(four months after I met guns and ammo and talked to him extensively he killed a man in cold blood and is now doing life)

Seventeen-year-old Federico Solis - - in the idiom that dominated his vocabulary and his imagination for every day of the last year of his life - - is out in the free. Four months after his release from the Gainesville State School, the largest secure facility for juvenile offenders in the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) system, he's sitting in my apartment one night, still in his warehouse work clothes, yawning from an early wake-up, worrying about old traffic warrants, and talking about the logistics of changing his year-old daughter's diaper ("I'm not that good, sometimes I leave it too tight or too loose, but I'm beginning to get the hang of it").

He lives at home helping with the dishes and taking out the garbage to try and apologize to his mother for 14 months of incarceration. He spends his days trying to tolerate all the empathy, self-esteem, chemical dependency classes and self-help groups he still has to attend as part of his one year supervisory parole. He earns $175 a week, tries not to ask his parents for money, tries to ignore his urge to get high, and talks earnestly about doing the right thing.

He also spends most days imagining how much easier it would be if he were committing crimes. He's surrounded by friends with criminal pasts and futures, who sell drugs, sniff chiva, and smoke marijuana ("Let him chill, he's on parole...He was locked up, he needs to get some of this real weed," is the chorus he hears from the boys in the back seat, echoing his own thoughts). He goes to parties, school dances, hangs out outside of clubs, drinks, picks up girls, cruises, and tries to hold on to a fading memory of being locked away.

"This is like a whole other world out here. When you come out you just don't even think about being in jail," he said. "You know you've been locked up but when you're out here you're just like too happy to be out, you just forget about it."


Four months after his own release from Gainesville, seventeen-year-old Claude Nealy -- released just one week before Solis -- is sitting jumpsuited in a box-like interview room in the Dallas County Jail. Picking around the cold cuts and applesauce on his food tray, occasionally pacing the room, he's sullen, yawning, bitching, bragging about how much he got away with at Gainesville, mocking parole for thinking that he would listen to them and attend their little programs, emphatically thanking me for coming, imploring me to please come again, asking for his mother to send money for commissary, and swearing he didn't do it.

Eleven days earlier, deputies of the Dallas County Sheriff's Department entered a South Dallas apartment where Nealy was staying, armed with a warrant for his arrest. Nealy had been wanted for about a month (according to deputies, he had been picked up on two occasions but was released because he gave a false name), charged with two counts of capital murder in the armed robbery of a Dallas convenience store.

According to court documents, on the night of August 20, Nealy, his 33-year-old uncle, Charles Nealy, and an 18-year-old named Reginald Mitchell, robbed the Expressway Mart convenience store in South Dallas. While Mitchell waited in a car outside, Charles Nealy killed the store owner, Jiten Bhakta, with a shotgun blast to the chest. Claude Nealy, using a handgun, shot a store employee, Vijaykumar Patel, in the head. Patel was taken to Baylor hospital where he died two days later. The Nealys and Mitchell fled with approximately $4,000 in cash and two six packs of beer. The store's surveillance camera captured the crime on tape.

"I don't know, I don't know, I don't even know," Nealy said, sounding uncharacteristically vulnerable. "I'm just gonna' wait and see what they have to say. All I can do is say it's not me, which it's not, that's all I can do. I mean, I ain't got no amazing story to tell or nothing."


Federico Solis and Claude Nealy were both 17-year-olds serving year-long sentences in Gainesville State School, a Texas Youth Commission facility, when I met them. Both had a history of minor arrests, lived the street life and had dropped out of school. Both went through the same program at Gainesville, the Independent Living Program (supposedly for residents who exhibited a high level of reform potential). They both lived in low-income neighborhoods a few miles apart from each other in South Dallas. Solis is Hispanic, Nealy black.

Nealy was released from Gainesville on May 26. Solis was released about a week later on June 3. They were both paroled to the same program (Southwest Key, an intensive aftercare component of parole).

That's where the similarities end.

Before I met him, Nealy's counselor held up his case file and said, "Con. This kid is a con. He will definitely be back, he's a criminal."

When he talked he was defiant, arrogant, frighteningly mature and utterly cynical about the entire reform effort in Gainesville. "Don't nobody care about that [rehabilitation], they just play the role so they can get through this shit so they can get on phase four so they can leave," he said. "It's a joke...they wastin' their money, they don't rehabilitate."

Nealy, whose biological father has been incarcerated since he was five-years-old, was first arrested when he was 11 years old for stealing a car. At 13 he said he was making close to 600 dollars a week, laughing at the adult crack heads who bought dope from a boy and carrying a pistol. "Sell dope. Sell all day, all night," is how Nealy described his lifestyle then.

Nealy's juvenile record is filled with references to a chaotic home atmosphere, poverty, family mental health problems and lack of parental supervision. In the last six years he's had at least seven different addresses.


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