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Our PBS Documentaries

> Across The River

 

Across the River: Former Offenders: Breaking the Cycle of Violence
Transcript For Segment 1

NARRATOR: IT'S AN AREA WITH MORE GREENERY AND PARKLANDS THAN MOST OTHER PARTS OF THE NATION'S CAPITAL... MORE CHURCHES AND MORE HOUSES OF WORSHIP PER SQUARE BLOCK...FILLED ONE SUNDAY AFTER ANOTHER... AND PROUD TRADITIONS OF LOCAL LEADERSHIP AND CIVIC ACTIVISM. YET WHEN TOUR BUSSES CRUISE WASHINGTON, THE LANDMARKS, NATURAL BEAUTIES, SCENIC VISTAS AND LIVELY STREET FESTIVALS OF THE AREA ACROSS THE ANACOSTIA RIVER ARE SELDOM SEEN. EARLY TOWN FATHERS SAW THE ANACOSTIA AS A PATHWAY TO ECONOMIC EXPANSION. INSTEAD, THE RIVER HAS BECOME A BARRIER THAT DIVIDES THE PEOPLE EAST OF THE RIVER FROM DOWNTOWN.

IT BECAME A BELEAGUERED PLACE...WITH VAST ACRES OF PUBLIC HOUSING...AND OFTEN A DUMPING GROUND FOR OTHER PEOPLE'S TRASH.

STANDUP: HELLO, I'M HEDRICK SMITH... IN EVERY MAJOR AMERICAN CITY, THERE'S A PLACE ACROSS THE TRACKS, ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HIGHWAY...IN WASHINGTON, ACROSS THE ANACOSTIA RIVER FROM THE FEDERAL CITY...AN AREA TREATED AS A NEGLECTED STEP-CHILD. AS WITH THE SOUTH BRONX OR SOUTH CENTRAL LOS ANGELES, WHAT MOST OF US KNOW ABOUT SUCH PLACES AS ANACOSTIA AND MARSHALL HEIGHTS IS THE CRIME AND THE VIOLENCE. THOSE ARE THE SHALLOW STEREOTYPES WE ARE FED ON THE TEN O'CLOCK NEWS. BUT WE'RE MISSING THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE STORY. FOR AMIDST THIS CITY'S...OR ANY CITY'S...MOST TROUBLED AREAS, THERE IS FAR MORE VITALITY AND INITIATIVE, PRODUCTIVE INITIATIVE, THAN WE IMAGINE...AUTHENTIC LOCAL HEROES WHOSE DRIVE TO REVITALIZE THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS IS AN INSPIRATION. IN THE NEXT HOUR, WE WILL SHOW YOU THAT OTHER FACE OF THE WORLD...ACROSS THE RIVER.

LAWERENCY'S MOM: "I'm proud today...I'm grateful to God... Because Lawerency is a victim of being shot ten times. He didn't have to be here. So he's like a miracle child."

NARRATOR: WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT IS SECOND CHANCES.

R. RUSH: "We all believe in some power greater than ourselves. We all believe in God, and so we have a sort of a basic Christian base."

NARRATOR: IT'S ABOUT SPIRITUALITY AND COMMITMENT.

T. PARKER: "We were more than just talking the talk. We were walking the walk."

NARRATOR: IT'S ABOUT LEARNING FROM FAILURE AND PASSING THAT LEARNING ON TO OTHERS.

P. JACKSON: "God placed me there, and I'm there to give the guys hope. They know me. I've done time with them, and they've seen my life change." (against the backdrop of the guard tower and barbed wire fencing of Lorton Penitentiary, armed guards visible)

STANDUP: HOPE IS NOT SOMETHING WE NORMALLY ASSOCIATE WITH PENAL INSTITUTIONS. BUT HOPE IS WHAT ONE REMARKABLE GROUP IS BRINGING TO SOME OF THE INMATES AND THEIR FAMILIES AT THIS PRISON IN LORTON, VIRGINIA. THEY CALL THEMSELVES THE ALLIANCE OF CONCERNED MEN. DEDICATED AND STREET-WISE, THEY HAVE AN INNOVATIVE STRATEGY FOR COMBATTING CRIME AND VIOLENCE IN THE INNER CITY. THEIR BRIDGING PROGRAM, CONNECTING INMATES AND THEIR FAMILIES, IS A HANDS-ON ATTEMPT TO BREAK THE CYCLE OF YOUNG MEN FOLLOWING THEIR FATHERS, THEIR UNCLES, THEIR OLD BROTHERS INTO PRISON IN A MISGUIDED SYMBOL OF MANHOOD. THE CONCERNED MEN TEACH INMATES TO ACCEPT PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY EVEN WHILE THEY'RE BEHIND BARS, THEN THEY USE THE FATHER'S LOVE TO HELP STEER THE YOUNG MEN AWAY FROM TROUBLE IN THE STREETS.

