Youths' speeches stress they learn from mistakes Lesson: Organizers of an oratory contest given by the Department of Juvenile Justice want offenders to realize they can change.

November 21, 1997|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

The theme running through speeches at an oratory contest given by the Department of Juvenile Justice in Middle River yesterday was that the failure to recognize one's mistakes leads to repeating them.

It was just the kind of message contest organizers had hoped to hear.

The contest, in its third year, offers proof, department officials say, that youthful offenders can have useful lives.

"These are talented, productive people, who just need to be put on the right track," said juvenile justice Superintendent Charles F. Stewart Jr. "We must remember that these are still youths."

A 17-year-old Charles County youth, Daniel Wilson Jr., was picked winner from among the 10 contestants yesterday, all speaking on the topic "I Believe My Future Begins Now."

Daniel told how his innocent transgressions of childhood led to a career as a drug dealer.

A resident of the Maple Run Youth Center in Cumberland for a little more than a year, he said his disregard of long-term consequences of his short-term desires led him to "hanging with the wrong crowd, drugs, the usual," all leading to trouble with the law. He -- and many of the other speakers in the contest -- described his descent as a learning experience.

"This is something to tell your kids about," Daniel said. "When you get older, you're always going to make mistakes, but the best thing you can do is accept them, try to fix them and move on in life."

Stewart said he was impressed by Daniel's ability to turn his negative experiences into a positive, making it possible for the audience to learn from his speech.

"He had learned something," Stewart said, "and he was teaching the audience . A lot of kids realize that they took something and they are wanting to give back."

Daniel said his speech gave him the chance to show himself how much he had grown during his time at Maple Run.

"I felt I had something to prove to myself, that not everything I do is bad," he said. "Everyone can always change, no matter what the circumstances."

The runner-up, 17-year-old Steven Stachowski of Perry Hall, used his speech to get back into a mainstream high school after his stint at the William Donald Schaefer House, a juvenile detention center in Northwest Baltimore, for abusing alcohol, marijuana and cocaine.

According to Steven, the Baltimore County School Board was wavering in its decision to let him return to school.

Then he was asked to read his speech.

Two board members wept and he was allowed to return to class.

"It made me look at myself more clearly, what I need to do," Steven said. "I hope that this will give someone else inspiration to change their life if they haven't made up their mind."

Pub Date: 11/21/97

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