Two teens that have already served hard time talked with WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza about what led them to break the law.
For young people with little to keep them busy during the summer months in D.C., staying out of trouble sometimes can be easier said than done. Two teens currently participating in a support and rehabilitation program for teenage offenders talk about what led them to break the law.
Offender Aid and Restoration [OAR] is an Arlington-based nonprofit that aims to help former offenders complete their mandated community service and find mentors. Brian and Steve, whose names have been changed are involved in a youth program run by the group.
At age 13, teen turns to robbery for a ride home
Brian has sparkling eyes and a shy smile. He lives with his mother and younger brother. His father, he says, is somewhere in Maryland. Brian says he has seen people rob others many times before: at school, on the Metro, and in his neighborhood. But he insists he's not like them.
"It's not like it's a proud thing. People rob people all the time. Some people do it for no reason," he says. "But I'm not that type of person. If I do something to you, it's for a reason."
Brian is 13. Earlier this year, he robbed someone for the first time.
"It was about 5 o'clock. I was with my friends. We was chilling and I had no money to get back home," he says. "I seen a man, he had a bus pass and I really needed the bus pass. I was, like, 'man, I need that junk.' My friend told me, he was like, 'go handle your business.' So then after that, I grabbed him and I snatched his bus pass. Then I just ran."
But Brian didn't realize he was wearing his school uniform. The next day, the man came to his school and identified him.
"He told everybody that I had a gun, but they didn't have no evidence of that," he says. "So I didn't get charged for armed robbery, just robbery."
Brian doesn't regret what he did. He sees it as a means to solve a practical dilemma. Without the bus pass, he doesn't know how he would've reached home.
His mother was upset when she heard what had happened. She asked him why he hadn't called her. Brian said, 'From what phone?' They never talked about it again. He doesn't feel sorry for the person he robbed.
"The way the man looked, to me, it looked like he could afford 50 million bus passes," Brian says. "So it was like 'oh well,' to me."
Brian doesn't see it as unusual that he's in the system now. "Most of my friends, they got POs, probation officers, so we go see our POs at the same time."
Brian spends a lot of time worrying about his younger brother who gets picked on constantly because of his height. He also misses his older brother who's locked up on a drug charge for 15 years. And there's still the matter of how to get home. Brian often finds himself without money.
"Sometimes I walk up to the bus and I say, 'I don't have no money, can you let me ride?' he says.
At least half the time, the bus drivers say he can't travel for free. So would he rob someone again?
"I don't think so. I don't think so," he says.
He just can't be sure.
For 15-year-old, gun charge comes after several close calls
Steve has had several more brushes with the law than Brian. He's 15 now. His easy and charming manor belies his history of getting into trouble. Steve's part of a group of 11 boys he's known since kindergarten, all of whom are in and out of trouble.
"Anywhere I'm at, I could call them and they going to come," he says. "We just real close to each other, like brothers."
A year ago, he was walking through a nearby neighborhood with friends. Some boys jumped him, and took his shoes.
"I wanted revenge so I had went back with a gun and started shooting at them," he says.
The police told him he was lucky he didn't hit anyone. What Steve remembers is he didn't get his shoes back. He was locked up for two months, but he didn't mind.
"I had did the crime so I had to pay the time," he says.
Steve says that was the first time he got into trouble, but it's obvious that isn't true. Really, it's the first time he got caught. When pressed, he lists other times he crossed paths with law enforcement. There was an assault charge for fighting, a stolen car in Maryland, a trash can set on fire. The details are hazy, but Steve knows one fact for sure.
"I came home from all them charges, was no paper," he says. "No paper, mean, like, you don't get charged for the crime. You just come home."
He's an only child who lives with his mother. His father was in prison on a drug charge for several years and now keeps telling Steve not to get into trouble. But he feels that's hypocritical.
"See, my family, they act like they never was young, like, they were saints all the time," he says. "But I know they wasn't. They just got to let me grow up. I'm going to learn from my mistakes, though."
Steve says he's not sorry for anything he's done. But he seems a little confused when he talks about the year he was expelled from his neighborhood school and attended a different one. His teachers praised him and kept telling him how clever he was.
"I was on the honor roll. I got certificates and stuff," he says.
Steve says he's trying hard to stay out of trouble. He's been meeting his probation officer, doing his community service requirements, and says his urine's clean. But how long is it going to continue?
"Probably just until I get off probation," he says. Trouble, he adds with a laugh, just seems to find him.