A young father learns how to be one

June 16, 1996|By Sara Engram

MYRON TURNER'S profile might not fit that of the usual Father's Day poster dad. But in the past year he has come much further toward that ideal than many of the other men who are being honored today for the positive roles they play.

At 20, Myron Turner is the father of five daughters, ranging in age from 4 months to 5 years old. Despite his love of lacrosse, football and other sports, he dropped out of Walbrook High School in favor of spending more time as a gang leader in the lucrative drug trade on West Baltimore's mean streets.

He sold mostly crack cocaine and heroin, but his own substance of choice was paint thinner and sometimes marijuana. His sniffing habit began at age 9, the same year he became involved with the drug gang.

Many days he cleared $250, which he liked to spend on tennis shoes for himself, his mother, brothers and sister. Although he was arrested twice, one charge was thrown out for lack of evidence and another resulted in probation.

But as his sniffing habit took its toll, his weight dropped below 100 pounds. Tired and discouraged, he expected to die soon or spend the rest of his life behind bars.

By this time, the mother of one of his daughters was too ashamed to tell the child he was her father. But another friend, Pamela, saw something in him worth saving. Pregnant with his child, she insisted that he come with her to a center in West Baltimore run by Healthy Start, an infant mortality reduction initiative.

He enrolled in Healthy Start's Men's Services program, but he brought his bad attitude with him. ''I said, the only way I'll try this is if you get me a job. And a guy said, 'I'll get you a job.' ''

Within two weeks, he had a dish-washing job at a restaurant. It paid only $4.25, and after a couple of months he left. But life was getting better. He had stopped selling drugs and stopped hanging out with the guys on the street who were always ready to ''beat up people and do crazy stuff.''

A daughterly bond

Pamela was ''on my case, sticking by my side.'' She let him care for their baby from birth, and Dad and daughter formed a close bond. That closeness -- having a family as opposed to only being a biological father -- was a new experience, one he clearly revels in.

As he proved he was serious about changing his life, he got a better job, working in a lead-abatement program in Sandtown-Winchester for $8 an hour. He and Pamela now have another daughter and they are also caring for Myron's oldest child, as well as Pamela's three older children.

He is healthy again and loves his job, although he had to take a few weeks off after being struck by a car and injuring his leg. He has used the time to prepare for his G.E.D. test, attending classes at the Healthy Start center.

He's one of the top students in the class. ''My teacher is proud of me,'' he says. ''When I came in there, she thought I was a hoodlum.''

Then he adds, ''I was a hoodlum.''

Few would disagree. Joe Jones, who directs the Men's Services program, says that Myron was well known in his community for gang activities and wild behavior.

He was regarded mostly as a terror, a menace to society. Yet at a ceremony today in Clifton Park, Myron is being honored as Men's Services ''Father of the Year.''

What made the difference?

Clearly, Pamela has given him a priceless gift, simply by believing in him. But she had important help from Healthy Start.

An outreach formula

Men's Services has developed a simple but apparently effective formula for reaching out to the same young males who, like Myron in his earlier days, are terrorizing the streets and filling up the prisons:

They each get an advocate, in Myron's case a college student who has become a close friend and confidant.

They are asked to be part of a weekly group meeting, in which they can feel comfortable letting down their guard -- an unheard-of luxury in neighborhoods where showing the slightest bit of vulnerability can be a fatal mistake.

The program does everything possible to fulfill what is usually a client's first and most basic request -- help in finding a job.

This formula has made it possible for Myron Turner to change himself from a menace to society into a young man who can shape clear and positive goals. He ticks them off with the familiarity of someone who recites them to himself every day:

''I want to continue working. I want to get my G.E.D. I want to get caught up with my child support. I want to pay off my probation costs. And I want to get legal custody of my oldest daughter.''

Taken together, that's a tall order, and there's no guarantee that Myron won't succumb again to the lure of easy money. It's happened to him before, but supporters in Men's Services went out to find him and bring him back.

Since then, he's weathered other crises. In December, his mother's house caught fire while he was visiting. She died several hours later from the effects of the fire. Myron was devastated, but he has stayed on course.

This young father still has a long way to go. But today there is plenty of reason to celebrate how far he has come.

Sara Engram is deputy editorial-page editor of The Sun.

Pub Date: 6/16/96

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