Youthful Offenders and Rehabilitation

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– Audio Begins –

Len Sipes: Hi and welcome from our studio in Downtown Washington, DC. This is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Len Sipes. I think we have a really interesting show today. The show is going to be dealing with youthful offenders. The guests today are Lavonia Douglas. She is a Community Supervision Officer. Most of you know our people as parole and probation agents in Washington, DC. We call them Community Supervision Officers. We have Eddie Ellis. And Eddie’s been by our microphones before and Eddie is here in his capacity as a mentor to Bob. And we’re not going to be using Bob’s real name. We’re just going to be calling him Bob. Bob is a youthful offender. He is under our supervision at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. He’s 19 years old. So we have an array of individuals from the bureaucracy, from Lavonia to former offender Eddie Ellis to Bob, a current offender. And we’re here to discuss all the issues dealing with youthful offenders. And to Lavonia and Bob and Eddie, welcome to DC Public Safety.
Lavonia Douglas: Thank you.
Len Sipes: Okay. I want to remind everybody that we do listen and respond to every request that you make to us. Every comment, every criticism. And we really appreciate the fact that you are following the show. Last month we had 123,000 requests for the show. That is a record and we really are impressed by that and we really do appreciate your input. Continue your input. If you have suggestions for new shows, if you have criticisms, it doesn’t matter. Go ahead and search on your internet search engine for DC Public Safety or simply go to media – m-e-d-i-a dot csosa dot gov and go ahead to the comment box or to my email direct or through Twitter, my twitter address and let us know what we could or should be doing. Lavonia Douglas, you’ve been a Community Supervision Officer with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for how long?
Lavonia Douglas: For six years.
Len Sipes: Okay. So you’re a veteran.
Lavonia Douglas: I am, yeah.
Len Sipes: Okay. And so the point is in all of this is that we’re dealing here on the show with youthful offenders. And we have Bob who is going to remain anonymous and Eddie Ellis. Now, the bottom line is this, Lavonia, we have this fear. We have in some cases even revulsion in terms of youthful offenders. You can not pick up the newspaper without a youthful offender, in many cases under the age of 18. You have to be 18 and above to come to CSOSA unless you’re convicted as an adult. But we constantly read about youthful offenders. And if you take a look at the research, people are scared in many cases of youthful offenders. So we have Bob. And Bob’s an example of a young man who has recognized a set of circumstances and reached out and wants to get beyond the chaos that’s happening to so many young men on the streets. And we have Eddie who has been mentoring Bob. He’s a former offender. He’s been by our microphones before. So talk to me about Bob.
Lavonia Douglas: Well, when Bob initially came to the office he came on supervision for an assault. He came to the office and he was really , non responsive. He didn’t want to answer any of the questions, he was mean. You would ask him a question; he would give a smart answer. One of the initial questions he asked us was where’s his juvenile PO. He wanted to talk to a juvenile PO. He didn’t want to talk to us. He didn’t want to answer any of our questions. We asked him where he lived. And he said we should have the information. So he put up a wall that we had to break through to actually get him to talk to us, to get him to give us any information.
Len Sipes: Is that unusual?
Lavonia Douglas: That is not unusual.
Len Sipes: Yes. And people need to understand that many of the people come who are supervised by us or any other parole and probation agency in the country and what I call a chip on their shoulder the size of Montana.
Lavonia Douglas: (Laughs). Because they thing we’re out to get them. They think we’re not here to help them. This whole system is against them. And so we have to show them that we really care about them. We have to show them that, you know, each individual person is different and Bob has special talents that he brought to us and he told us about it after we actually got through the wall of him being upset that he was even on supervision. So, you know, after we brought(sic), broke through that wall and how we broke through it, we started talking about his conditions, one of his conditions was that he had to stay away from the high school that he was attending ,
Len Sipes: Okay. And let me , he assaulted somebody in the high school.
Lavonia Douglas: He assaulted somebody in the high school.
Len Sipes: He got involved in a fight in the high school.
Lavonia Douglas: Right. And the boy fell down, you know, fights in school. And the mother pressed charges and he wound up in CSOSA for year probation.
Len Sipes: All right.
Lavonia Douglas: And the stay away was, the stay away was stay away from the boy and also he had to stay away from the school. So he couldn’t attend the school again. So, you know, we told him he couldn’t attend the school. He said, well, no, I’m going to go up there tomorrow, my mom’s going to get me back in school. So the perception was that his mother would be able to help him to get back into school. And in actuality he wouldn’t because the courts said he couldn’t go. So he realized what was really going on. He got really upset and was like, let me just go do my time. I don’t even want to, you know, if I can’t go to school, I’m not going to do supervision. You know, I like school, I’m not going to do ,
Len Sipes: (Chuckle) I’m not going to do supervision. I’m going to call my own show.
Lavonia Douglas: (Laughs) Right.
