By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
THE VAST MAJORITY OF MEN IN THE Amity program are drawn from a tough Level 3 high-security prison population. Most have classic hard-luck convict tales and ugly buried memories; come from debilitating broken homes rife with physical brutality, alcoholism and drug addiction; and have been in and out of jails and prisons since their midteens.
"People always say that drug use is a choice," says Mark Schuettinger, "but when you hear the family histories of our guys through the generations, you can only think that they made the obvious choice." They are, according to Donovan's warden, John Ratelle, "some of the most incorrigible inmates in the correctional system and some of the hardest to work with."
"People think there's no hope for people like us," Charles Goshen later points out. Goshen is a huge, hard-eyed Amity counselor with an extraordinarily violent past who was one of the first prisoners to go through the program at Donovan. "They're concerned about trying to save the next generation. But how are you gonna do that when a majority of kids in places like South-Central, where people like Anthony Bell and I grew up, come from dysfunctional families? Where everybody they look up to has been locked up? Who helps the mom and dad trying to get well? You can't just push that aside and put the kids in foster homes. How do you think the kids will turn out? You can bring a professor or doctor or lawyer as a role model to talk to them, but for many kids growing up in the inner city, their lives are far-fetched. They can much more relate to someone like me or Anthony. I can see the damage that's been done to my kids and my brother's kids. I work with it every day. I'm totally -- directly -- responsible for not only my five kids but also seven of my brother's kids. One brother is dead, and the other has a life sentence in prison. What if Amity hadn't come along and said, hey, if you want it, we have some tools over here that can change your life? Then you'd have 12 kids who are not going to make it in society."
Ken Adams sits kitty-corner from Bell. He had been a "fine-dining chef" in San Diego County ("the speed capital of the world") before he started regularly using and dealing crystal meth about eight years ago. He loved the high, and he loved the dealing -- the power that "holding that big sack of meth" gave him among people desperately wanting to score. He was also making what he describes as "a good living," buying a pound of methamphetamine for $8,000 to $10,000, breaking it down and reselling it for about five times that amount.
The first occasion he did time at Donovan for dealing, he'd heard about the Amity program but thought it was a bunch of bullshit -- "the rat program," as it was called in the yard. Now, he tells the group, he intends to stay clean once he's paroled. "I've been offered drugs many times in the yard," he says. "They're smoking it, and I want to say, 'Man, give me a hit,' but I don't, because I want to hear my kids tell people, 'My daddy used to be a drug addict, but look at him now.' My wife's dead. I'm tired of prison, I've got to stay out of here."
In their quest to change their lives, the men in Adams' group have a slim but natural advantage: They are old enough that their days of committing multiple crimes are largely behind them. It's an advantage not shared by all in the Amity program. Standing outside the trailer as Veronica Sluss' group exits is a 26-year-old native San Diegan named Charles Crossley -- a hulking pale-brown man with French braids and a long, powerful chin. "This is my homey, Monte," says Crossley, nodding toward the shaved-headed Moore, whose youth and good looks glow through his ridiculously oversize prison blues. Crossley and Moore are different from Randy Journey, Ken Adams, Kerry Woods and Mark Dumas -- they're young, not sliding into middle age with the realization that it is time to change or die.
Crossley and Moore still have 20 years of crime, gangbanging and hurting people, 20 years of rolling in and out of jail, 20 years of using and dealing PCP, 20 years of wasted life ahead of them should they choose that path. Both have been not just active gang members but "known shooters" -- the guys who pull the triggers -- and occasional targets, too. ("You name them, I've used them," says Crossley of guns, "9mm, 10mm, 50 caliber, AK-47, Mac 11s, Tec-9s.")
Moore's mother was shot and killed in a retaliatory gang shooting aimed at him. Just one year out of his teens, he has spent eight or nine years incarcerated. Crossley is now doing his third term in prison. Each had been hardcore for a decade. And when Crossley returned to prison this last time, there was still "nothing better than having my homies talk about me in a hardcore kind of way."
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