January 12-18, 2006
Photo By: Michael koehler
The courts sent Mary Edwards' son to Virginia to get help. And that's where he got into real trouble.
photos by Michael Koehler
For a few weeks there, it really seemed like Jerry Edwards' luck had changed. There is an artifact from the brief era: a report card that his mother, Mary, keeps neatly folded in an envelope with a return address for The Pines Residential Treatment Center in Portsmouth, Va. Mary had stood aghast when a Philadelphia Family Court judge sentenced Jerry to an out-of-state juvenile delinquent facility. Compared to some of these young bulls out here today, she felt, her son was a regular boy scout. But the report card spoke for itself. In his fall term, Jerry, who had always been slow academically, was all of a sudden getting B's, and even pulling a 90 in English. For the young man on that piece of paper, the biggest concern was a difficult math class.
Then, one day in late October, Mary got some surprising news: Jerry's going to jail. No, real jail. Grown-up jail.
It seems a staff member from the Pines took Jerry and four other boys out on a day trip andallegedly, incrediblythey committed a robbery. Together. Now all of them, including a Philadelphian named Tyrell Holloway, face robbery and gun charges. And since Jerry recently turned 18, he's facing them as an adult. The state of Virginia has appointed him an attorney who will receive a modest fee in exchange for standing next to Jerry as justice runs its course. And the local juvenile court judges who sent him south have no say in the matter. Coming home for Thanksgiving? Oh, no ma'am. Your boy's in jail.
If it's any consolation, he says he didn't do it.
Wrong place at the wrong time: It's the story of every juvenile delinquent's life. Kids are natural followers, vulnerable to peer pressure, so adults looking to give the benefit of the doubt open wide and swallow stories like, "I didn't know they were gonna steal anything," or, "The drugs weren't mine." Parents especially are susceptible to such tales. Good kid, bad friends. Every one of them.
Tyrell Holloway was in the wrong place at least four times by the age of 17all misunderstandings and police brutality, to hear his mother tell it. Julie Holloway lives in a big row house in Germantown that's full of people, but largely devoid of furniture. When Tyrell was a baby, she explains, he came down with meningitis, and was expected to grow up mentally retarded. Instead, he developed an oddly short temper, and always seemed to be in trouble. The Pines was his second long-term delinquent placement. He spent his 15th and 16th years at a facility in Oklahoma, then celebrated his return home by jumping someone for a bicycle. His mother says this never happened. But the first-degree felony made him a "direct file" into the adult system, where he would've stayed well into his actual adulthood had a judge not decided that "the system failed him" and sent him to the Pines, which specializes in treating children with mental health problems.
Jerry Edwards' life before the Pines had more flashes of promise. He was born into a two-parent family, a middle child of Mary and Ralph Edwards' six. When Jerry was very young, Ralph was laid off from his job as a maintenance man at St. Joseph's Hospital, and the family was forced to move into a shelter. Ralph didn't despair: A happy man by nature, he became a beloved community figure by volunteering at Waring Elementary, and was on the verge of beginning a paid job as a teacher's aide there. But in 1995, he was shot in the head outside of a crack house. According to witnesses, he had forced his way inside "to get high." The murder brought an outpouring of griefchildren and faculty at the school burst into tears when they learned of Ralph's deathand the Inquirer ran two stories on the tragedy. Seven-year-old Jerry got ink for standing in line with his siblings as funeral guests departed.
Today, Mary's household shows many of the trappings of urban poverty. At 47, she has six grandkids, but her children treat her almost like one of their own, on account of her very poor education. She has difficulty reading, and malapropisms, such as saying she has filed a "suitcase" against the Pines, rather than a "lawsuit," litter her speech. Still, she has managed to keep the family on the relatively un-mean streets of the Northeast, and her household, however chaotic, is the sort of place you find children's toys and curfews. It is a home.
This synthesis of hope and struggle revealed itself in Jerry. Around the house, he was a clown, pestering his mother and sisters with jokes and gags, and telling them stories while they tried to sleep. But when it came to serious matters, he kept to himself, growing quiet almost to the point of depression. He was seeing a psychiatrist, and occasionally got in troublefor small things, mostly, up until the night this past spring when cops stopped him in a car with three other boys. They said the car had been used in the commission of a robbery, and when they searched it, they found a gun.