Len Sipes: (Chuckle)
Lavonia Douglas: So it was like he wanted to go do his time, so then we had to then, at that point I realized as his Community Supervision Officer, we had a lot of work to do with him. We had to get him back into school, and ,
Len Sipes: How do you maintain your composure with folks like Bob? Now, I’ve done this before. I’ve done, as the audience knows, I’ve done jail and Job Corps kids, I ran the group in the Maryland prison system. I used to be a street counselor in the City of Baltimore, when I was putting myself through college. Wow. You know, the hardest job on the face of the earth is dealing directly with young individuals who have this chip on their shoulder the size of Montana. I’ve seen so many young individuals, so many young men just throw their lives away. It’s very difficult to be both the enforcer and enforce the rules and be a helper all at the same time. How do you deal with that?
Lavonia Douglas: You kind of have to take yourself out of the situation. You can’t, like, for me, I couldn’t get upset. A lot of times when you’re talking to somebody and they’re not receptive to what you’re saying, you immediately get defensive and you’re like, you’re going to do what I say because A, B, C & D. We’re realizing that we are talking to a youthful offender and we can’t supervise them like we supervise others because they may not understand exactly what we’re saying. I had to just let him talk, get out what he needed to say and then say, okay, Bob, I understand what you’re going through and I understand, but I’m here to help you. And this is what we’re going to do. This is what I’m going to do as your PO, I’m going to help you to get back in school. I’m going to talk to your principal, I’m going to talk to your mother, to show him that I’m here for him. I’m here to help him.
Len Sipes: Is Bob back in school?
Lavonia Douglas: Bob is back. Well, he’s not, Bob did finish school at the school that he had to stay away from.
Len Sipes: Right.
Lavonia Douglas: And we had to do a lot of work to get him back into school. We had to call the school board, the principal at the school, I had to get, talk to the principal, his counselors and I had to give all that information to the judge and convince the judge to actually let him go back to school for the remainder of the year because he only had like a month and a half left. So we couldn’t get him into the other school, so he would have either got an F for the rest of the semester and not been able to become a senior this year or , you know, he would just not go back to school. So we did get him back to school and now he’s going to a different school. He’s doing very well. He’s graduating in June. And so he’s doing what he needs to do.
Len Sipes: When I worked with younger people, I always said they ran on 6 out of every 8 cylinders. Because you would sit there and talk to the person and you’d have to fill out this form to get the person back in school. Because I had a guy in the streets in Baltimore who wanted to escape the streets of Baltimore and we got him back in school and he had to fill out all this paperwork to get back. And so I’d him the next day and say, hey, man, did you fill out the paperwork? He said, what paperwork? (Chuckle).
Lavonia Douglas: That’s true.
Len Sipes: You know, this is , this is hard. This is hard work.
Lavonia Douglas: You have to get the parents involved too.
Len Sipes: Yeah, you do.
Lavonia Douglas: Because from school you have to get the parents involved.
Len Sipes: That’s right.
Lavonia Douglas: You have to get the parents to encourage them. And I would call the school daily and I really couldn’t do it, so I have to stay in contact with his mother, his grandparents, his godparents. So getting involved with the family also was one of the bigger issues too because we had to get them involved and make sure that they knew what they were responsible for because as a PO we can’t necessarily do everything. We can just kind of put some things in place, but the family has to come together and help out our youthful offenders as well.
Len Sipes: Lavonia, next time we talk, I want to go ahead and talk to you about whatever programs we have for younger offenders here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. But now what I want to do is go over to Eddie Ellis. Eddie’s been by our microphones before. In fact, Eddie’s probably been interviewed more on this show than any other human being. I mean, you know, we could have the mayor of the , Eddie’s been on the front page of the Washington Post, by the way. You know, we could have the mayor here, we could have the Chief of Police here, most frequently. But we have Eddie Ellis here (chuckle) and he’s been our most frequent guest. How you doing, Eddie?
Eddie Ellis: Okay, Mr. Sipes. How are you doing?
Len Sipes: I’m all right. How you doing by the way?
Eddie Ellis: I’m doing well.
Len Sipes: How’s it coming?
Eddie Ellis: I think it’s going well for me.
Len Sipes: All right. Eddie is a former offender who used to be under our supervision. He’s now a mentor to Bob, mentoring Bob. Tell me a little bit about your experience in terms of mentoring Bob.
Eddie Ellis: First of all I take from my personal experience the things I went through in my life. And I understood when I first met Bob that we were very similar in a lot of ways. And the thing I really appreciated about him was he wanted to go to school and he wanted to do right. And when I was 16 I really didn’t enjoy school.
Len Sipes: Right. Who did by the way?
Eddie Ellis: I don’t know. But Bob enjoyed going to school.
Len Sipes: Okay, well, there you go. Well, God bless Bob.
Eddie Ellis: Yeah. And that really meant a lot to me.
Len Sipes: By the way, did you ever get into fights in school?
Eddie Ellis: Yes.
Len Sipes: Me too.
Eddie Ellis: Yes.
Len Sipes: So here is Bob sitting here convicted of fighting in school when you and were both not convicted of fighting in school. But I’ve fought in school.
Eddie Ellis: So did I.
Len Sipes: Okay.
Eddie Ellis: So did I.
Len Sipes: All right. Go ahead.
Eddie Ellis: Well, I think , personally I really enjoy talking to him because it really helped me reflect on my life and understand what I still needed to do for myself. But talking to him and seeing that he wanted to do the right thing, he recognized where he went wrong with his life is very important to me.
