Ex-delinquents grow up straight

CLEANING UP THEIR ACTS

February 28, 1993|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Staff Writer

A year ago, Tory Boone would sleep late, catch a cab t Brooklyn from his Cherry Hill house, stand at Jack and Ninth streets for a few hours and bring home a wad of $20 bills.

If it were raining or if he'd been partying late -- if for any reason this teen-ager didn't feel like going out to sell crack cocaine, he didn't have to. Nobody made him show up on time or checked his work. For protection, he packed a .38-caliber snub-nose revolver.

So today, why is he rising in the freezing, early-morning darkness to catch a bus down Ritchie Highway to a job scrubbing floors at a discount store? Why is he working seven mornings a week to bring home $111.53?

How do young men deeply enmeshed in lawbreaking and violence swerve from the track that seems to be carrying them inexorably toward a penitentiary cell or a bullet on the street? How does a bad kid go straight?

Against a background of numbing statistics on youth crime in Baltimore, many young offenders change their lives for the better. "How some of these boys and girls survive the crimes, the drugs, the violence, and turn out to be model citizens -- that is something we need to understand," says Dr. Grady Dale Jr., a Baltimore psychologist who has examined more than 500 delinquent youngsters for the state Department of Juvenile Services. "The research is really at the infant stage."

For Tory Boone, the change has something to do with three months he spent in the city jail last spring. It has something to do with three young acquaintances shot to death in the drug wars. It has something to do with growing up; he turns 19 on March 14.

A 26-year-old counselor named Bobby Richardson, who kept caring about Tory long after his case was closed, clearly played a role. And Tory finally decided he had hurt his mother, Charlene Boone, enough.

He can't completely explain himself where it came from, this urge to go straight.

"A person can tell you something 1,000 times. My mother's been giving me the same lecture since I was 13," Tory Boone says. "But you got to decide for yourself. I guess I just got tired of being arrested."

He knows he's not yet out of reach of trouble. "I been thinking about it, looking at that tiny, little hundred-dollar check," he says. Sometimes, on the street, he says, it used to take him "five, 10 minutes" to earn that much.

"I don't even drive by Jack Street. I think about layaways, about saving to buy things," he says. "I know if I start dealing, I'm not going to stop until I get locked up or killed."

"No easy solution"

Maryland's traditional approach to a kid who commits a serious crime has been to lock him up in training school for a few months. If the fences are high enough, that may indeed keep him out of trouble -- for a few months.

It is unlikely to change his behavior for much longer.

Denise C. Gottfredson of the University of Maryland studied the records of hundreds of delinquent teens to assess the 1988 closing of Maryland's Montrose School. She found that a stint at Montrose reduced the chance that a youth would be rearrested -- but not by much.

Of 318 youths who completed a term at Montrose, 66 percent had been rearrested at least once within 30 months of release. Of 254 youths who the researchers judged would have gone to Montrose had it been open, 83 percent were arrested over the same length of time.

When the researchers asked the youths about crimes for which they were never caught, the percentages were still higher and the deterrent influence of Montrose seemingly was nil.

For instance, 86 percent of the Montrose graduates said they had committed a violent crime in the past year, as did 88 percent of the comparison group.

"The literature suggests that very little can change the behavior of these kids," says Dr. Gottfredson, whose collaborator was William H. Barton of the University of Michigan. "If you look at those recidivism rates, even though there's a difference [between the Montrose graduates and the other group], they're all very, very high."

The benefit of training school must be measured against its cost -- $50,000 a year per slot for the Charles Hickey School, which is still open. Dr. Gottfredson says her research suggests such institutions are a poor bargain. "I think we should close the institutions because they're very expensive and not real effective," she said. "But we can't just let the kids go. I'd like people to realize there's no easy solution."

In talks with a number of young men who have dramatically changed their lives, no easy solution emerges. People who call for swifter, tougher punishment can find plenty of evidence for their views.

Consider Dwain Howard, 18, who has in two years transformed himself from a gun-toting drug dealer to a juvenile counselor and business student with a 3.5 grade point average at Baltimore City Community College.

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