By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
After the initial report on an arrest is filed, Avila explains, there is no standard protocol regarding communication between the police and the D.A. Whether by design or chance, this lack of a prescribed method functions as a clumsy roadblock - one of many thrown up throughout the legal process to prevent criminals from getting back onto the street. But its very lack of precision inevitably means that innocent people - especially those short on savvy, connections and cash - stay locked up too.
For weeks, Avila's report on Ricky's innocence sat unheeded in a file at Newton Station - just a few blocks from the Tovar home. Ricky sat in jail. And his family continued to fight for his release, alone and unaware.
Two days after the hearing, Salvador and Carolina went to visit their son - parents are the only visitors allowed at Eastlake, and then for just three hours a week, on Sunday afternoons.
They listened quietly as Ricky told them about life on the inside - about his tiny cell, his roommate whose parents never came to visit, and the guards who told him he was worthless trash. And he told them that one of his arresting officers beat him at Newton Station the night he was taken in. The officer, he said, had taken him up a narrow stairway, tightened his handcuffs all the way, raised his arms over his back and slammed his head into a series of doorways and walls. "You don't think you're such a badass now," Ricky recalled the officer saying.
Hearing Ricky's stories pitched them deeper into despair, but Salvador and Carolina put up a good front, comforting their son and assuring him that they were doing what they could to get him back home. Ricky, who had been worried about the effect of his arrest on his mom, started to cry. "They talked to me, and they told me everything that was going on out there, what they were doing," he says. "And I saw my mom, and she was, like, really strong. It took me by surprise that she was being stronger than me. There were tears running down my face. I was thinking about my little nephew. Everything."
As visiting time drew to a close, Ricky begged his parents to get him out.
Salvador left Eastlake that day filled with regret. "I felt that I should have got the whole family out," he says, "a long time ago." When Ricky was 2 years old, the Jensen potato-chip factory down the street where Salvador had worked for 40 years shut down. Though the Tovars had long been disturbed by the gunfire, the graffiti, the bad kids who ran wild with little or no parental control, this was the first time Salvador felt free to seriously consider moving his family away from South-Central.
But by then, Salvador's mother-in-law had settled into a house two doors down, and his wife's brothers and sisters had moved into three houses across the street. They believed they had created a sanctuary from the meanness around them. Salvador's son Robert says that at the time, he and his siblings were reluctant to move away - they were the most popular kids in the neighborhood, in part because for years they had been the source of a limitless supply of free chips and pretzels from their dad's factory. Salvador was outnumbered. "My wife said to me, 'This is our home. If we move we will be newcomers. Strangers.'" His voice tightens. "We had sunk roots in this place already. Everybody was raising their kids here. So we just figured that this was where we belong."
The years passed, and Salvador's health declined. Meanwhile, adolescence hit Ricky hard. In 10th grade he shaved his head, pierced his ears and seemed to lose interest in school, spending most of his class time drawing or daydreaming.
With Salvador weakened by his illnesses, his two older sons did their best to help bring Ricky back in line. They reviewed his homework, met with his teachers, bribed him with cash bonuses for good grades and gave him regular pep talks.
Steve Bachrach, who teaches both film and history at Jefferson High School and has had Ricky in classes three years in a row, also took an active role in helping turn him around. In his 10th-grade introductory film class, Bachrach remembers, Ricky goofed off a lot. "This was a class of kids who were expected to go nowhere, and that's what happened for the most part," he says. Of 28 students in that class, 25 have since dropped out. Ricky is one of just three who made it to senior year.
Bachrach saw that potential early on. "The students did a lot of group work," he says. "All the groups would fail because they had a hard time organizing. But Ricky's group would have these moments of brilliance, and after a while I realized it was because of him."
One day, Bachrach caught Ricky and another student tagging a desk. He made them stay after class and clean all the desks in the room. "At that point, Rick was really rebellious and didn't want to listen to anybody," Bachrach says. "As a teacher I was angling for that, keeping that door from slamming shut."