Mary is convinced that the gun wasn't Jerry's. Nevertheless, all four boys were hit with a gun charge, and Jerry was court-ordered to attend a program called "Don't Fall Down in the Hood." There, he met a girl, and, subsequently, her boyfriend. The boy told Jerry that he'd better not see him around his girl again.
Now, Jerry was not a tough kid. At 17, he was medium height, with a soft full-moon face and a teddy bear's build. He might have been quick to escalate an argument into a shouting match, but he was just as quick to turn tail if it looked like things might go any further.
"People would call him a punk," Mary says, "because Jerry would walk away."
Mary counseled Jerry to stop going to the program, and says she called his probation officer to tell him so. A few days later, Jerry was out on the porch of his aunt's house with a group of his cousins, when the boy who had threatened him walked by.
"Do I know you?" the boy asked.
"Nah, you don't know me," Jerry said, and went inside to consult his mother.
Mary told him to not worry about it, and lead him back out to the porch. There she found a big crowd, a lot of noise and a buzz of motion, all mixing together into one homogenous whir until out of the din there emerged a clear "Pop, pop!" Children scattered and Mary looked down to see a circle of red expanding on the right leg of her son's jeans.
The bullet had entered very near to Jerry's groineither a warning shot meant for his leg, or an attempt on the part of Jerry's body that was the source of the disagreementand exited cleanly out of his thigh. Cops interviewed him for several minutes before taking him to the emergency room.
Shortly afterward, Jerry was placed in a wheelchair and rolled up in front of a judge, who announced that because of Jerry's failure to attend a court-ordered program, he would be committed to a delinquent institution. Jerry didn't want to go; he had never been away from home before, and felt he hadn't done anything wrong. While he awaited adjudication at the Youth Study Center, a friend suggested a way out. Jerry's family remains convinced that their boy did not intend to take his own lifejust to convince the court to keep him home. Whatever Jerry's intention was when he slit his wrists, he failed.
Ten years after Ralph Edwards was shot, the sad, quiet boy from the funeral was locked up, with bandages on his wrists and crutches under his arms. Once he could walk again, he was committed to a mental health facility for rehabilitation.
If Philadelphia had enough beds, it would keep kids close to home. Simple as that. The city doesn't send troubled children away to remove them from their environment; it wants to keep them here. That way, their families can be involved in their treatment, and social workers can monitor their progress carefully. Plus, if something goes wrong, they remain in the same jurisdiction.
But there aren't enough spaces. Pennsylvania has a dearth of mental health programs for children, and in recent years, more and more juvenile delinquents have been diagnosed with psychiatric disorders. "Either we're seeing kids who are crazier or we're just redefining this population in terms of mental health problems," says Philip Harris, an associate professor of criminal justice at Temple University. Regardless, about 60 percent of juvenile delinquents in Pennsylvania state institutions are said to have Axis 1, or serious, disorders.
The Pines, a private facility run by Alternative Behavioral Services, is generally respected for its work with this difficult population. "It's very professionally run, and clinically competent," says Harris, who has conducted evaluations of juvenile facilities. The kids go to school and get psychiatric treatment. "Their only problem is that their line staff has a fairly high turnover rate." This means that day-to-day staffers (a sort of cross between prison guards and camp counselors) can be inexperienced, or perhaps unqualified.
At present writing, the city has 28 delinquents and 29 dependents in the Pines, and it uses the facility so often because it's generally happy with the results. But that doesn't mean that life in the Pines is a Virginia Beach vacation. Pines patients have to earn their time outside the facility; when they do go out, to the mall or the movies, it's under the supervision of distrustful eyes. They're also in a difficult social situation. Their peers are tough, crazy, or both. And the staff: so powerful. See, you don't go to the Pines for a finite sentence. You go to be rehabbed, and you come home when a judge says you're ready. How does he know you're ready? The staff tells him. Cross them, they can grant you the pleasure of their company for six more months. So if they say "jump," you ask, "how high?"