Len Sipes: All right. How close is Bob to really messing it up? How many young men have both of us been with through my career, throughout your time, how many young men are on that edge? Because when I dealt with the Job Corp kids I discovered this, one third knew they were in a jam and wanted to make their way through life. One third was sitting on that fence, and they could be pushed to either side very easily. And one third was gone. There’s not a dog gone thing in the world you could do for that final third. Where do you think Bob is?
Eddie Ellis: I think he’s in a good position to be successful.
Len Sipes: Good. And how many Bobs are there out there?
Eddie Ellis: There’s a lot of Bob’s out there, but unfortunately news don’t focus on that. You just made a comment about how the media put these things in the newspaper about the youth offenders. Well, it’s no different in the schools. They’re closing all the schools and recreation centers. So that’s more dangerous to me.
Len Sipes: Okay. But I mean we’ve had this discussion before and that’s why I’m really pleased that you’re back at the microphones because when we talk about young offenders, when we talk about offenders in general, you know the news in many cases is not good in terms of the statistics, in terms of the total number of arrests. And there is a dichotomy here. A lot of these people who are picked up, who are rearrested or rearrested for relatively minor crimes, and in some cases relatively stupid crimes. They’re on the corner, they’re making noise, people call the police. The police come by and they arrest – now if the guy is arrested for murder, rape, robbery, theft, I don’t care – well, it’s not that I don’t care, but I can see that – but a lot of guys end up getting back in the criminal justice system for stupid stuff. My guess is, is that a lot of people who are caught up in the criminal justice system don’t necessarily have to be there. They’re not necessarily dangerous to society. And I’m not trying to be a left of center liberal, I’m just stating what I think is just pure fact. That if they had the guidance, that if they had somebody like you to help them. If they had a parole and probation agent like Lavonia who cared about them. If they had structure in their life, parents who intervened with that individual at a young age. If you had this full core press to help this person out, I think a lot of these individuals would escape what we are currently calling a life of crime.
Eddie Ellis: I agree with you somewhat, but I really think that a lot of these young guys, and I could say myself personally, had a lot of structure in their life. But unfortunately we chose to do the wrong thing. And I just feel like it’s very important that you do have a probation office that do care about their job in helping people. You know, but first of all it must start with the person who is on parole or probation.
Len Sipes: Sure, of course.
Eddie Ellis: You need to understand that it’s your responsibility, but you got people whose helping you, or trying to help you, get your life on track.
Len Sipes: What I’m trying to do, Eddie, is put all this in perspective, because if you go and talk radio as I’ve done maybe 100 times, if you talk to citizen groups, which I have done a lot of times, there are just ticked off at Bob. They’re sick and tired of Bob hanging out on the corner. They’re sick and tired of Bob being out there. They’re sick and tired of the marijuana coming up from the corner. They’re sick and tired of the police not doing anything to get Bob off the corner. They’re sick and tired about reading in the newspaper, watching on television every, you know, it’s daily. It’s just incessant. And there are a heck of a lot of other Bobs out there who are a danger. They are. I mean, you know, they’re out there thuggin’ and muggin’.
Eddie Ellis: Well, you’ve got a lot of people ,
Len Sipes: I’m trying to put this into perspective. I’m trying to say what is real. That we’ve got a certain amount of people out there who seem to be, for whatever reason, really involved in the criminal lifestyle. And we’ve got, I think – what I’m trying to do is break down the stereotype – I think that a lot of these individuals wouldn’t be in the criminal justice system if they had a caring parole and probation agent. If they had a mentor who can guide them. If they had a parent who are actively involved. That’s all I’m trying to say.
Eddie Ellis: I understand what you’re trying to say and I respect that, but at the same time I think the government is at fault in a lot of ways. A lot of these faith based organizations are at fault in a lot of ways. Because they’re not doing what they say , they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do as far as the mentoring and stuff. And I think ,
Len Sipes: They’re not doing enough of it?
Eddie Ellis: They’re not doing enough. I don’t think they have enough of the right people there to really do it.
Len Sipes: All right. All right. Who’s the right person, by the way?
Eddie Ellis: I don’t know, you got to find them. I don’t know. I know some of these faith based organizations, some of these governments, they don’t have a lot of right people there.
Len Sipes: MM-hmm. You know what? They said the same thing.
Eddie Ellis: Well, why aren’t they changing then?
Len Sipes: Well, you know, people really do a lot of things in life in terms of volunteer. My wife is deeply involved in a lot of organizations, the PTAs and that sort of stuff. I help her out with it because I work these ridiculously long hours. And people say I want to work with kids or I want to work with the elderly, or I want to work with people who are out of work. When you put on that label of criminal, or offender, suddenly there’s a lot of people who back away.
Eddie Ellis: Yeah, because I think that image, you know, once again, there’s like, there’s a lot of Bob’s, there’s also a lot of Billy’s too that drink and drive and kill people in the suburbs, but that stuff don’t be talked about as much as it happens in the city. And that’s the problem with me, that image. Because you could show, I lived in the suburbs and a lot of the same things happened when I lived in the suburbs in the city. So, but the image is different. And I think image plays a big role in making people back up.