PARKER: "..one of the fastest ways to get a child's attention is to say, 'Boy, I know your daddy.' ...then there's a good chance that the kid will hear you."

NARRATOR: TYRONE PARKER AND FIVE CLOSE FRIENDS...RICO RUSH, MAC ALSOBROOKS, GIRARD ALLSTON, ERIC JOHNSON AND PETE JACKSON ARE ON A MISSION TO STOP THE VIOLENCE AND DEATH IN THEIR COMMUNITY.

E.JOHNSON: "Say no more. No more death. We had to change the way the kids were thinking and perceiving themselves."

BROOKS: "And we want to make them understand that carrying a gun, selling dope, taking their mother's VCR, having old people in the communities afraid to come out, is not being a man."

NARRATOR: WITH FRIENDSHIPS DATING BACK TO HIGH SCHOOL, THEY FORGED NEW BONDS RECOVERING FROM COMMON BRUSHES WITH DRUGS AND THE LAW....BONDS THAT BROUGHT A NEW PURPOSE.

T. PARKER: "But by some act of God, the element of faith brought us all back around to the cycle of commitment."

RUSH: "I think there's a lot of spirituality with us. We, uh, enjoy...to see a kid's face, you know, sparkle, or a man in a penitentiary hug his son. It's something that's gratifying."

NARRATOR: THE CONCERNED MEN OFTEN GO TO GREAT LENGTHS AND TAKE PERSONAL RISKS TO BRING CHILDREN TO THEIR FATHERS...BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE THAT ONE GOOD WAY TO STOP VIOLENCE IS TO RECONNECT PRISON INMATES WITH THEIR FAMILIES.

T. PARKER: "How you been? Are you ready to go see your Daddy? Okay."

NARRATOR: TYRONE WAITS AS SHAVON MCILWAIN GETS HER SON, JEFFERY SLEDGE JR., AND HIS BROTHERS READY TO VISIT HIS FATHER IN LORTON PENITENTIARY. (scenes of car driving off, approaching Lorton Penitentiary, then prisoners greeting families and then in a circle, saying prayers)

INMATES: "So give us the strength to nurture, to nourish them properly and watch them grow. Amen."INMATE 1: "Little Charlie and Darnell are my boys, and that's not hard to tell. Presently I can't do much for them, but thank God I'm in touch with their other Father who could do anything but fail."

INMATE 2: "I love and miss you very much because had it not been for you, I would have lost touch - with reality and all the things important to me. But I was rescued by a little girl who calls me daddy."

GIBBONS: "Every time you take part in a program with the Concerned Men...

NARRATOR: PRISON WARDEN VINCENT GIBBONS HAS WATCHED THE GROWING INFLUENCE OF THE GROUP'S WEEKLY TRAINING SESSIONS WITH INMATES.

H.SMITH: "Do you see some positive results from this program?

V. GIBBONS: "Oh, I think so, definitely. ...'cause what this program teaches them over and over and over again is that their failures, their problems that contribute to their criminality are going to ...cause their children to perhaps come this way."

J.SLEDGE SR: "I had to tell the mother I need to see him more."

H. SMITH: "And what are you going to tell him?"

J.SLEDGE SR: "To go to school or whatever, right. And don't follow the road that I followed, as far as coming from being incarcerated, as far as hanging out on the street corners, getting caught up with crack."

NARRATOR: TYRONE PARKER RELATES PERSONALLY TO JEFFREY SLEDGE'S PREDICAMENT - NOT BEING THERE FOR HIS SON.

T. PARKER: "I was locked up. That's the reason why I let Rodney down."

NARRATOR: RIGHT OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL TYRONE PARKER WAS ARRESTED AND SENT TO JAIL FOR ARMED ROBBERY OF A BANK. RELEASED AFTER SEVEN YEARS, HE BEGAN TO BUILD A NEW LIFE.

PARKER: "Sometimes after a man's been knocked down and down and down, he don't know how to get up, and Rev comes along with his teaching to teach in person that you have substance, that you can get up and make a difference. I'm a perfect product of the church. Right now, Tyrone is a family man. I own businesses. And plus now I'm working with kids in a direct form."

NARRATOR: THE TRANSFORMATION IN TYRONE PARKER'S LIFE - AND THOSE OF THE OTHER CONCERNED MEN - IS A MODEL FOR THE YOUTH WITH WHOM THEY WORK. TYRONE WORKS WITH A PASSION THAT SPRINGS FROM PERSONAL PAIN.

T. PARKER: "Deep embedded pain."

NARRATOR: A THREE A.M. PHONE CALL FROM HIS DAUGHTER INFORMED TYRONE THAT HIS SON RODNEY HAD BEEN SHOT.

PARKER: " He was dead. One shot had killed my boy. One shot had taken him away from me."

NARRATOR: OTHER CONCERNED MEN KNOW THAT SENSELESS VIOLENCE ALL TOO WELL.

ALLSTON: "I was a victim of gunshot. I was shot... I had a brother who got shot viciously, and it was the wrong guy... He happened to be in the wrong spot."

