Archive for Monday, January 30, 1995

YOUTH CENTER NO DAY AT PARK FOR OFFENDERS

January 30, 1995

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— Two youths who got caught talk about being locked up.

Larry thought he'd never get caught. No way.

He stole to support his "lifestyle," to wear the clothes and the shoes.

During a recent interview, the 18-year-old wasn't looking particularly cool. In his blue jeans, white T-shirt, white hooded sweatshirt and black shoes, he looked just like the other 218 juvenile offenders locked up at the Youth Center at Topeka, or YCAT.

YCAT, run by the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, or SRS, is the last resort for juvenile offenders in Kansas.

It took awhile, but Larry wound his way through the juvenile court system to YCAT. He rattles off the charges against him: three felony counts of auto theft, three felony counts of criminal damage, three felony counts of auto burglary and a misdemeanor gun charge.

He was 16 when he was caught stealing the cars.

Making changes

Larry's future will be much different from his past, he says. He's earned his General Education Development diploma while at the youth center. He worked in the youth center library and says he'd like a job in a public library to pay for college.

He's good with his hands. Just consider how quickly he can steal a stereo from a locked car.

"Thirty seconds later, I'm gone," he boasts.

Now, he says, he'd rather use his manual dexterity to work with computers.

"I'm going to do what it takes to be successful," Larry says. ``... Locked up is no fun. They tell you what to do, when they want you to do it."

The worst thing about the youth center?

"Missing your family," Larry says.

His parents visited him every Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon.

"They don't deserve to be put through that," he says.

Larry was released from the youth center Jan. 5. He'd been there nearly six months.

During that time, he says, he changed. He says he won't hang out with the same people.

High school held no interest for him. Now, he says, he'll try to learn at least a little bit about everything. He writes a poem every day.

And he won't take shortcuts. Before YCAT, he says, "I wanted to get it my way. Right then. Right now."

Exercising patience

Chad, another YCAT inmate, says patience is key. After nine months of being locked in at YCAT, Chad has a message for other youths who have careened off-course: "They've got to be patient. If you can be patient for something, it's going to come. But you have to work for it."

These days, Chad's practicing what he preaches.

As he looks back, Chad, also 18, can pinpoint the start of his downfall.

He was 15. He and his mother had moved to Topeka from a ranch in New Mexico. His mom was newly engaged, going to college and working. She had little spare time.

In his Western clothes, Chad stood out. He didn't have friends. Then someone befriended him, taught him how to break into cars at night and skip school during the day.

Stealing gave Chad a high.

When the adrenalin rush from taking cartons of cigarettes from convenience stores wasn't enough, he advanced from cars to stereos .

The ultimate was when he and a friend stole two cars to drive to New Mexico, where Chad knew he'd fit in better.

Trip turns sour

Thirty miles down the Kansas Turnpike, his friend's car overheated.

"I thought he had money," Chad said about the misadventure. "He thought I had money."

The woman at the Admire tollbooth told them to wait for a Highway Patrol trooper. They got nervous and booked. Chad's instincts said it would be best to drive the speed limit.

"I thought if I acted law-abiding, no one would notice us," he said.

Wrong.

A hot-looking Mustang came up behind him.

It was a Highway Patrol car, which was joined by five others. After a chase that flew by at 80 mph, Chad's stolen car crashed into a patrol car.

Despite numerous studies that link juvenile crime with drugs or alcohol, neither Chad nor Larry drank much. And neither did drugs. Chad threw up when he tried them.

Larry says, "I don't mess with that."

Lessons learned

Chad doesn't want his 13-year-old brother to follow in his footsteps.

Chad's come a long way. His family's been in counseling. His mother's support and near-weekly visits have encouraged him. He earned his GED and his high school diploma. Chad, like Larry, wants to work in computers.

He hopes to get a job in an electronics store. This time, he says, he'll leave the stereos alone.

He and Larry agree on one thing: Neither wants to go to adult jail. YCAT was plenty.

"In a sense, I'm glad I got locked up," Chad says. "I've learned all of this about me."

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