Len Sipes: Well, so do I. And this is one of the reasons why we’re going to go to Bob. It’s going to be Bob’s turn. Because, Bob, you’re the person who everybody is talking about. The youthful offender. And I find it interesting and ironic because you’re sitting here as a person being supervised by my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and I’ve done the same thing you’ve done. Only nobody prosecuted me. They dealt with it in the school. But I not only was involved in a fight, I was involved in several fights. And, you know, it was, I had my own stupid phase. And I think a lot of us have our own stupid phase. So, Bob, who are you? Are you a person who went through a stupid phase? Or are you a person who , what are you? Who are you?
Bob: Me? I’m like, I’m a person that takes, like, back then I took a lot of chances. Like I wasn’t thinking for myself. But now, like, I could say now I changed because I took the time out for that. People helped me. As far as people like my PO, her supervisor and Mr. Ellis.
Len Sipes: And PO meaning Parole Officer.
Bob: Parole Officer.
Len Sipes: Okay, yeah.
Bob: Like me, I grew up in not a big household, but a small household, like a compact. And I never had like that male influence. And it affected me as I grew up. It affected me hot. I mean, instead of me like talking about it, I just took my anger out on other people.
Len Sipes: Where was your dad?
Bob: My father was locked up.
Len Sipes: Okay. And you grew up without the influence of your dad, that is so, that’s very typical of so many of the people, the offenders that I’ve talked to. Now Eddie would shake his head because he didn’t. But so many of the individuals that I’ve talked to, in fact the great majority, grew up without dad. So I think that that’s a difficult thing to overcome. So what happened? Did you start getting involved in stupid stuff at an early age? Or you didn’t do it at all? Tell me about it.
Bob: Like it was a certain point of time where as though I look at the streets as my second home ’cause I felt that like male influence was like love. And what this love and attention that I wasn’t getting at home, I was getting it from outside as far as money, clothes, girls , and I was, I never had to work for nothing because mostly all the people who I grew up look to my father, so they had so much respect for my father and they couldn’t give it to him, so they gave it to me.
Len Sipes: Yep. And so what we call the lifestyle, you’re part of it, it was seductive. It was easy. It got you lots of good things. And what I’ve been talking to individuals about crime and the criminal justice system for years, I tell them that, that it’s not a dumb decision in the minds of many of the individuals. Violence is seen as something that’s good. It keeps people away from you. It protects you. You know, there’s all sorts of benefits that people see as being involved in the criminal lifestyle. And so what you’re saying is that it sort of applied to you.
Bob: Yeah, like basically I’m saying like I was judged and brought up off my father’s image.
Len Sipes: Right.
Bob: Who was like a legacy to be continued.
Len Sipes: Right.
Bob: So basically now I’m just trying to change and I don’t want to be my father, I mean, I want to be my own man.
Len Sipes: But you saw the benefits of your father’s legacy in your mind. You saw that there was benefits.
Bob: Yeah.
Len Sipes: And a lot of people on the street see this lifestyle stuff as something that’s in their best interest, correct?
Bob: Yeah.
Len Sipes: All right. And that’s the thing that kills me, because Eddie and I have had this conversation. Lots of people and I have had this conversation. The overwhelming majority of the individuals I know who have dealt drugs, who have been involved in the lifestyle, at a certain point they ain’t got nothing. They don’t have a thing. They don’t have a car, they don’t have a house, they don’t have , it’s people are so often time without money they are either dead or they are shot or they are shot at. I mean, you know, there’s also that side of it that says, you know, there are extreme disadvantages, like going to prison for the rest of your life. Or going to prison for five years or going to prison for ten years. There are extreme disadvantages in terms of being caught up in the lifestyle. So talk to me about that dichotomy. On one hand you get involved in it because things look really good. Then on the other hand there’s the possibility of all these bad things.
Bob: A the time, like I didn’t have, I didn’t have to hustle, but at the time I wanted more for myself and as one to be like the man of the house. Like I couldn’t come home and look at another man with his foot up on my mother’s table when I know my father’s locked up.
Len Sipes: Yeah.
Bob: And I was telling, I always told my mother, when I used to be young and getting in trouble and all that, I used to tell my mother that I wasn’t going to be like my father. But she used to always tell me, well, you acting like him. You followin’ his footsteps. So nowadays it’s like I take more stuff for granted. Like I take my life for granted, but at the same time I love my life. I’d do anything to be out here. Back then I ain’t care. Like now I use like, looking now from back then, I used to have dreams like me getting killed and stuff like that. But now it’s all positive.
Len Sipes: Now, how many , I want to ask you two questions, the second question we’ll get to in a minute; what do you think allowed you to break from that? Was it religion? Was it a girlfriend? Was it your own sense of who you wanted to be in life? But my first question is how many of the guys who you hung out with , emulated, had the same life as you did? How many guys were involved in the lifestyle?
Bob: Mostly all of my friends was involved with the lifestyle.
Len Sipes: Yeah, that’s what I figured. What’s keeping you out of it, Bob? I mean, everybody right now is riveted to their radios, to their iPod players, to their computers. Here’s Bob. Bob’s from the street. Bob’s father went to prison. Bob’s friends were involved in the lifestyle. Bob’s making a conscious decision to do what’s best for Bob. What happened?
