DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – On Tuesday, June 1, 17-year-old Fabian Nickles was hard at work at his landscaping job, but four months ago, he landed behind bars for drug possession – and decided to turn his life around.

“I was just like, ‘How did it get to this?’ If I would have just been doing what I was supposed to, it wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

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He credits his progress since then to the Dallas Police Department’s First Offender Program.

It’s for juveniles between the ages of 10 and 16 who have been taken into custody for the first time on a non-violent Class A or B Misdemeanor or State Jail Felony.

It offers them a deal: a clean record in exchange for the successful completion of its skills education program.

“We teach them how to stay out of trouble,” said lead trainer Marvin J. Hawthorne. “We have a toolbox of skills that we teach them: greeting, decision-making, observing.

The kids and their parents meet once a week for six weeks to learn life skills. It’s voluntary and free.

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“We try to share information with the parent that we found effective in working with first offenders and keeping them from a second trouble situation,” said case worker Kendra Suarez.

“They just showed us a bunch of different life skills, like how to say no to peer pressure, making decisions for yourself,” said Nickles.

The program started in 1974. Since then, around 7,000 kids have graduated – and successfully.

“We’re very good at what we do. Only 10 or 11 percent of our kids get into trouble again,” said Hawthorne.

Fabian said he’s grateful for the opportunity to start over.

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“It was the answer to my prayers, basically. It was basically a second chance.”