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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Counselors helped convince Cyrioco to finish his GED at Merritt College, and Simmons was so impressed that she secured money to give him a job at the center. As a "Culture Keeper," Cyrioco would be tasked with enforcing the house rules of "Respect Yourself, Respect the House, and Respect Each Other." He would be paid $1,000 a month for ten months, and if he succeeded, Simmons would hire him full-time with benefits.

"I have a lot of faith in him," Simmons said. "I think that Cyrioco wants a different life, and that desire will make him not reoffend. He's hungry for this opportunity. And that hunger inspires confidence in me."

As part of his training, Davis was guiding Cyrioco and six other Culture Keepers through three days of intensive exercises called A Framework for Breaking Barriers: A Cognitive Reality Model Curriculum, which is designed for people in prison or coming out of prison. One section that Davis focused on with Cyrioco was the "Reality Model," which looks at four basic human needs: to love and be loved, to feel important and have value, to survive, and variety. "Almost all of his behavior is driven by his need to be important or his need to love or be loved," Davis said. "I looked at the most basic thing — sharing his pizza — all the way to his criminal activity, to his relationship with his mom. They all came back to those two things."

But Cyrioco never made it to the third day of class.


It's a breezy but sunny Wednesday afternoon in October in Dublin, outside of Santa Rita Jail. Around 4 p.m., a dozen or so people — mostly women and young children — have started lining up on the long cement ramp leading up to the jail, waiting in lawn chairs for one of the scarce passes for the 6 p.m. visit. On the weekends, people arrive as early as eight hours ahead of time. The women come from as far away as Seattle to see their incarcerated sons, husbands, boyfriends, and daughters. They talk about how he says he's going to change, how he got caught up in crime, and how irritated they are for having to get off work early and stand in line. Some complain about the court process. Many are confused about how it all works. As it gets closer to 6 p.m., nervousness and impatience builds.

Finally, small groups of about thirty visitors are let in at a time. After storing belongings in lockers and passing through a metal detector, visitors walk down two long hallways to get to the visiting area. They look through the windows anticipating the arrival of the prisoners — in this case, men — who are let into small booths. Eventually, a buzzer rings and the heavy metal door slides open, allowing a chosen handful to enter on the other side.

Cyrioco smiles and waves at a familiar face through the heavy glass. He picks up the phone to talk, but at first avoids eye contact. He wears a yellow jumpsuit with a brown T-shirt underneath, and his dreadlocks have been wound tightly against his head.

About a month ago, Cyrioco was arrested for driving a stolen vehicle. He had been released from prison just three months earlier. He claims, somewhat implausibly, that the car was a friend's rental car, and that neither of them knew it was actually stolen. Although he didn't have a license, Cyrioco was driving to Jack in the Box for his friend when he was pulled over by police officers brandishing weapons.

He's back in Santa Rita for a fifth time at the age of nineteen, and this time his stepbrother is in there with him. Although the district attorney hasn't filed a complaint against him, Cyrioco is being held for violation of his parole. He gets out on February 12.

The young man's frustration is evident. He tries to remain hopeful despite the setback, and looks forward to being able to go back to Youth Uprising to finish his job training. Though he admits that the ease of drug money is tempting, he is willing to take the pay cut as long as he can eat. "If somebody show you the way and you getting paid, I wouldn't be mad," he says. "That would be my way to eat. As long as I'm eating, I'm not worrying about it. It don't need to be a whole bunch of money."

Turning his life around is no longer just about him. A former girlfriend is expecting his first child in April.

Emani Davis at Youth Uprising said she cried when she heard that Cyrioco had reoffended. "Even in the midst of doing right and being accountable, there was still a faulty principle intact," she said. "It was amazing; he was doing the right thing and he was going about it the wrong way, which is kind of the story of his life."

While she acknowledges that Cyrioco is responsible for his actions, Davis said society at large failed to offer him alternatives. "The juvenile justice system didn't help," she said. "The way the system is designed, all they do is prepare kids for adult prison. There's nothing that makes them any smarter or wiser. There's nothing that really addresses why these kids got involved in the system to begin with. Nothing has changed. All they have is more exposure to trauma, violence, and neglect."

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