Bob: When I was in the streets I used to always get on my friends because like they was more talented than me. But at the same token I knew how to do so much things I was like , I was like real good at sports. I was real good at school. And all the people in my neighborhood used to be like, man, just stay in school, man. We don’t need you out here. And the same thing they used to tell me, I never took it into consideration, but I always told my friends to go to school. And then once me, it took me getting incarcerated and to come home to find out that all my friends either was dead or either locked up. And I just took it like, man, if you took someone , like, when I was locked up, my celly told me, if you took a 50 year old man who looked at the world as if he was 20, there’s only one thing that he forgot that he missed out on 30 years of his life. And I told him that that I wouldn’t let that be me. And I promised him that.
Len Sipes: Okay. So right now we have, what, 123,000 people on a monthly basis to come into view the radio and television programs. Most of the people are coming into the radio programs. And so you have right now tens of thousands of people who are listening to you and going, man, that is wonderful. That is just absolutely incredible. Why can’t we have all of them, the people who are caught up in the lifestyle, be like Bob? What’s the magic formula? What’s , how , we can have cleaner cities, we can have more jobs where our school systems would be a 1,000 percent better. The life of our urban areas would be so much better if everybody caught up in the lifestyle was you.
Bob: Nah, I wouldn’t say that ’cause the way I changed, like it took time. It ain’t change over night. I didn’t happen to wake up one morning and I was like, I’m going to do this, I’m going to get my life together. Nah, it took time. Like my parole officer said, I ain’t want to do this, but my best thinking got me here. So I got to let somebody else think for me till I’m able to think for myself.
Len Sipes: Yeah, but 19? You know how many people that I talked to at the microphones throughout the years who are doing really good. Who are 35, 42, you know, sitting there going, I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. You know, and I always said, why can’t we do this with the 17 year olds or the 16 year olds, the 19 year olds? What’s the magic formula to reach the Bob’s of the world. You know? There’s a certain point where people just get sick and tired of all the heroin, they get sick and tired of all the crack, they get sick and tired of not being employed, they get sick and tired of going to jail. They’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. But that’s like 35, 37, 42. You’re 19. How did you come to this conclusion that it takes other people decades to come to?
Bob: Change. That’s all I can say. If nothing changes, nothing changed. So that’s the only way you can better yourself for the future is change.
Len Sipes: And there wasn’t anything that you could think of, because you said it was gradual change, and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but is there anything that you can think of that was, because different people come to me at 37 and said it was religion. Different people have come to me at 35 and said it was my mother. Different people have come to me and said it was my wife or my girlfriend or my kids. (Chuckle) You’re 19, man. You know? What , what ,
Bob: Like, if , like not for , like, you got to want to change. Can’t nobody make you change.
Len Sipes: Everybody says that, yeah.
Bob: You know, by making change you got to want to change for yourself.
Len Sipes: But what made you want to change it, man?
Bob: Me seeing all my friends leaving this world at a young age.
Len Sipes: And that’s so incredibly tragic.
Bob: And there have been plenty of times where I was just like, without my friends there’s no me. But now I’m , I got to think for myself. I got, it’s only me, I came into this world by myself.
Len Sipes: I just realized that this is going to be an every six month show. I want to know where Bob is. What Bob’s doing. I want to, this is a show that we’re going to continue to do. Lavonia, we’re going to go back to you. Bob just , very few times people that I interview put shivers down my spine. Bob just did it. Even Eddie, I mean, Eddie and I would sit here and have our disagreements at these microphones, but Eddie is – how old are you, Eddie? Thirty what?
Eddie Ellis: Thirty-three.
Len Sipes: Okay. Bob’s 19.
Lavonia Douglas: Yes.
Len Sipes: Is this inspiring or what?
Lavonia Douglas: (Laughs). It definitely is!
Len Sipes: How did you reach Bob?
Lavonia Douglas: (Laughs). Well, you know, I’m going to say I had case of pride in Bob. And I’ve bent over backwards. He was 17 years old, kind of a similar situation, and I did everything I could possibly think of. I put him in all the programs he’s supposed to have.
Len Sipes: Like what programs? Tell me about the programs.
Lavonia Douglas: We have Halfway Back. We tried to get him in the VOTE program.
Len Sipes: Okay. Halfway Back is when you ,
Lavonia Douglas: Halfway Back is more of a sanction based program.
Len Sipes: Right. When you’re messing up and it’s like if you don’t straighten your butt out we’re going to put you in prison.
Lavonia Douglas: Right.
Len Sipes: So the Halfway Back program of counseling and intervention.
Lavonia Douglas: Exactly. Drug treatment.
Len Sipes: Drug treatment and VOTE is vocational and educational opportunities.
Lavonia Douglas: Right. To help you get your GED, a job, different things like that. And then with him, he had a whole lot of , he was 17 but he was on a seventh grade education level. So trying to get him the different services that he was supposed to be provided couldn’t reach him. And so, you know, I worked with him for almost a year and a half and we went back and forth to court about four or five times. And the fifth time the judge was like, we’ve done all we can do, there’s nothing else, so they stepped him back. About a week later (chuckle), I get Bob.
