Northeast Times

EPIC Stakeholders discuss the consequences of juvenile crime

  • Words of wisdom: Deputy District Attorney George Mosee Jr. is responsible for the prosecution of juvenile offenders in Philadelphia. He explained how juveniles may be prosecuted for adult crimes during a recent EPIC Stakeholders meeting. PHOTO COURTESY OF NAFISAH LEWIS

  • Lewis Ford, who recently was released from prison after serving five years, spoke about his time incarcerated during the May 29 meeting. PHOTO COURTESY OF NAFISAH LEWIS

Nafisah Lewis wants kids to know how bad be­ing bad can be. So the North­east EPIC Stake­hold­ers co­ordin­at­or ar­ranged for some people to tell them.

A cor­rec­tions work­er, a pro­sec­utor, a former pris­on lifer, a man re­cently re­leased from pris­on and a former ju­ven­ile of­fend­er told neigh­bor­hood kids crowded in­to the base­ment of the Second Baptist Church of Frank­ford how they really don’t know the truth or the con­sequences of get­ting in­to trouble with the law. 

It’s go­ing to be sum­mer, Lewis said dur­ing the Stake­hold­ers’ May 29 ses­sion, and without the struc­ture of school, some kids aren’t go­ing to make it through.

“Some will be be­hind bars and some will be six feet un­der,” she said bluntly.

Kids, no mat­ter how tough they think they are, are not pre­pared for pris­on, said Michelle Rivera, who has worked in both adult and ju­ven­ile jails.

She said she has seen young kids do­ing time for crimes like murder. “They were ba­bies … They were tough on the streets, and at night they were cry­ing like ba­bies,” she said. “They’re try­ing to be tough when they’re scared.”

“You are locked in a room with oth­er girls or boys you don’t know,” she said. “You’re told when to get up and when to get in line … You have to share bath­rooms … Free­dom is com­pletely taken away.”

It’s not a badge of hon­or to be in jail, she said. “You might not have much, but you do have your free­dom. Don’t give it away to any­one.”

Lewis Ford told the kids he knows all too well what it is to be in­side look­ing out. He’s been out of jail for just a few weeks, he said. He had spent the last five years in state pris­on.

“From 15 to 26, I was on the streets, selling drugs,” he said. And then he went to jail. “I didn’t come home un­til I was 31 … Think of all the time I wasted.”

What he had val­ued be­fore, he said, wasn’t worth it. 

“The things I glor­i­fied be­fore al­most des­troyed my whole fam­ily,” he said. “What I did was harm­ing the whole com­munity.”

Work­ing for a liv­ing, even though it’s hard, is be­ing tough, he said, not car­ry­ing a gun, selling drugs, des­troy­ing the com­munity.

Steve Black­burn told the kids he is the as­sist­ant dir­ect­or of com­munity ser­vices for Car­son Val­ley Chil­dren’s Aid.

“But I’m not speak­ing to you in that ca­pa­city,” he said. “I am a formerly con­victed per­son.”

Black­burn said he was sen­tenced to life in pris­on in 1976 for his part in a shoot­ing. 

“I was blessed to have my sen­tence com­muted in 1990,” he said softly. “But I want you young folks to hear me: You don’t have to kill any­body to get a life sen­tence.”

He said he was just with someone who gunned some­body else down. The gun­man im­plic­ated Black­burn and took a deal. Jur­ors found Black­burn guilty and then de­cided if he were to get life in pris­on or death.

“I know guys who got 40-plus years in pris­on and they didn’t shoot any­body,” he said. 

Black­burn since got ad­vance de­grees, he told the stu­dents, but he still has to give a ur­ine sample to the pa­role board to prove he’s drug free.

Everything he’s ac­com­plished since his re­lease doesn’t mat­ter to the pa­role board. “It don’t mean noth­ing when it comes to that pee.”

Away for more than a dec­ade and a half, life passes you by; things hap­pen so quickly out­side pris­on, he said. When he got out, he didn’t know what an ATM ma­chine was, he said. He saw a friend get money from a ma­chine and was im­pressed. “I said, ‘Can I try that?’ ”

But the time lost in the past is noth­ing com­pared to what is lost to a pris­on­er after he or she is re­leased, he said.

It’s against the law to dis­crim­in­ate against someone be­cause of race or eth­ni­city, Black­burn said, but it is leg­al to dis­crim­in­ate be­cause of a crim­in­al re­cord.

“The ac­tions you take now will fol­low you around the rest of your life,” he cau­tioned. 

If you deal with life without get­ting in­to trouble, you don’t have to find any of this out, he said, adding people have to be wary of mak­ing bad choices.

“There are a lot of traps out here,” Black­burn said. 

Lewis’s 22-year-old son, Saleem, had been in ju­ven­ile de­ten­tion and has no in­ten­tion of ever be­ing locked up again.

“That was it for me,” he said, but ad­ded he has friends who saw be­ing locked up as ju­ven­iles as a step­ping stone in life.

“One second can ru­in your life,” he said. “I see people I grew up with who have life sen­tences … they’re nev­er com­ing home.”

Deputy Dis­trict At­tor­ney George Mosee Jr. spoke about the ju­ven­ile justice sys­tem dur­ing a March Stake­hold­ers meet­ing, Lewis said, but there wer­en’t many kids at that meet­ing, so she asked the pro­sec­utor to come back last week.

“If I ever didn’t feel like the main speak­er, it’s to­night,” he said.

Mosee said the ju­ven­ile justice sys­tem is set up to help kids get back on track with their lives if they want to, but it is not a for­giv­ing pro­cess for re­peat of­fend­ers. And if a ju­ven­ile 15 or older com­mits an adult crime, he is go­ing to be tried as an adult. There are more people serving life sen­tences in Pennsylvania for crimes they com­mit­ted as minors than any­where else in the coun­try, he said.

Many ju­ven­iles be­lieve they can’t be tried as adults or face adult con­sequences for murder and oth­er ser­i­ous crimes. There are de­grees of of­fenses.

• A kid who as­saults an­oth­er and steals his bike might get sen­tenced to com­munity ser­vice or time in a ju­ven­ile fa­cil­ity. If he does it a second time and if he’s 15-years-old and ad­ju­dic­ated de­lin­quent, the young crim­in­al goes in­to the adult justice sys­tem.

• If he’s 15 and pulls a gun on some­body dur­ing a rob­bery, for ex­ample, he might be look­ing at five to 10 years in a pris­on for youth­ful of­fend­ers.

• If he’s 15 and is the lookout for some­body else com­mit­ting an armed rob­bery, but he isn’t the per­son with the gun, he might not get man­dat­ory pris­on time. The per­son with the gun is fa­cing tri­al in the adult sys­tem. If the per­son with the gun is 18, he’s look­ing at 3.5 to sev­en years. But he can get up to 47 years, Mosee said.

• If the 15-year-old is an ac­com­plice in a crime in which someone else kills some­body, he’s look­ing at life in pris­on, Mosee said.

“You have to learn this today,” Lewis told the kids. “This is your fu­ture.”

North­east EPIC Stake­hold­ers’ next meet­ing will be at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 26, at the Second Baptist Church of Frank­ford, Mead­ow and Mul­berry streets. ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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