Kids hear tough truth - from cons

September 06, 1998|By MARLO BARNHART

They sat in stiff plastic chairs, staring at the floor, trying to look cool while an inmate serving a life sentence for murder stood up and walked their way.

"We don't know it all but we know more than you," said David Belton, chairman of Prisoners Against Teen Tragedy. "We're just one tool to keep you out of here."

Twelve years old now, PATT was organized at the Maryland Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown by a group of inmates who wanted to combine their efforts and life experience to deter juvenile crime.

Five teens from a juvenile facility in Franklin County, Pa., came to MCI one day in late August to get a taste of the PATT experience.


Macarthur Rayman read a poem about being locked up in a cage with a bunch of people you don't know. He talked about praying to be free, dreaming of family outings or even a trip to McDonald's.

Belton told the boys that prison has reduced him to a number and he's angry about that.

"Whose fault is it, I ask you, whose fault is it?" Belton said, his voice rising as he approached a 14-year-old boy fidgeting in his seat.

"It's your fault," the boy answered in a high-pitched, nervous voice.

Corey Coleman, who is serving time for selling drugs, has a college education and used to teach karate.

"Eight years ago, I got a call from my younger brother who wanted some money because he found a way to make a lot of money fast," Coleman said.

Soon, Coleman also was selling drugs on a corner and making a lot of money.

"Now I'm here. My brother is doing 15 years right across the road" at the Maryland Correctional Training Center, Coleman said.

Andre Randolph told the boys he was making so much money selling drugs, he needed a gun for protection. Every time he got busted, he'd be back on the streets selling as soon as he could.

"No job could get me that kind of money because I had no education," Randolph said.

Edward Forby has spent the past 21 years in prison.

"I had a mother and father, brothers and sisters, all the nice things," Forby said. "I also had a choice and I chose to hang out with my homies, boosting cars and selling drugs."

He said he also chose to pick up a gun to defend his territory.

"And I chose to take a life," Forby said.

Now 40, Forby said he's learned that humans have a choice. "That's the difference between us and animals. Animals operate on instinct alone."

Eric Daniels Bey was an honor student in high school and then went to the University of Maryland Baltimore County. For a while, he worked as a law clerk and then an investigator for the public defender's office.

"People had high hopes for me," Bey said. "But I let my anger conquer me."

One night, he got a ride with a man in a truck and the man came at him. He took the knife from the man and stabbed him, over and over.

"I got 12 years in prison for that anger," Bey said.

Coordinating the PATT program are Todd McKenrick and Patricia Marshall, MCI case managers.

Boys between the ages of 12 and 18 are eligible to participate in the program, Marshall said. Adult counselors must accompany the boys and all must be cleared and sniffed by a drug dog before entering the prison.

There is a similar program for girls at the MCI for Women in Jessup, Md., Marshall said.

"We're not a Scared Straight organization. No fear tactics are used here," Belton said.

He told the boys he just wants them to see the value of listening to their parents and being respectful of their teachers - something the inmates didn't do and which led to their downfalls, Belton said.

"There were more than 6,000 juveniles in adult prisons in 1996 and now, there are more," Belton said. "Don't you add to that number!"

The boys took turns telling why they were considered at risk.

A 13-year-old said he's been stealing. Fighting and making bad choices also were popular pastimes among the teens.

But drugs were the common denominator.

That struck a chord with inmate James Wells, who sounded almost embarrassed when he talked about how he thought selling drugs and getting money would help him get girls.

"I thought girls came with the money," Wells said. "But I have learned that no woman wants a stupid man."

Now after more than 20 years in prison, Wells has earned his college degree. "I read, I've learned," Wells said. "You've got to learn skills to pay bills."

Wells had another warning - an ominous prediction for the teens who choose not to change their lives.

"Here, someone can take your life or someone can take your manhood," Wells said. "Think about that."

Low self-esteem was on inmate Steve Knowles' mind. He told the five teens that his life started out in a paper bag - the bag his mother put him in when she threw him away.

Growing up, he was so frustrated about being black that he took a bottle of bleach and tried to wipe his color off.

"I rebelled. I stopped learning, started stealing and doing drugs," he said.

Now on the right path, Knowles said it only took him 34 years.

The view from Death Row came from Gary Miller, an inmate who spent seven years waiting to die.

Now at MCI, Miller had his own unique advice for the teens.

"You're this close. Don't do it," he said. "Or you'll be here with us."

For more information on PATT, call MCI at 301-733-2800, ext. 384 or 368.

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