A Generation At Risk In Annapolis

Television Documentary Producer Turns The Camera On Her City's Children

March 06, 1992|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff writer

After the sun went down and she'd tucked her two little boys safely in bed, Patti White would leave her water-view, Santa Fe-style home and head for the streets of Annapolis.

She was looking for kids in trouble, and she never had to wander far.

At City Dock, at the parks, on street corners or at Burger King, White found teen-agers like Sally, the blond, blue-eyed sophomore supplying seemingly half the city's kids with drugs. And the boy who'd seen the inside of a jail cell countless times -- before age 15.

Trouble brewed in the picture-perfect sailboat capital, the place Whitepicked out to raise her family. Drugs, violence and families in decay made the world a scary place for children, regardless of race or social class. It was Annapolis, but it could have been Any Town, USA.

"What I found here was that the growing problems affecting society and big cities are everywhere, even in the most traditional, most perfect, places," said White, 43, a three-time Emmy award-winning television producer. "It's here; you can't deny it."

White, formerly of "60 Minutes" and now a free-lance producer, decided to tell the children's stories, in a way that wouldn't preach but would instead dish out a dose of reality and raw emotion.

Her work -- the first broadcast of a series co-produced by Turner Entertainment and Tribune Broadcasting -- airs at 7 p.m. Sunday on Baltimore's WMAR-TV (Channel 2). "America at Risk: Seeds of Hope," will be narrated by British actor Edward Woodward, of "The Equalizer" fame.

White, producer of numerous "troubled kids" reports for CBS News in New York and Los Angeles for 15 years before moving to Annapolis in 1988, spent four months last summer and fall following five teen-agers. She shot segments at their homes, their schools, on the streets, in the courts and at a drug treatment program.

She and co-producer Robyn Martin, who also lives in Annapolis, focused on the breakdown of the family and children'sfeelings of abandonment, as seen through the lives of four boys and one girl with varying backgrounds and problems.

Two teen-agers came from Newtowne 20, a drug-plagued public housing project on Annapolis' southern border. One boy rejected the temptations of the street, with the help of a nurturing family. The other fell into the street's trap. Another teen-ager, the rebellious son of a U.S. Navy officer, made futile attempts to repair broken ties with his parents in a storyWhite describes as extremely sensitive.

Promos call the show a television experiment, because of intimate moments White and Martin captured, in part by arming each youngster with his own video camera, then editing behind-the-scenes video into the hour-long program.

Sally, whose last name is never revealed, comes across as the film's success story. She had just returned from a drug rehabilitation program when White hooked up with her.

White had finished producing a documentary about AIDS called "Mending Hearts," which will air April 5 onPBS, when she heard about Sally -- known around town as a "walking drug store" for LSD, mushrooms, marijuana and speed.

White was amazed at how the 15-year-old manipulated and fooled everybody, includingher mother -- a nurse and single parent raising three children -- teachers and school counselors.

The insecure daughter of divorced parents had started abusing drugs and alcohol at 13. She'd skip school to get drunk and high, with her friends or by herself. Shortly after she turned 14, she tried to kill herself by overdosing on pills she found in the medicine cabinet. A stay at a Montgomery County psychiatric hospital didn't help; neither did a transfer to a private high school. Sally began selling drugs out of her mother's rowhouse in a middle-class area of historic Annapolis.

The film follows the events that led to Sally's arrest on drug charges and subsequent placement inVision Quest, a six-month rehabilitation program. The program gave Sally the chance to kick her addiction.

When she returned to Annapolis, White and Martin began hanging out with the teen-ager, with the idea of producing a film. Sally led White to other teens. The producers began their after-dark treks to street corners and down

town fast-food restaurants, listening to youngsters, slowly earning their trust.

"I started to realize there were a lot of drug problems, alcohol problems and family problems that were not different from anywhere else," White said. "These are the kind of kids you wouldn't want your son or daughter to bring home, but they were the next-door neighbors before they opted for the street life.

"We'd been seeing lecture-y films, but not seeing anything that gets you in the gut," she said. "We thought if we could capture them in a way that shows what's inside them, maybe we could learn something."

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