Two months ago, the local village officials brought Jerico to me. He had run away from our DAVID Boys program in 2007. An orphan, unwanted, unloved, rejected since birth, he proved to be hard and bitter, angry at the world. He had been transferred to us from another institution because of his age and his hard attitude.
Living in a nearby squatter village, he learned how to steal, how to smoke, and his anger deepened. I had heard reports of his thefts, of the trouble he caused around the neighbourhood, but I seldom saw him. He didn’t make any moves to come back to us.
Now, only 16, a minor, the officials had nowhere to put him. They begged us to have mercy and take him back. We did, but he slept in the garage with our guards and wasn’t allowed to be in the house unless I personally was watching him.
Somehow he got angry at me and in a moment of rage, when i wasn't looking, took my grocery money from my purse. He snuck out under the gate that night and spent my money on booze for his friends.
Having been robbed just one too many times, I was furious. I had to put a stop to this. Knowing he would fight with me, I sent Evan to take him to the police station. Send him to the youth jail. We have to help him understand consequences.
Evan called to tell me I had to go and explain the charges, that the police wanted me to be there.
I walked into the precinct (OTSO) and saw my two security guards, Sarmiento, and Sanchez. I knew Sanchez, we were friends. Sarmiento I knew too. My heartdropped as I saw him interrogating Jerico. His eyes were full of tears as he stared at the floor. He was terrified. I was too.
I knew this guy.I knew his style and attitude. I once suffered his wrath when defending a young man from his beatings. He banged the desk. Tell me what happened he demanded as he pulled out the heavy book of records. He slammed it on the table. I explained I had no choice. DSWD (Social Services ) wouldn’t take him. He wouldn’t behave or change or help himself. I had exhausted every effort. Sanchez interrupted. You have lots of boys, he said. You run that program over there. Are you sure you want to charge him and send him to youth jail?
We all knew the horror that awaited him at Molave, the youth jail. The beatings, the abused, the forced tattoos, the evil behind the bars, made it a piece of hell on earth. Crowded quarters, not enough food, and all kinds of hard, sick young men are locked away mostly because the system is so overrun, underfunded and understaffed. Most boys that go in on some petty crime, come out only to end up in adult prison within a few years.
My eyes filled with tears. What choice do I have asked. Sarmiento agreed., with a smile. He’s a black sheep. You can tell. There’s no hope for this one. We’ll send him to jail. Move, he ordered. Jerico sat like stone. He cursed. I said move. Get in the back room, he seethed.
Jerico wouldn’t move. I knew the baton would be next. Lord please help. I can’t bear this.
Why was he so stubborn? I stood up, bravely, between Sarmientoand Jerico. We will stay until he is transferred to the prison, I said. We will wait here with him. His eyes flaming, met mine. I touched his arm. Please be gentle, I pleaded. He turned and stomped away. Sanchez, now out of uniform, quietly promised to stay with me and watch Jerico. His eyes were soft.
I bent down and took Jerico’s face in my hands. I won’t leave. Nothing will happen. They won’t hurt you. Tears poured out of his eyes. I swallowed the lump in my throat.
They took him by the arms and he cried over and over, please don’t let them leave.
Out of the back room, the investigator came. Mrs. Graff, just let me have a few minutes with him. He held my eyes. Just a few minutes. I blinked my tears and said yes. Please talk to him.
We sat quietly in the heat waiting for the investigator to come out. Mrs. Graff, give him a chance, he said. He is weeping. I believe he is sorry. I was taken off guard. He asked me to follow him to the interrogation room and then left me with Jerico. I sat down beside him. Tears dripped down his chin as we sat huddled in the dirty cubicle at the back of the police station. I’m sorry, he whispered between sobs. I stood and left the room. Sanchez, the investigator, my security guards, and Sarmiento looked at me. Waiting. The decision was mine alone.
For years I have prayed for the officers of OTSO. For years I have asked God for favour with them. Why use this stubborn, rebellious, disobedient child? Why now?
Okay, I said. Sarmiento’s voice was strangely gentle. Young man, you must respect this lady. You must obey. You must change. You must. This is your chance. I stared in unbelief at the change in tone. I took Jericos hand and we left. Jericos body trembled.
We got back to GH and Jerico sat down in a chair. Tears fell down his cheeks as his body heaved with sobs. I put my arms around him and prayed. What just happened, I didn’t fully understand but I knew deep down in my heart, God was in control.