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
The next year, when Bachrach taught U.S. history, he saw Ricky take real pleasure in the class. "He would come to school with these great questions, and he told me his dad liked history and that he was talking with him about it and was reading history books too," Bachrach says, amazement evident in his voice. "It was one in a million that this kid had a dad who was doing this stuff."
About that time, Bachrach learned that the dean was planning to kick Ricky out of school for fighting. "These were problems from when Ricky was a tagger," Bachrach says. "He had stopped doing that, and the other kids were giving him a hard time about it." Bachrach and three other teachers went to talk to the dean. "Sometimes you have to fight for your kids," Bachrach says. "Not because you're noble, but because you want to teach smart people. When it's a kid you care about, who you've enjoyed teaching and want to teach in the future, you hate to see that kid leave."
Led by Bachrach, the teachers told the dean they would take responsibility for Ricky, that they thought part of his problem was that he was bored, and that they wanted to put him in honors classes. The dean grudgingly agreed.
But the trouble wasn't over. One afternoon just over a year ago, Ricky was coming out of school when some friends of his drove up in an unfamiliar car and offered him a ride. He hopped in. They had only gone a few blocks when a police car turned on its siren and began chasing them. It was then, Ricky later told his dad, that he learned the car was stolen. All the boys jumped out of the car and ran. But just as Ricky reached his house, the police cruiser drove up. Ricky had left his backpack in the car. The police took him to the station. He and the driver were the only boys who got caught, and Salvador was frantic. He went to Newton Station to plead with the detective on the case. He's a good boy, Salvador said. He's never done anything like this before. The detective was sympathetic. "He told Rick, 'Son, you got real close to the line on this one,'" Salvador recalls. "'Stay away from them. They are not your friends.'"
Shortly after that, Ricky seemed to turn the corner. He started spending more time with his family - especially his baby nephew - and devoting his weekends and evenings to schoolwork. When his grades came in, he had one C, in chemistry, and five A's. "We all felt like the dangerous time, the time when we could have lost Ricky, was over," Salvador says. "We all started to breathe a little easier."
In August, Ricky jumped into his senior year with enthusiasm. On top of his schoolwork, he took charge of a fund drive for the Early College Academy and started work on a documentary about a skateboarding friend - the day of his arrest he was getting ready to go on a four-day road trip with his film class to Telluride.
"We all saw the changes in Rick," says Bachrach. "It was incredible. This is a kid who would do any work you gave him and more. He would do what you need a college student to do."
In terms of his college chances, Ricky's arrest came at the worst possible time. His scores on the Stanford Achievement Test ranked him in the 60th percentile of college-bound kids nationwide. "At Jefferson that makes him a superstar," says Bachrach. "He was in a very elite group."
Each year, the freshman class at Jefferson High School starts with about 1,100 students. By graduation, that number plummets to around 400. Of those who graduate, only about 45 will make it to a four-year college. Of those who make it that far, just a few have what it takes to get into a top school like Brown, UCLA or Berkeley.
For those students, Bachrach says, the importance of the first semester of senior year can't be overemphasized. "These few months are huge. It's this window of high pressure and doubt. It's when every day in the classroom counts. That's when this spectacularly fucked-up thing happened to Rick. It may have cost him that edge that would have pushed him into one of those good schools."
While he was in jail, Ricky's best friend, Rosie Sanchez, wrote to tell him what was going on in the classes they shared: In A.P. English, they were reading Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In A.P. government, they were plowing through the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In Spanish, they were studying Gabriel Garcia Marquez. His math class was taking on quadratic equations. Outside class, student trips, fund-raising drives and nights at the movies went on without him. "He missed a lot," Rosie says. "He missed a whole lot."
Meanwhile, Ricky was struggling with life behind bars. He recognized a couple of the other inmates from the streets, but had no interest in associating with them. He spent most of his time alone. "I just kept to myself, kept quiet," he says. "I just wanted to get out of there." He read the novels his parents brought him, by Garcia Marquez, Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald. When he finished those, he read instructional pamphlets supplied by the juvenile hall. When those were gone, he read the religious materials passed out after the weekly church services. Then he started counting the tiles that lined the floor of his cell.