They were savvy kids, but some were surprised by the shackles.
When a group of correctional officers visited a Southwest Baltimore elementary school yesterday to deliver some real-life lessons, few students were prepared for the sight of Clinton Brinkley, the father of a fellow student, shuffling across the classroom floor, his legs shackled, his wrists cuffed and bound by a chain around his waist.
"You don't want to be in this position," said Brinkley, 40, who had gamely volunteered for the indignity of the moment but for whom such confinement was not unfamiliar. "The only things that move are your feet. I've been there, done that. It brings back memories."
For the fourth- and fifth-graders at Samuel F.B. Morse Elementary School, Brinkley's stints in jail - mostly for drug offenses, his wife said, although he's been clean for more than two years - were part of a picture the correctional officers were trying to paint of the humiliations to be expected behind bars.
"Hopefully, you will never have this feeling," said Sgt. Tennille Johnson, one of the officers from the Baltimore City Detention Center's juvenile unit who took part in their first visit to a local elementary school.
The officers pretended to lose the keys to Brinkley's shackles, and then got serious. They displayed a handful of shanks, sharp as butcher's knives, that they had confiscated from prisoners, and passed around photographs of dismal, cramped cells, each with a stainless-steel toilet. "You have to use it in front of your cellmate," Johnson said, making clear that, in a two-person cell, there is no privacy for acts of personal hygiene.
"Eeeuuww!" came the combined response.
The children were just as appalled at the notion of strip searches, seven-person showers and the boiled bologna that is a staple of the menu. They were impressed, though, with the two dogs that the officers had brought for a demonstration of drug-sniffing skills. But the lecture about staying away from dope, predators and people with guns was sadly mundane territory for children who see crime all around them in the distressed neighborhoods they call home.
"I already know all that stuff," said Christina Stewart, 11. "Every morning when I leave the house my mom tells me not to talk to strangers, even if I'm just going to the store across the street. When I come back, she asks me did I talk to anyone. I say no."
The officers persisted, without mincing words. "What is rape?" Johnson asked the children. "What is murder?"
To the latter question, one boy's answer was clear: "It's if you shoot someone and they die and you can't find the gun." That gave Johnson an opening. What should you do, she asked, if you find a weapon? When a student answered that you should take it to a police station, Johnson pounced.
"No! You don't want to touch the gun," she exclaimed, noting that it might be loaded and that the finder could accidentally kill someone.
"Just like CSI," responded another boy, evidently a fan of television crime dramas.
Lt. Robert Edwards, who supervises the juvenile unit - where some 140 youths under 18 are housed, charged with crimes as adults - let it be known that ultimate authority rested with him. "I keep you there, I feed you, I tell you when to go to bed," Edwards said.
"Just like parents," chimed in Nikera Martin, 11, whose cousin, she said, was killed in a shooting.
With two students as volunteers, Edwards demonstrated how drug dealers and other nefarious types ingratiate themselves with youngsters by casually giving them money - first a dollar or two, then gradually more - until the child is in the dealer's debt.
"You know what happens?" Edwards asked. "Next time, it'll be, `Hold on to these drugs!' And the police officer who sees that will put the cuffs on you because he saw you take the money."
Edwards then exhorted the class to shout in unison, "I don't want your money!" When the yelling had ceased, he said, somberly, "There are adults out there who will get you into trouble."
During a break, Edwards said many children - especially those who drop out of school - are susceptible to the lures of the street. Getting them to think early about the consequences, he said, is crucial. "The best place to catch them is here," he said, "because once they get out of the school system, they're in the criminal justice system."
Officials at the school, in the city's Carrollton Ridge neighborhood, are acutely aware of the area's ills. Joseph Leonard, the assistant principal, said five people were injured recently in shootings on two consecutive nights on South Smallwood Street, which adjoins the school on its western perimeter.
The children seemed aware, too. Mandy Hendrick, 10, was firm about drugs and other temptations. "I don't do any of that stuff," she said with finality.