Len Sipes: Yes?
Lavonia Douglas: And I was just like, oh, Lord, again. So I really felt like this was my second chance to really, okay, now I know the mistakes I made with the previous one, let me see what I can do to help Bob. And so I just went full force with, you know, trying to get him back into the school and talking to his parents and his counselors. You really have to get involved with everybody that’s involved with the individual person.
Len Sipes: Yeah.
Lavonia Douglas: So everybody that Bob knew I wanted to know. His godmother, where he was staying, the people that he was staying with. We , he came to the office and we met him, I hooked him up with Eddie because we knew they had some similarities and we thought that Bob really needed a mentor, somebody he could look up to because his father was in prison. So we had to, we brought in like so many different people and we had to meet with so many different people and, you know, we tried, some of those services for Bob. We did have to back up Bob too because really there was nothing else that CSOSA provided for the youth offenders. And knowing that we can’t necessarily supervise like the offenders, the programs are geared towards adults as well. So even though he’s successfully completed Halfway Back, you know, we got him in a school when he was in Halfway Back, they monitored that. You know, it was the best that we could do at the time. So now seeing that we needed more programs, my team has come up with the program, it’s called the EYES(?) program that specifically deals with this age group.
Len Sipes: What is it?
Lavonia Douglas: It’s a five week program. We have different sessions. We have sessions twice a week for about an hour, two hours, we talk about different things like the police. We talk about family, we talk about children, we talk about girlfriend, we talk about goals. We talk about if they want to get their GED, the steps that they need to take. Job training. We hook them up at the end of the program with a program that has job training and different things. So they have the wraparound services that they have all the services at the end because we know that necessarily sending them to a program or just going down the street with these youthful offenders is not going to work. We need something different than just the regular you tested positively, I’m going to verbally reprimand you.
Len Sipes: I totally agree that the usual sanctions process is not going to work with the youthful offenders. I keep saying that the younger folks have a way running on, you know, six out of eight cylinders and people, it shows you how old I am, what do you mean eight cylinders? Whose got eight cylinders nowadays? Okay, four out of six cylinders.
Lavonia Douglas: (Laughs).
Len Sipes: You know, they just don’t run on all cylinders.
Lavonia Douglas: Yes.
Len Sipes: And I mean even my own kids don’t run on all cylinders. I’m amazed that there’s just something about younger individuals. And where my kids can screw up and they’ve got dad to pull them out or dad to push them back in just to prove a point, so many individuals like Bob don’t have that person to rescue them. Don’t have that person to help him. So then it becomes an issue of this. If we had, and this is a question that I ask Eddie all the time, and Eddie can get to it when it’s his turn. If we had all the resources that were necessary, how many Bobs can we reach? Because the public is saying, you know, Leonard, you know, give me a break. We have crippled individuals, elderly people and people out of jobs and people who are hungry. How many people do I have to care about and invest in?
Lavonia Douglas: All of them.
Len Sipes: And you’re going to ask me to invest time in Bob?
Lavonia Douglas: Yes.
Len Sipes: (Laughs).
Lavonia Douglas: Every last one of them.
Len Sipes: Okay, fine. So what do we tell the public then will happen if that time is invested in Bob? Do we have less crime? Do we have fewer people involved in the criminal justice system. If we have Bob with comprehensive services, will there be more Bobs in high school coming to the conclusion that Bob came to? Or is it just going to be a waste of money and time?
Lavonia Douglas: It may. And it may not. Bob is very intelligent. He comes up with – when he talks, we’re like, wow. You know, that was good for somebody that’s 19 years old. He made the decision that he wants to change. Now you may get a 17, 16, 18 year old that gets all these services, that has a mentor, you have a PO that really cares, and the person has not made up their mind that they want to change, that doesn’t mean that you didn’t succeed because maybe in two or three years they’ll realize, oh, all that stuff that they were trying to do for me back then, it made a difference. I realize what they were trying to do now. And now I’m going to change, which means I’m not committing crimes for 20 years, I’ve only committed crimes for two years. Even though you didn’t see that immediate change like we did in Bob, but down the line you’ll see, there will be that change. So you can’t say that because I didn’t see a change, like with the guy that got back when I supervised, I did a lot with him. Just because he got revoked didn’t mean that I wasn’t successful in trying to work with him. And maybe in five years when he gets out he’ll think back to everything that we did and he’ll be successful and won’t be in the ,
Len Sipes: All right, so you’re saying you’re setting the table, you’re seeing the seeds for an eventual change?
Lavonia Douglas: Exactly.
Len Sipes: Wow, that’s asking a lot from the public.
Lavonia Douglas: Well, that’s why we have to help the people. That’s why we’re here, right?
Len Sipes: When I say that you look away in disgust, what is the reality of what it is that I’m dealing with here? What is – I mean, you know, what is my reality? What is our reality in the criminal justice system? Rather than what could be or what should be, what are we dealing with that’s real?
Bob: People are going to make bad choices, but at the same time you talk about the public, the public, the public. There’s $700 billion dollars they just cleared ,
Len Sipes: They’re the ones who fund us. They’re the ones who give us the money to do what we do.