Throughout the early fall, Jerry Edwards appeared to be doing well at the Pines. In addition to his impressive report card, he was earning a lot of outingshe asked his mother for spending money so often that it was becoming more expensive to have him in Virginia than it was to have him home. Nor did Mary receive complaints about her son's behavior. Jerry was the kind of kid, it seemed, who never gave the staff any problems.
Oct. 15, 2005: Anthony Ingram, a residential counselor and behavioral specialist who has been with the Pines for three years, takes five residents out in a van for an afternoon outing. Technically, there should be another staff member present, but the Pines' high turnover means there aren't always enough staff available to meet all regulations. Anyway, if anyone can handle five kids, it's Ingram. At 6'4" and approaching 300 pounds, he is an absolute must-respect physical presence, often brought in to break up fights or calm down out-of-control residents. He also has a rare drop of credibility. Though Ingram isn't from the streets (he grew up a military brat, in perpetual motion), he served four years in the Air Force, including some time in Afghanistan. He's not afraid of the kids.
Today's plan is for Ingram to take the boys out to a park, but the Pines has yet to adjust its outing schedule for the onset of winter, and night falls before they've been out 20 minutes. The boys are not amenable to spending their night out walking around a dark, empty park, so Ingram changes up. He takes them to a Norfolk State football game, and then to the Military Circle mall, a sprawling suburban shopping center with a wide, flat parking lot. There, they walk around for about an hour, and then head back to the van.
Around this time, two black teenagers are approached in the parking lot by a group of black males. According to a police report, one of the males describes himself as a gun owner and demands the teens' valuables. After collecting $40 in cash and a silver chain, the same male tells the victims that they have five seconds to run away as fast as they can. The boys run, but manage to get the tag number off the van that their alleged assailants climb into.
Two weeks later, two Norfolk detectives show up at the Pines to inquire about the whereabouts of the van that night. After a brief interrogation, they arrest Ingram, on whose person they find a silver chain. They come back three days later for the boys.
Since the arrests, a number of different versions of what happened in the parking lot have emerged.
Jerry told his mother that Ingram put the group up to the mugging, turning to them in the van and explaining how he wanted the whole thing to go down. Jerry said he refused to participate.
"If you say anything," Ingram allegedly told him, "I'm gonna stop you from going home [for Thanksgiving]."
Jerry and one other boy stayed by the vehicle, boxing, while Ingram and the others went off to do the deed. A little while later, they came running back, hollering, "Get in the van!" Ingram had a chain, and the boys had some cash.
Tyrell's version, as his mother recites it, differs only in that he puts three boys at the van: Jerry, another boy and himself.
Ingram tells a very different story. Reached by phone in Virginia, he said that he and the boys were walking across the mall back to the van, when they saw a group of girls standing by a nearby car. Three of the boys went over to talk to the girls, and Ingram allowed it, because they'd been so good all evening. He, Jerry and another boy continued back to the van, where he shuffled through his pockets for his keys for about two minutes ("I'm a pack rat," he explains in a friendly drawl). Then the other three boys came over. Across the street, Ingram saw two boys sprinting recklessly through traffic. One of them tripped, then got up and kept running.
"I was like, 'What the heck y'all doing over there?" Ingram recalls asking.
They just laughed.
He didn't think anything else of it until the detectives came by to talk to him. They were very brusque, and asked Ingram where he'd taken the van on the night in question.
"Once I said the mall,
he was like stand up, put your hands behind your back
," he says. "They didn't read me my rights or anything." Later, the detectives tried to get him to cop to other unrelated charges, warning, "These kids are going to roll on you."
Ingram says the chain the detectives found belonged to another boy from the Pines, who had given it to him so he could fix the clasp. That some of the boys appear prepared to pin the crime on him hurts, he says.
"I was the one who was always saying we treat people like criminals. I'm giving you a chance. You get in trouble and ruin three other lives, for vending machine money?" But, as a student enrolled in a systems networking program, with no criminal record, he believes he's by far the most credible of the alleged participants.
