a difficult transition into independence and adulthood. A lot of times mothers do that to try and compensate for not having a man in the house, or for their own personal insecurities, because they feel responsible for whatever the child is missing in their life.”

Battle suggests that single parents place their children in mentoring programs, or find a support group of other single parents who can help guide kids on a productive life path. In addition with help in taking kids to school and other appointments, Battle said, support groups provide additional adult influences who can serve as role models for adolescents.

“Single moms have to be more resourceful and make sure their child’s needs are being met even while they’re at work,” Battle said.

Ever since Jamer’s death, his mother has struggled to find happiness. She cries whenever she thinks about him, and she’s anxious for answers as to why he was killed. Talaya said she reads about the arrests of murder suspects in the newspaper every day, but she doesn’t understand why police have not apprehended her son’s killer. The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office said detectives are continually investigating all of Trenton’s unsolved murders, and that there have been no new developments in the investigation of Greenfield’s death.

“It hurts not to have my baby son here anymore,” Talaya said. “He might have been trouble, but he made me happy. I miss him a whole lot. He didn’t deserve to be killed like that.”

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