Bob: But everybody wants them to pass that $700 billion dollars they just passed.
Len Sipes: Well.
Bob: And that could help the elderly, the crippled and ex-offenders if you ask me.
Len Sipes: All I’m saying is that the public are the people who pretty much decide in terms of through their politicians what it is that we’re going to end up with in terms of resources.
Bob: I understand that.
Len Sipes: And to convince the public that what we do is worthy enough for their consideration, we got to talk to people like you, we got to talk to the Bob’s of the world. We’ve got to talk to the Lavonia’s. And we got to be able to be able to say that your money is well invested.
Bob: I understand that, but all the public don’t believe their money invested in the Iraq War. But they doing it.
Len Sipes: Yeah, but they got the money. We don’t.
Bob: But the public. Everybody don’t agree with it. A lot of people tax money’s is being put into that war that don’t agree with that. But what I’m saying is this ,
Len Sipes: I’m not going to argue the war. I’m simply saying that they have the money to do what it is that they need to do, we don’t.
Bob: That’s what I’m saying. But if you want these people to do right, we need to have programs and people that help these people. Other than that I don’t think you deserve, you know, to be able to complain if you don’t want these people to get any help.
Len Sipes:Okay.
Bob: That’s my opinion. I’m the public too. So I want to be helped.
Len Sipes: No, it’s not that I disagree with you. It’s just we all got to deal with the reality of competing for dollars.
Bob: That’s true.
Len Sipes: And we’ve all got to be able to say to the public, you do this, you get that. And I think, here’s my opinion, and I’ve been in the system for 40 years and you’ve been in the system for a long time on the opposite end of the continuum. I’m going to put, here’s my opinion for whatever it’s worth, I think that the Bob’s of the world will increase dramatically. I think crime will go down. I think our cities will improve. Our metropolitan areas will improve if we bring more programs to the table. How much will it improve? I think that if you take a look at research, it could go 20 to 30 percent reduction. Now, 20 to 30 percent reduction, considering how much they’re involved in, how many crimes that they’re involved in, what they cost us, how much it costs to incarcerate them, how much it costs to track them down and prosecute them, we’re talking about literally billions of dollars throughout this country saved by a 20 to 30 percent reduction.
Bob: And that would be good. But the people in the public need to understand this. And these negative images that’s being put out here by people that’s coming home, it’s not helping at all. So if we could show the Bob’s of the world to the public in certain forms and fashion, it will allow people to see that people are doing right. They’re money not being spent on just nothing.
Len Sipes: Right.
Bob: But when they don’t know that, of course they don’t think negative about people that’s coming home from prison, because the only thing they see is negative images from the public.
Len Sipes: Right.
Bob: So the positive stuff is not being seen. So I see why a lot of them feel that way.
Len Sipes: Right. That’s why we’re here.
Bob: Right. So we need to explain where their money is being spent the right way.
Len Sipes: And that’s why we’re here to have a very honest discussion.
Bob: Yeah.
Len Sipes: I mean we’re not here to convince people to give money.
Bob: No.
Len Sipes: That’s not our job. In government, I mean, that may be your job, but if Bob can say that, if government, I got to cut it straight down the middle. And I think I am cutting it straight down the middle. I’m taking a look at hard research that basically says that you could reduce people being involved in the criminal justice system by 20 to 30 percent. That 20 to 30 percent may not be overwhelming to some people, but you’re talking about literally hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars, in savings. We’re talking about, you know, tens of thousands of people not being victimized by a crime. And we’re talking about a much better system and more money available to do the different things we want to do with the elderly and with kids and with youthful offenders. So I think it’s a payoff for everybody. And that’s essentially what the research has to say. It’s not so much opinion, but the research has to say that you will save money and you will lower rates of recidivism if, this is nationa research now, if you invest in people like Bob. I simply think that, as you said, the public needs to hear it from the Bob’s and the Eddie Ellis’s and the Lavonia Douglas’s, the people who work with them, that it is possible to have change.
Bob: I agree. I totally agree. And I just hope that the image can start changing in certain ways to allow people to see that, you know, your money is being spent the right way. But they also need to understand that the government are locking people who up have drug problems and it costs more to incarcerate them then it is to put them in drug programs. So that’s also another problem where a lot of unnecessary money is being spent. So, you know, you got to get the money to get these people some help. If you don’t you’re going to continue to have a lot of the same problems.
Len Sipes: Your relationship with Bob. So , one of the things that bugged me deeply when I was involved directly with trying to help young individuals was when they screwed up. Was when they relapsed. Was when they were on the verge of throwing their life away. If Bob reaches that point, what do you say to Bob?
Eddie Ellis: I’m not looking for him to reach that point. But my thing is he need to know that he can still stand up and move forward. It’s not over. You know? And the problem is when people do make some bad choices, people come down on them so hard and make them feel like they can’t recover. We need to let him know and whoever else that you can recover from bad choices. You know? And that’s the thing that needs to be pushed. You can overcome. But I’m not looking forward to him to see him digress so. I mean, regress.
Len Sipes: Neither am I and I’m not suggesting he will, but I’m simply, both of us understand that that is a possibility.
