REFORM, REALITY AND WHY

Solis today has a four-year-old child and is still living in his parents' house. Three years ago, no skills, low wage job, he was spending most of his 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 and use drugs. Solis, like so many of the other kids at Gainesville, might stay out of serious trouble and make it to adulthood to hold a job and raise a family. Or, like so many of the other kids at Gainesville, he may easily find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people because that's the only world he knows.

Nealy's life is over. Though, Beccaria would disagree. I'm outside and not living it, and I imagine a life sentence a hell that Nealy living in it and through it might not be experiencing.

How can a good kid, Solis, and Nealy (a menace to society, sociopath, just hardened criminal; I'm not even sure), how can they easily end up in the same place. And how, perhaps, just as easily can they end up in together again in the penitentiary. Small breaks, circumstances, certain elements in their lives, luck, conscience, cycles?

Gainesville, like other TYC facilities, has 16 hour days crammed with every type of group, social skills training, vocational programs, chemical dependency classes, and gang intervention. Every resident walks around every day toting a 272-page "Workbook for Resocialization."



But both Solis and Nealy were cynical and contemptuous of all the attempts at rehabilitating them. They formed no special bonds with counselors, didn't trust them, felt hostility toward them. I was with Solis when he made his perfunctory check ins with his parole officer, when he would sit around the Southwest Key program doing busy work rehab exercises. To him it was boring and irrelevant. To Nealy it was all nonsense. Yet they went very different routes after they were released.

When Nealy was sent to Gainesville he seemed virtually unreachable. He spent nine months in a facility that both he and the staff acknowledged had little effect on him and was released to the same type of supervision (legal and familial) that he had ignored for years.

Solis went into Gainesville as everybody's idea of a good kid who, almost by default, gravitated toward criminality. He spent a year in a facility that seemed to consider him already reformed because he wasn't Nealy.

Was there anything that could have been done for a kid like Nealy? Was he beyond reform? Could anything have reached him during those nine months that the state had him under their control? How much of an effort was made? Were the right methods used? Was he already a career criminal?

And Solis, who seems very reachable, but at the same time doesn't really know another way of life other than screwing around on the streets; what's going to keep him and others like him out of the adult prison system? Is it Gainesville, aftercare programs, family, a kid's character, circumstances, money? Is 17 too late to affect change?