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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This time, he spent about a month in the hall. "Juvenile hall wasn't really cool," Cyrioco remembered. "You don't have no bathroom in your room in juvenile hall. You use the bathroom when they say you can use the bathroom. You can press the buzzer and be like, 'I got to use the bathroom,' and they'll tell you, 'Well, I don't feel like getting up right now.' And me, I had a problem when I was younger so I got bladder problems, so when I have to use the bathroom, like I really have to go, and there's a whole bunch of times they told me I couldn't use the bathroom and I had to pee on myself or in the corner. Me and my roommate will be like, 'Man, that's nasty.' But I be like, 'Man, I can't hold it,' you know what I'm saying. They think I was just doing it to be rebellious and not be follow the program, but it wasn't even that. The real deal was that, I mean, I had to use the bathroom and I couldn't hold it, you know what I'm saying."

When the guards weren't letting Cyrioco use the bathroom, he said, they were getting him to fight with the other kids. Because the hall was full at the time, he said, he was placed briefly in the maximum-security unit. While in "max," he said, the guards would have the boys drag out their mattresses and wrestle each other on Friday nights. Because he was good at fighting, Cyrioco said he never got hurt, but other boys did. Six counselors were placed on leave in early 2005 in connection with reports about such wrestling matches.

Cyrioco said the guards occasionally beat boys if they got out of line or didn't cooperate. He said he avoided beatings by obeying orders and hardly talking at all. This refusal to speak landed him in anger-management class, he said, where a counselor tried to talk to him about why he was so quiet. To Cyrioco, the answer was obvious. What was there to be happy about?

When Cyrioco was released, he was given an ankle bracelet to monitor him at home. He said the black plastic device would have notified the authorities if he violated his probation by playing tennis at the park or going to the library, so he cut it off with scissors.

Still facing taunts at school over his wardrobe, Cyrioco looked to his mother for guidance. "'I don't know how you feel about it, but I don't like getting talked about, I don't like being the laugh of the school,'" he recalled telling her. "And she's like, 'Well, you gotta deal with it because we have money problems right now.' ... So I turned to an OG from the 'hood, and I'm like, 'My mama, man, we're not doing too good. I don't know what you want me to do, but whatever it is, however I got to make this money, I'm going to make it. You just show me the way and I'm a get it.'"

His gangsta friend taught him to sell weed. Soon, Cyrioco said, he was making thousands of dollars and buying everything he wanted — clothes, shoes, and jewelry for himself and his mother, nephew, and aunt. But he was caught for cutting off the bracelet a couple months later, and spent two more months in the hall. When he was released, he again went on informal probation.

Soon, Cyrioco stopped coming home altogether. He resented his mother for not giving him his "privacy," and started living with a friend's mom, whom he called his godmother or "g-mama." His g-mama was lenient, and allowed Cyrioco to bring girls over — something his mother never would have allowed. It was there that Ruth says her son nearly choked a man to death after he accused Cyrioco of sleeping with his girlfriend. Cyrioco was so angry that he punched through a window, leaving him with a curved scar on the inside of his right forearm and the loss of feeling in his fingers. "He said he was seeing blood," Ruth said. She reported him missing, and he went back to the hall for another month and a half.

This time, Cyrioco's mother couldn't handle him anymore, so when he was released he was sent to a group home. "The group home, it was kind of cool," Cyrioco recalled. "But the people that was working there, they not too older than us. So they don't really care, they're just there to get the money or whatever. They don't really care about us doing the right thing or nothing. ... So that's when I was like, 'Aw, naw, if I'm going to do this, I might as well just be on the street.'" Cyrioco ran away, but was caught six months later. Once again, he received two months in juvenile hall.

By this time, the hall had become a familiar place for Cyrioco — even comfortable. "I wasn't even tripping off being in the hall," he said. "I was eating better than I do at home. I get to see all my partners I haven't seen in hella long. ... You come out with big muscles. ... I didn't have anywhere to go anyway, so regardless, if I was in jail or whatever, I was eating and had a place to sleep."

Cyrioco continued to make trips back and forth to juvenile hall, often for violating the terms of his probation, such as by refusing to do community service. "If you trying to help me, show me how to get some money the right way, which they really don't be doing," he reasoned. Soon thereafter, he says, someone did just that.

One day, at age seventeen, Cyrioco said, a bag containing about $1,000 worth of heroin and $2,000 in cash was literally thrown in front of him as he witnessed a car being chased by police. Not knowing what to do with it, he brought it to his uncle.

Cyrioco vividly recalled his mother's brother giving a hit of the heroin to a local "knock," or drug addict. "At first, this dude is just sick, like he can't do nothing, he moanin' and groanin'," he recalled. "And something was wrong with him. He can't even talk. ... And then now that he took a hit of this dope, it's like he regular, like it was a cure, like it was a medicine or something. So I'm like, 'What is this called?' My uncle told me like, 'This is heroin. Now heroin, you're going to forever, forever make money ... because they can't do nothing without this.'" Cyrioco began dealing after that.

Another time he was caught with a bundle of marijuana while driving a friend home. This time, he was sent to Camp Wilmont Sweeney, an unlocked, residential program for male youth run by the probation department. Cyrioco liked the camp, and said he willingly finished the program because the counselors really seemed to care about him. "Counselors up there, they don't cut you no slack, they stay on you 24-7," he said. "And it's discipline." The camp also provided schooling, which Cyrioco liked because he had attended five high schools in three years as a result of spending so much time in juvenile hall. He dropped out in the eleventh grade.

Camp Sweeney, which is adjacent to juvenile hall, had a variety of extracurricular programs — basketball, baseball, football, a weight room, pool tables, video games — and "a lot more food." The strict discipline was tempered with rewards for good behavior, such as candy or soda, which Cyrioco reacted to. He started getting As in class.

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