Eddie Ellis: Yeah, it is a possibility.
Len Sipes: And I’m not saying Bob’s going to fail, I’m simply saying what tactics would you put in place to make sure that he doesn’t fail if Bob’s on the edge?
Eddie Ellis: Well, just stay on top of Bob. Don’t be hard on him. Make sure, let him know that he got people that he can talk to. There’s places he can go to receive anything he needs to receive. And that’s it. I don’t think you need to be hard on him, put your foot on his neck. But, you know, just be there and support him, encourage him and let him know it’s a better time.
Len Sipes: Lavonia, we’ve gone way beyond the 30 minutes we usually do for this program and to the listeners, I apologize, but I think that this conversation has been so interesting that I decided not to split it into two shows and just keep it as one show. I know it’s a lot longer than what you’re used to and I apologize for that. But I think you’re going to agree with me that this is really interesting. Lavonia Douglas, final comments?
Lavonia Douglas: Just for all the people out there in the world, the Bob’s in the world are not bad people. They are people just like we are. Everyone in the world makes bad decisions. Like you said earlier you got, you didn’t get call ,
Len Sipes: No, I got the call, I just didn’t go to them.
Lavonia Douglas: Right. You were a citizen placed on probation, but Bob did. And so he did make bad choices. And we have to wrap our, the services that we do have, we have to care about these people. We have to care about keeping them on supervision, the younger guys who come in with their macho attitudes, getting smart with you. You have to let them. And then once they finish then you get into the issues that they have and start talking to them about the issues about their parents, about school, about what they want to do. Because they want to get it out, they want, you know, to say what they want to say, but we have to, as a community, as citizens, as whoever, we have to care about these people who are on supervision.
Len Sipes: I found, by the way, that the toughest guys on the street that I dealt with were the most insecure. The guys with the muscle shirts and the hair and the cigarette and the attitude.
Lavonia Douglas: Because they have to look good on the outside.
Len Sipes: And that projection of violence, you know, these were the most insecure people out there.
Lavonia Douglas: Very true. That’s very true. They want to appear, it’s the appearance that they want to give off like this is who I am. But on the inside it’s completely different. So let them get that off, they want it, go ahead, you can have it. And when you’re finished talking in the next ten minutes we’re going to get into the issues that you have.
Len Sipes: That’s what I always, when you’re done, come talk to me.
Lavonia Douglas: Yeah, let them do it. ‘Cause if you cut them off they’re going to feel like you’ve cut them off ,
Len Sipes: Then you get disrespected and the whole ,
Lavonia Douglas: Yeah, right. Do your thing.
Len Sipes: That’s what I do. I say, are you done?
Lavonia Douglas: Yeah.
Len Sipes: Okay, you ready to talk now?
Lavonia Douglas: (Laughs). Exactly.
Len Sipes: Yeah, I’m afraid of you, man. Okay. That’s cool. Okay, can we talk now?
Lavonia Douglas: Exactly. That’s what Bob did.
Len Sipes: Is that what Bob did?
Lavonia Douglas: That’s what Bob did.
Len Sipes: Bob objected. He was hard.
Lavonia Douglas: He was hard.
Len Sipes: He was hard. Bob, you’re the last person up at the microphone you’re going to have the final word. I am now invested in you. I want you back. I want all three of you back by these microphones, I want to look you up and check you out every six months or so to find out what’s going on in your life. Do you have any final words?
Bob: No, not really. I just want to thank my , parole officer and her supervisor and Mr. Ellis for taking this time of their busy schedule to come bring me down here.
Len Sipes: Just think about it for next time because I want to check in on you on a regular basis. The story that you told, I’ll say it again, is inspiring to those of us who have been in the criminal justice system for a long time who have tried to, who have had a career of trying to assist you guys. And to try to do something else with you and who felt, quite frankly, that it’s all been a personal tragedy to see so many of you crawl up in the criminal justice system. So I think you give a piece of hope to an awful lot of people who are listening to this program, not just in this country but from around the world. Any other thing you want to add?
Bob: No, I just want to let the people know that’s out there that it’s like, that like got criminal charges pending or whatever, I just want to say it’s never too late to change, man. Always think about whatever you got, is it the worst consequence? Make the best out of it because it’s there for a reason. You got to make the best.
Len Sipes: You’ve got the final word, Bob. And ladies and gentlemen, our guests today have been Lavonia Douglas, the Community Supervision Officer with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. Eddie Ellis who has been to this microphones more than the Pope and we really appreciate Eddie’s insights and Eddie’s honesty. And we have Bob. A youthful offender, 19 years old, not his real name, who is under our supervision and you’ve heard from Bob today. And hopefully you were inspired as I was by Bob’s comments. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public safety. I’m your host Len Sipes. Please we need your comments. We respond individually to all of your comments. So you can reach us at Thanks. And have yourself a great day.

– Audio Ends –

The show is hosted by Leonard Sipes. The producer is Timothy Barnes.

Meta terms: crime, criminals, criminal justice, parole, probation, prison, drug treatment, reentry, sex offenders, domestic violence, anger management, corrections, high-risk offenders, GPS, women offenders, DWI and youthful offenders.

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