The Redemption of Crime Boy

Former criminal-in-training Percy Campbell reclaimed his life and now illuminates a better way to handle hard-core juvenile delinquency

As sunset falls, Wilson leans against a corral fence, gazing at the horizon and at a palomino mare prancing by. "She's the leader," he says. "She hasn't been ridden in a long time. I really want to ride that horse."

Before Percy Campbell graduated from Last Chance Ranch last July, the staff held a funeral for the name "Crime Boy," complete with a grave and wooden cross. "We buried his past, so that the stigma doesn't follow him anymore," Culverhouse says.

But the past isn't that easy to shake. Campbell is lonely and misses his family. He frequently talks by phone with his mother, who calls from prison. He stays in close touch with his younger brother Frederick in Fort Lauderdale, as well as his old girlfriend and his four-year-old daughter. "My family, I need them," he says. "I feel like a spirit walking the earth alone."

That worries his probation officer and his mentors, who fear that he might impulsively decide to go back to Fort Lauderdale and expose himself to the bad old influences. "I think he'd be better off not coming back here, because it's been a long time since he had anything negative in his life," says Roback, his former teacher. "But no one can tell him which way to go. You hope he'll make the right decision. He's been working too hard to go backwards."

A lot of people are keeping their fingers crossed, seeing him, perhaps unfairly, as a test of the juvenile rehabilitation model. If Campbell relapses into crime, critics almost certainly will cite his case as proof that punishment in adult prison is the only solution for serious juvenile offenders. Even Judge May, a staunch defender of keeping most kids in the juvenile system, is on the fence about the former Crime Boy's chances. "If he can keep himself out of trouble, he's an example of what can be done, given sufficient resources," she says. "If he can't, then he shows that you really can't fix things if they are bad enough."

Campbell insists that if he moves back to the old 'hood, he can make good decisions for himself and won't be pulled back into crime. He's annoyed with all the handwringing about his future. "It's the same thing as before, 'Will he do right or will he do wrong?' I feel torn between what I want and what everyone else expects, which is a 100 percent angel. I'm human, so you have to take 50 percent off."

Contact Harris Meyer at his e-mail address: Harris_Meyer@newtimesbpb.com

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