"Why would I up and do something stupid?" he asks. After spending three weeks locked up, he was released on bail (his private lawyer appealed the initial denial; the boys' attorneys did not), and, now that the Pines has fired him, is doing systems networking for a doctor's office. "But to get into the corporate level, you can't have a record," he says. "To do something that dumb "
Maybe Ingram's story is true, and Jerry just won't back him because he doesn't want to snitch on the other Pines boys. Then again, maybe the boys are telling the truthIngram certainly had the means to coerce them. Maybe something entirely different happened: Maybe Ingram found out about the robbery right afterward, then confiscated the chain and made the boys promise to keep it quiet to protect his job.
Or maybe all six did it together, and are now turning on each other haphazardly. That's what the police report implies, anyway: It identifies six assailants. Six: five youths, and one counselor. But if all six were involved, wouldn't that mean that Ingram was the ringleader? And if Ingram was the ringleader, why have the boys spent two months in prison?
To Mary Edwards' eyes, Norfolk, Va., looks something like an empty movie set. There are billboards, theaters, cars whizzing byat rush hour, there are even traffic jams. But the lifeblood that brings a heap of roads and buildings to life, the pedestrians, is absent. Mary worries that she could be arrested simply for walking on the street at night.
The Pines is located in Portsmouth, just across the Elizabeth River. Mary never made it down here while Jerry was there; she couldn't afford the $160 for public transit, plus food, cabs and lodging. Now that Jerry's locked up, Philadelphia has paid her way down. It was a tough trip: a 3 a.m. wake-up to catch a train at 30th Street Station; a seven-hour train ride, washed down by a one-hour bus; a tiresome afternoon guessing her way around the ghostly streets of Norfolk. She even took two ferry rides. Finally, a full 16 hours after waking up, she and her daughter Felicia arrive at the Norfolk City Jail to see their boy.
On the wall of the waiting area is an array of photos of the bigwigs in Norfolk's Sheriff's Department: a club of round-faced, mustached white men looking over the haphazard line of the mostly black women who have come here tonight. The women don't appear depressed; they look bored, or indifferent, the way people look during any family routine. Mary does not fit in. She has about her a schoolgirl's excitement.
"Oh, I can't wait to see him," she exclaims, sitting on a small staircase beside a deep-voiced man who is openly discussing drugs and guns on the jail pay phone.
After about an hour, a guard calls out for Edwards, and Mary is sent up to the seventh-floor visiting room. Jerry is there already, sitting behind a plate of glass. He wears a black-and-white pin-striped jumpsuit. "Like slavery," Mary observes. It makes him look "like a real criminal."
"Hi," Jerry says loudly, in order to be heard through the glass. "What took you so long?"
Mary explains about visiting hours, and the waiting room, and then assuages Jerry's concerns about how she'll get back to the hotel. Jerry asks about his siblings, and which of them might come down in January for his hearing.
"Who do you want to come?" Mary asks.
"Everyone," he answers.
Back when Jerry first shipped off for the Pines, Mary had wanted to cry very badly, but stopped herself"doing the mother thing," she explains. This time, she rises from the booth and walks away, afraid to let Jerry see her tears. Jerry and his sister sit looking at each other.
Mary does note that Jerry is looking thin; he tells her he's also getting sores on his face. Living conditions here are horrendous. The prison is terribly over-crowdedjust three weeks before Mary's visit, the Virginian-Pilot ran an article revealing that the city jail was at more than double its capacityit is built for 833 inmates, but was holding 1,887. People were climbing over each other to get to the bathroom, and almost 400 inmates were sleeping on plastic "Stack-A-Bunks" in crowded cells or common areas. Acts of violence were up 15 percent in the past six months.
The Norfolk sheriff, Robert J. McCabe, said he considered the living conditions acceptable, but not ideal.
In later conversations, Jerry will tell his mother about physical attacks he has witnessed, and about how after a reporter tried to contact him, someone crossed out all of his phone numbers, so that he couldn't call Mary for a week. Today, he leaves these matters aside, preferring to talk about places outside the walls. Throughout the conversation, his head stays down. He doesn't look depressed, Mary thinks. More like disappointed.
