This is one in a series of articles where we look at Maryland's juvenile justice system
By JEFFREY BENZING
BALTIMORE (May 30, 2011) He's in the adult system now. Tyrone, an East Baltimore teenager arrested twice as a juvenile on charges of selling marijuana, sits in jail, awaiting trial on charges of dealing heroin, cocaine and marijuana.
He's been shot and stabbed and turned out by his mother, who says he's fallen in with the wrong crowd. He failed his first attempt at his GED. And he says money is scarce because older adults are filling jobs normally held by teenagers.
"Ain't nobody going to try to stay broke," Tyrone said in April at his grandmother's house while awaiting trial for charges of selling marijuana and cocaine. "The only way for you to make money if you're not working is sell drugs."
Three days later, Tyrone was picked up again—another string of drug charges.
Rashad Hawkins, an organizer with the Just Kids Partnership, where Tyrone has done occasional work, says he often sees young adults continue to get in trouble after they've been through the Department of Juvenile Services.
They fall behind in school, he says, and when they get out of the juvenile services system, they aren't able to find a job.
"He basically said he needed money, and I knew that was an issue," Hawkins says. "Nobody wakes up and says they want to sell drugs."
Tyrone spoke about his juvenile record—which the state keeps confidential—on the condition that his last name not be used. He's nearly 6 feet tall, fit. He's soft-spoken and polite. But he bears marks of a harsh life.
He's been stabbed in his arm, torso and head. He also is missing the tip of a finger and bears scars on his stomach from gunshot wounds—something that happened in his neighborhood just days after he turned 18.
His street is marked with "vacancy" and "for sale" signs, and abandoned buildings have boarded windows and large sheets of plywood where the front door would be.
This is where Tyrone grew up, his mother with one family, his father with another. His home is somewhere in between, and records from the adult court system list three different addresses.
Before he turned 18, he says, he spent six months at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center awaiting his time in court on marijuana charges. Juvenile records are confidential, but Tyrone described his arrests and time in the system, which his mother confirmed. She says he behaved well at the justice center, but a string of fights there carried out into the streets when he left detention.
He talks with swagger: "You can't lose and get beat up," he says. "Me, I like to showboat. I like to gloat. I like to taunt people all the time. I can't have no background of me losing."
But he remains a kid with a sense of humor and a positive outlook. His favorite comedian is Martin Lawrence. He loves Chipotle. His favorite movies are anything with Tom Hanks.
And so far he has no adult convictions—though trials stemming from those two adult arrests are pending.
According to charging documents from his most recent arrest, plainclothes police in a nearby neighborhood identified themselves, and Tyrone ran, throwing to the ground a plastic bag that police say was filled with 12 gel-caps of suspected heroin.
He blames his troubles, in part, on his hard life. He lives on a block plagued with drugs and violence. He has strained relations with both parents and says he doesn't have opportunities.
"He has so much family that loves him, but the streets are just pulling and pulling him," his mother, Veronica Wheeler, said after his April arrest.
Before that, Tyrone had been spending some nights at his grandmother's house off East North Avenue, near Green Mount Cemetery. Other nights he spent with friends.
He has no place of his own, no GED and lacks qualifications for most jobs.
"The problem is he's bored," says Wheeler, who talks to her son but says they aren't on good terms. "He's been filling out so many applications, but nobody's hiring these kids."
Tyrone's first juvenile case ended, he says, with probation for selling marijuana—something he says he started doing at 13. He was sent to a mentoring program that he says failed him. The man who was supposed to be helping him "wasn't really making sure to call me back."
He got picked up again, he adds, after police said they spotted him on a surveillance camera selling marijuana.
"He's a sweet person when he wants to be," says his mother, who acknowledges that she has a history of drug abuse but says she has been clean most of Tyrone's life. "Hanging with the wrong crowd will turn you around if you're weak. He wants to fit in."
Tyrone says he was held for six months at the juvenile justice center while he waited to face a judge, then was let out on probation a second time with a home ankle monitor.
By then, he was behind in school. Youths awaiting placement at the juvenile justice center have class every weekday, but Tyrone says they view it almost as optional. The choice is to attend or act up and get sent out for the day.
"Some people don't even go to school when they're home. Why would you go when you're locked up?" he says.
But after his release from detention, things began to look up.
As part of his second juvenile probation, Tyrone was put into the Baltimore Youth Advocate Program, a six-month program that paired him with an advocate to attend court dates and make sure Tyrone was returning to neighborhood life without falling into old patterns.
Tyrone says his advocate helped him begin to turn his life around. He says he can call the advocate anytime—at 5 or 6 in the morning—even after he left the Youth Advocate Program at the end of his probation. The two play basketball, go bowling, work out and grab lunch.
Derrick Jones, the program director, says Tyrone used the YAP office to work toward his GED. But he says teenagers such as Tyrone are at risk of getting into trouble again if they can't find income and education after leaving the juvenile system.
"The reason why they were selling drugs as a juvenile, it doesn't change, as long as the economic situation in the neighborhood stays the same," Jones said. "The charges just become more serious and don't go away."
Back home, Tyrone says his mother turned him out because of his arrests, and because his younger brother has returned from two years in the juvenile services system for selling drugs. The school system didn't help, Tyrone says, and his friends aren't loyal.
Tyrone says he doesn't know much outside the city. He's been to nearby states, briefly, with his advocate and on church trips. Except for that, he's been restricted to wherever he can walk or get a ride. And those are places where he hears gunfire and has to worry about getting in fights—and it's where he's been shot in the abdomen and hand.
He'd get out if he could. He wants to finish school and find work as an electrician, something he's dreamed of since he was a boy. These plans are again pushed back.
"I'm 18 and I'm already thinking I'm behind in life," Tyrone says. "First train out of here, I'm gone. I've been wanting to leave. That's how crazy Baltimore City is—there's not even opportunities for me to leave."
"It's tough. I got to walk outside and be prepared to fight, kill even, cause people will try to harm you in Baltimore City," he says. "Some people got everything, some people got nothing. If they want something that you have, they will try to take it."
And now, Tyrone has to see what the adult system has for him. He has eight charges against him for two separate arrests. Unlike his juvenile record, a conviction will stay with him as he looks for jobs and a way out of the community he wants to leave.