Hard choices, hard time

January 14, 1995|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Sun Staff Writer

The bad. The good. The role model.

In a span of less than five hours yesterday, 17 youths from the Pen Lucy neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore got firsthand glimpses of all three.

First, they toured the harrowing halls of the Baltimore City Detention Center, where inmates hurled insults at them and Commissioner LaMont W. Flanagan warned he never wanted to see them in his "hotel where you check in but you never check out -- unless we let you."

Then they were bused to the city police headquarters building where they chatted with stern "good guy" cops who described how they track down and pursue offenders of any age.

The final stop was the mayor's office at City Hall. There, several youths noted that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke grew up on city streets and said they wanted to emulate the mayor's Ivy-League, buttoned-down persona.

Dubbed "A Day Of Reality," the visits were sponsored by the Pen Lucy and Guilford community associations and the Northern District police station to help the young people make positive decisions about their futures, said Robert Nowlin, president of the Pen Lucy Community Association.

"Too often, the only people that get noticed in our neighborhood are the ones who hang out on the corners. The bad ones," Mr. Nowlin said. "There are many good people inside the neighborhood, but we wanted them to see some others."

The youths ranged in age from 12 to 16 and live in the Pen Lucy community. Police said the Old York Road corridor from 39th Street to 42nd Street in Pen Lucy is heavily drug-infested and gunfire frequently accompanies drug deals.

Youngsters are often involved in the drug trafficking, police said.

"Some residents there are supportive of the police and want to keep it clean; others want to keep it depressed," said Major Michael Bass, commander of the Northern District police lockup. "Yes, some children are involved."

The Pen Lucy and Guilford communities border each other and are divided by Greenmount Avenue. Because crime often spills from one neighborhood to the other, the communities have formed a partnership to fight problems.

The trips to the jail, police headquarters and City Hall were intended to show the positive and negative ways of life. All of the youths had parental permission to miss a day of school to participate.

But the detention center had the most impact.

At the East Baltimore facility -- where nearly 3,100 male and female inmates are housed -- the youths clustered tightly as they walked timidly among the inmates, many of whom were not locked in their cells and roamed the corridors freely.

"You coming to see your future, yo?" an inmate asked as the group walked along a tier of cells where juvenile offenders are housed. "You don't want to get with this. But if you want to come, come on, we want you."

Two inmates occupied each 8- by10-foot cell.

Socks and underwear hung from homemade clotheslines stretched across many cells. A stale, foul odor permeated the tier.

"I ain't never coming back here but to visit," said Corey Thomas, 15, a student at Polytechnic Institute. "I'm going to stay out of trouble for a while.

"I ain't trying to get with no more trouble."

Mr. Flanagan, the commissioner, called the prison "subsidized housing by the state" and said that 54 juveniles are housed there because their crimes were so severe "the courts don't want anything to do with them."

The trip through the tier had a disturbing effect on 16-year-old Tia Kidd.

During her visit she saw someone she knew from her Pen Lucy community.

"He saw me and I saw him. It was strange," Tia said. "I wondered what had happened to him. I didn't know he was here. I'm glad I'm not here."

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