Issac is 10 and trouble One kid's perilous path: On the street, Little Issac is older and more experienced than his years. Nine days ago, he was arrested for peddling drugs, police say. This child of the streets, it seems, is a little kid no longer.

October 29, 1995|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,SUN STAFF

It's 1:37 in the afternoon and Little Issac is just waking up. He's been out all night, dodging the cops, hustling with his boys, trying to get paid. He'd do just about anything to get paid so he can buy the things he wants.

"You gonna pay me?" he asks, as he wipes the sleep from his eyes and tugs on his black Flintstones T-shirt. "I ain't gonna tell you my Life Story unless I get paid. I don't do nothing until I see me some green."

Nine days ago, L'il I-Man, age 10, got arrested on Fairmount and Luzerne in Southeast Baltimore after police say that he sold three chunks of ready rock cocaine to a couple of undercover narcs.

He fought the cops hard, neighbors say -- spitting on them, kicking, cussing and screaming. Issac explained later that one of his favorite cartoon characters is the Tazmanian Devil.

The bust made the news big time. "A 10-year-old is the city's youngest drug dealer," they said on the TV. "Arrest reflects troubling increase of child criminals," the newspapers said. Within a couple of days, Issac walked out of the foster home they put him in and was back on the street.

"Man, I was all over the news," Issac says, as he munches down a cheeseburger, a jumbo box of fries and a vanilla shake, his deep brown eyes lighting up for a second in the clean, warm interior of a McDonald's. "But they didn't use my name. Nobody knows my name. How'd you get my name, anyway?"

Truth is, everybody knows Issac's name down in McElderry Park. They know his name all the way up the bomb-blasted length of Rose Street to North Avenue, back down Montford to Patterson Park, across the racial divide of East Fayette, all the way west to Johns Hopkins Hospital.

In these neighborhoods where children drift and swirl like wind-blown leaves -- disappearing under the bumpers of speeding cars and in the paths of errant bullets and into the maw of Juvenile Services -- Issac is one of the kids people remember.

"Look close into those eyes," one resident says. "I'm afraid he needs more love than this world can give him."

Then, she sighs and tells you he's not the only one. Not even close. Nor is he the youngest offender. Or the worst. He just happens to be the one the police caught, the one who made it into the news. The one everybody is after.

'Turn yourself in to juvie?'

"Issac, you gonna turn yourself in to juvie and go away, right?" Inez Coley, 34, asks the youngest of her five kids.

"I don't know," Issac says sullenly. "Sometimes, I don't want to go away."

"Issac, don't do this to me," his mother says.

"I'm not doing anything to you," Issac shoots back. "People keep wanting to do things to me."

It's Thursday afternoon, six days after Issac was named in a warrant charging 58 people with working a drug network that has been linked to nearly 60 shootings and three homicides. Four of the suspects are kids under 15.

The 75-pound shrimp-sized boy the dealers called "L'il I-Man" is the youngest.

Issac and the rest of the family are holed up at his grandmother's cramped rowhouse on North Avenue with a bunch of his cousins. Children's faces pop out from doorways, peering into the darkened dining room, listening to Issac and his mother go over the same old ground.

The refrigerator is empty. The kitchen is turned upside down. A roach skitters up the wall above a table littered with the remains of a peanut butter lunch. Issac's grandmother is none too happy that visitors have come to call when her house is such a mess.

"We may be poor, but we got our pride," she says firmly. "I want you kids to get busy cleaning this place up!"

Outside, sirens wail. Police storm into a house across the street, guns drawn. They haven't come for Issac. Not yet.

This is the last safe harbor for Inez Coley, who has moved her kids from one rent-subsidized slum house to another at least six times since Issac was born, court records show.

Through it all, she and her kids have remained in the crime-ravaged grid of narrow streets east of Johns Hopkins Medical Center.

The children have different last names. Their fathers are either dead, in jail or just plain gone. For the better part of two decades, since she was a teen-ager herself, it's been all Ms. Coley could do just to keep her family intact.

Her fine angular features harden at certain questions.

"It's not often that people talk nice to us, so I know what they're thinking when they read this," she says. "But if all these drugs and guns was in front of their house, then they'd know what my reality is. They'd know how hard it is. I'd like to see some of those suburban people get by for one day where we live."

A difficult pregnancy

Inez Coley's fifth baby was a difficult pregnancy, she says. He flipped and flopped and twisted around until she was worn out and short of breath. "Issac was always hyper," she says with a laugh, "even when he was in my stomach. He'd kick me out of bed at night. After he was born, he was always pulling things down and getting into things. You couldn't make him sit still."

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