She leaves after a half-hour. That's all she's allowed.
"Don't come in here and be stupid."
Thus does the bailiff summon the defendants into the courtroom of the Honorable Joseph P. Massey for their preliminary hearing on Jan. 5. Actually, he summons four of the defendants. Anthony Ingram, free on bail, is already seated in front of the judge, wearing a diamond-checkered sweater and an enormous, gleaming earring in his right ear. And the sixth alleged conspirator, the only one who wasn't 18 at the time of the robbery, has pleaded guilty. He will serve two years in Virginia's juvenile system in exchange for his testimony on behalf of the prosecution. None of the other boys knows what he will say, but they expect to find out today.
Jerry enters first, wearing the old-fashioned striped prison jumpsuit. He looks sallow and somewhat faded, a ghost of the chubby kid he once was. The other boys follow. None lift their eyes to take in the large crowd that has packed this comically small courtroom. People have come from far away to see the hearing. Mary is here from Philadelphia, with her daughter Tina. Out in the waiting room, she met Robert Listenbee of the Philadelphia Defender Association, who told her he was here to argue on behalf of Philadelphia Family Court that Jerry and Tyrell be transferred to the Pines to continue their treatment while awaiting trial.
The spectators are also eager to hear the prosecution's version of the story. In this preliminary hearing, the state is only required to establish that a) a crime was most likely committed, and b) the accused was most likely involved in the crime. It's a low standard of proof, but at the very least, it should help sort out whether all of the participants are thought to have been in the robbery, or whether some have been held for two months to compel their testimony.
The Virginia prosecutor, Timothy Carnes, begins by reciting the charges in the case. Then, he explains that his star witness, the boy who pleaded guilty, is not herethere has been some confusion in transporting him.
He asks for a continuance.
The defense attorneys object. Their clients have been in jail for two months already, they argue. They know, of course, that the judge won't deny the continuance. But they think they can use this error to get the boys transferred back to the Pines.
Over the next few minutes, the judge discusses the logistics of releasing the defendants, and hears from the mother of one of the victims, who objects to the idea of releasing the boys. Pausing frequently to gather herself, she describes hearing pieces of the robbery over the phone.
"Am I gonna hear gunshots behind this?" she remembers thinking.
Finally, Massey announces his decision: He will grant the continuance, but release the remaining defendants to the Pines. He assures the victim's mother that they won't be allowed on any more outings.
If the defendants feel any relief or satisfaction, they do not reveal it. Jerry, in a jail-induced malaise, seems barely to register the news at all. He rises when told to, and shuffles slowly out of the courtroom for his assembly-line discharge.
Back to a juvenile delinquent center to await possible jail time: how fitting. A cynic might say that Jerry is unique only in that he wasn't discharged from juvey before finding his way into the adult system. But this defies the central logic of juvenile justice: that we hold out hope for children. Jerry's predicament was not inevitable. It's just one more item on the long list of ways that a troubled kid's life can go wrong.
After the hearing, Mary and Tina catch a ride back to Philadelphia. Tina stretches out in the back seat, her headphones blaring decade-old hip-hop; Mary sits silently in the front, drifting in and out of a fitful sleep. She wonders why her son just spent two months in jail; after all, not much has changed since he was first locked up. But she's glad, at least, that he's getting out. It's a burden to wake up every morning knowing that your child is in such a wretched place.
Somewhere along Route 13 in Maryland, Tina's phone rings. It's Jerry, calling from the Pines.
"What's that boy gonna say?" he asks Tina, referring to the juvenile who pleaded guilty.
"We don't know yet," she says. "We gonna have to let it play out."
They talk for a few minutes, and Jerry sounds like he's doing all right. Then Tina passes the phone to Mary. With his mother on the line, Jerry's anxieties flood out of him: It seems that when he got back to the Pines, his clothing was missing. He saw some of the other patients wearing it around.
Mary is furious. Is there no end to this boy's misfortune? She promises Jerry that she will fix this problem. Then she hangs up the phone and stares out the window at the road that carries her northward, far away from her son.