The Making of a Criminal 

Cyrioco Robinson has been in and out of juvenile hall and jail fifteen times. The experience didn't really punish him, but it didn't rehabilitate him either.

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Things started to look up for Ruth in East Oakland. She found a job taking care of the elderly, and put her two youngest sons on public assistance, which allowed her to buy them more clothes. But just as she started putting her life back on track, Cyrioco's began unraveling.


By his own account, it's hard to say exactly where Cyrioco's childhood ended and his criminal life began. He has difficulty remembering the exact timeline. His mother recalls certain events differently than Cyrioco and disputed others altogether. But things deteriorated when the family moved to East Oakland. While the neighborhood they lived in was relatively safe, peer pressure began influencing Cyrioco for the worse.

"He loved his friends; he wanted them to spend the night," Ruth recalled. "But they stole from out of my house. If they were decent children I wouldn't have minded them coming over. I don't want them sleeping in my bed, standing over me. He couldn't understand that."

The extent of Cyrioco's generosity troubled Ruth. She took his house key away because he was giving food to his friends, and she remembered seeing three or four boys walking down the street wearing his clothes. When her brother once received a donation from a food bank, Cyrioco gave it away.

"He has a good heart," his mother concedes. "He would give his life. But you don't have to do that to gain friends. His friends was his life, like his sisters and brothers." Convincing him otherwise was nearly impossible, she said: "He was always a child with his own mind. He didn't like to be corrected."

The youngster's sense of loyalty, coupled with his fondness for dressing sharply, often got him into mischief. Ruth said the only jewelry she has left is that which she currently wears. "Things in the house get legs," said Ruth, who didn't quite want to admit that her son steals. "It doesn't happen until he comes around." His older brother accused Cyrioco of having a hand in some of his stolen clothing.

Cyrioco's relationship with the justice system began at age fourteen. He had asked his mother to teach him to drive, and after she refused, he got his friend to steal a car. For two days he taught himself, and on the third day, he took to the freeway. As he was exiting, an officer pulled him over. He was sent to Juvenile Hall.

Alameda County Juvenile Hall, located in San Leandro, is a facility where juveniles are held temporarily before they face detention, adjudication, and disposition hearings. While the hall is not used for long-term detention, the California Welfare and Institutions Code lists seven circumstances in which a child can be detained: if a minor is destitute, requires protection, has an unfit home, has violated a court order, poses a danger to the public, needs parental control, or is likely to flee. In rare cases, a child convicted of a serious crime is sent to one of the youth prison facilities operated by the state Division of Juvenile Justice.

A judge, bench officer, or district attorney can dismiss those cases in which there isn't enough evidence, or send a minor home if it's likely he or she will show up in court. Cyrioco was held for a few days before being sent home with his mother.

Juvenile hall is not focused on rehabilitation, mainly because of the short time offenders spend there, typically 22 to 26 days. Still, Bill Fenton, the county's deputy chief of juvenile services, said probation department employees try to offer some services such as schooling and medical screenings. The "guidance clinic" assigns mental-health professionals to kids as needed, and is run by the county's Behavioral Health Care Services. Counselors at Camp Wilmont Sweeney have more one-on-one time with young offenders, and can tailor their treatment to the kids' assessed needs. Often, parents are involved in the treatment plan.

Still, critics of the system say the approach isn't working. "Generally speaking, the aggressive, crime-committing population looks at the juvenile justice system and doesn't really feel it's a deterrent," said Matt Golde, the Alameda County assistant district attorney who heads the juvenile division. "These jerky kids, the bad ones, they're chaos. You get to adult court, you've got three strikes. Juvenile court isn't punitive at all."

Cyrioco wasn't deterred by his first brush with the law. Reasoning that stealing cars hadn't worked out, he decided to start robbing people. He said he was tired of being made fun of for not having the latest clothes.

One of those robberies allegedly occurred after buying corn from a street vendor who pulled out a wad of cash. Cyrioco said he plotted with a friend to take the money, but police caught him in the act. His mother claims Cyrioco didn't actually commit the crime, and was merely taking the beef for a friend who had taken a bullet for him.

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