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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But during home visits, he continued selling drugs. "After juvenile hall, it didn't stop for me 'cause I was still hungry," he said. "Like, man, I gotta eat, I really gotta eat. So I upped my game up." Cyrioco started dealing cocaine. He said he soon had enough money to give his godmother $20,000 in cash for housing and a car, and bought two cars for himself, though they were eventually taken away because he didn't have a license.

While Cyrioco understood that his actions were hurting others, that didn't stop him. "Let me think about all the times that I was hungry and starving and just wanting something and didn't nobody give a care," he said. "Nobody cared about my feelings, so why should I care about this person? Yeah, you sick, you sick, I'm hurting people. I don't care. I'm getting money in my pocket. That's how I was thinking."

Cyrioco was barely an adult when he first entered the adult penal system. As well intentioned as Camp Sweeney had been, it hadn't changed his life on the outside. "There was no follow-up," he said. "I went back to the same ol' everything. Same environment, same everything. When you live in Oakland, the street comes with it. You can't run from it. Innocent motherfuckers get killed every day. Ain't no running from this shit."

A little more than a month after he was released from the camp, and less than five months after his eighteenth birthday, Cyrioco was convicted of possession of cocaine and heroin. He spent a couple weeks in Santa Rita Jail, and was placed on three years of felony probation.

But less than four months later, Cyrioco was arrested again for violating his 10 p.m. curfew. And in January, he was caught dealing heroin and failed to report to probation three times. According to police reports, Cyrioco blamed his absence on his lack of transportation. His mother kicked him out, and he was living in an abandoned car or with friends. He spent four months in Santa Rita and three months in San Quentin.

At the penitentiary, Cyrioco and his first roommate, a young man about his age, talked about women, money, and what they planned to do once they got out of prison. Then Cyrioco was transferred to a new cell. At first, he was horrified to see his new cellmate, whom he described as an "old-ass dude" named John Stewart who had piles of books stacked up against the wall with the words "Finished" or "Uncompleted" scribbled on the covers.

For a while, the two never said a word to each other. Stewart read his books and Cyrioco passed the time by working on his rap lyrics. "I'm up there and I'm rapping, but my lyrics, they not heavy," he said. "They just, like, as far as streetwise, me talking about killing somebody or something or what I want to do somebody or something like that, instead of me sending a message to the younger people."

Then, one day, Cyrioco asked Stewart a question: "Why do you read so many books?"

"He just started telling me everything," Cyrioco remembered. "Like, 'Man, look at me. I'm seventy years old. I been in and out of this place a whole bunch of times. To be honest with you, I don't even come back to this place because I want to, I come back to this place because I have to. This is the only place I feel safe. To be honest with you, the streets ain't cool. I don't care what nobody say. Regardless, it don't matter where you at, you can get your head busted. It don't matter what you do, you can really get shot for no apparent reason, just walking down the street, you can just get shot.' And I be thinking about that."

Cyrioco had already had his own flashes with death. He had been robbed at gunpoint, shot in the leg, and once witnessed the murder of two men right in front of him, which continues to haunt him. "Every night I go to sleep, I have nightmares about stuff, stuff that done happened in my life," he said. "And it's like, I don't want to live that life no more." Stewart also read the newspaper, and told Cyrioco about Youth Uprising and the services and classes they offered.

The day Cyrioco got out of prison, he went to the youth center. The staff immediately noticed him.

"He's like a magnet — everybody wants to be around him," said Emani Davis, lead case manager and violence prevention coordinator at Youth Uprising. "All the little girls call him 'big brother.' ... He has what people call a star quality." Davis said Cyrioco immediately attached to her, and the feeling was mutual. She calls him her son.

"You notice him, he has natural leadership ability," agreed Olis Simmons, Youth Uprising's executive director. "When he sees tension building between other people, he'll intercede. Even though he has no money, I see him feeding other kids."

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