NARRATOR: NOW THAT SAME CANCEROUS CROSSFIRE RAKES LAWRENCEY BOONE AND HIS GENERATION.

L.BOONE: "I didn't have any place being there and I was caught in the gunfire in-between two rivalry ...you know, rivalry gangs."

E. JOHNSON: "Lawerency Boone is an individual that we could really say was a hard case. Lawrency had his own way of thinking."

J. BOONE: "He's gets along with people fine. I mean he has a charm that's warm and loving. ...Lawerency likes things. So really his involvement with drugs was his love for things."

NARRATOR: HIS MOTHER SAW HIM GET SUCKED INTO DRUG HUSTLING.

J.BOONE: "He likes big cars. So being that he had that addiction to things, then the way to ascertain or acquire those things was to go out into the street and obtain that fast money."

L. BOONE: "I was making like $1,500 a day...on the streets. And at work you make like $200 every two weeks, you know. And I couldn't cope with that."

J.BOONE: "He had a charge pending with possession with intent to distribute. So then he went up to Adero House for a six months residential treatment care....So he didn't graduate last year."

E.JOHNSON: "Lawerency's hard-headed. He's like your average 17-, 18-year-old. You know, he's going to try to con you."

L.BOONE: "I would listen to what they say, but I always thought I had the answers."

NARRATOR: TO RESCUE TEENAGERS LIKE LAWERENCY BOONE, THE CONCERNED MEN MEET WEEKLY WITH OFFENDERS BEING HELD, AS LAWERENCY WAS, IN JUVENILE HALFWAY CENTERS.

ALSOBROOKS: "As Tyrone has said, 'We walked the wrong path.' And it's almost like giving a guy a road map. Once he's read that road map a couple of times, it's easy to tell the next guy how to come over."

NARRATOR: ONE GOAL..TO CRACK THE COCKY IMAGE THESE STREET KIDS PROJECT...BRAVADO THAT OFTEN TRIGGERS VIOLENCE.

G. ALSTON: "How many y'all got partners that got smoked, from livin' the lifestyle? Y'all know somebody who got killed? Whole bunch of partners?"

ALSOBROOKS: "You weren't taught that when a man approaches a man, he looks him in the eye. So when a man look you in the eye, you take it as saying, 'I got to intimidate this sucker.' You show him, I'm not going for this."

NARRATOR: COMING FROM THE CONCERNED MEN, THIS MESSAGE TO GIVE UP MACHO POSTURING FALLS ON MORE RECEPTIVE EARS. THEY'VE ALREADY BEEN WHERE MOST OF THESE YOUNG OFFENDERS ARE HEADED.

T.PARKER: "... we've been through what they've been through. We've been locked up, we've been on drugs - the whole nine yards."

H. SMITH: "Tyrone, how do you get to the young people?"

T.PARKER: "First of all, you got to attempt to establish some type of relationship with them...and the way you establish a bond is by going out, and talking to the kids, reaching for them, hugging them, showing the kids we are not afraid of them...."

NARRATOR: WITH TEENAGERS LIKE LAWERENCY BOONE, ONE HUG DOESN'T DO IT. THE CONCERNED MEN HAVE TO COME BACK, TIME AFTER TIME.

L.BOONE: "My second time, coming back to them, when they saw me the next time, I had been shot 16 - no, I mean - 10 times."

E. JOHNSON "When I looked at him in the hospital, I just said to myself, 'I don't know if he will make it.' But I went back, and I went back, and I prayed."

L. BOONE: "They didn't give up on me. They was there for me."

E. JOHNSON: "Lawerency needs a lot of work. He is not the type of child that you can just leave out there, and say, 'Lawerency, you go on now.' You've got to check on Lawerency every once in awhile and see what he's doing."

J.BOONE: "they kept calling him to make sure that he's okay, make sure that he's still in school."

PARKER: "Now, are you gonna stay focussed?"NARRATOR: LAWERENCY'S MOTHER AND THE CONCERNED MEN SEE HIS FUTURE IN THE BALANCE. DESPITE HIS ARREST AND A YEAR'S DELAY IN GRADUATION, LAWERENCY HAS BEEN ACCEPTED BY FOUR COLLEGES. YET BRIGHT AS HE IS, HIS LIFE COULD GO EITHER WAY.

PARKER: "I hope you ain't jivin'.

J.BOONE: "He needs to be away so that he can have time for himself...But I'm looking for him to do great things - if he can just keep his head squared away."T. PARKER: "I'm proud of you."L.BOONE: "They are some good guys. They are devoted and committed. I really appreciate those guys."H.SMITH: "Can a small organization like this make a difference?"

E.JOHNSON: "We're already making a difference..." (Dissolve from group to shots of kids)

ALSOBROOKS: "A lot of times people like to mouth cliches - kids are the future of tomorrow. Kids are not the future of tomorrow unless someone puts their foot on the right path."