20/20: Rescuing Lives of Juvenile Cons

ByABC News
December 29, 2000, 6:19 PM

N E W  Y O R K,   Dec. 29 -- While the rest of the city sleeps, a group of boys embarks on one of the most critical journeys of their young lives. Theyve just been released from Rikers Island New Yorks notorious detention center and the nations largest jail given subway fare and sent on their way.

Of the approximately 5,000 boys sentenced to wear the beige uniforms at Rikers this year, an astonishing 70 percent will be back in prison within a year of their release.

Rikers is so full of teenagers, theres a high school inside called Island Academy. Many of the boys are fatherless; many have children of their own. Statistically, they are the next generation of career criminals.

These are children who believe inside that they are worth nothing, that they do not belong in this society, says Beth Navon, executive director of the Friends of Island Academy, which provides jobs, education and counseling to keep young felons from returning to jail. We have children who have crossed a certain line, she says. But it does not mean that you throw them away forever.

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Twice a week, Rich McClain comes to Rikers to address the inmates at their most vulnerable moment: just days before theyre released.

Yall brothers got to start using your head, he says to a group of soon-to-be-released prisoners. Realize that yall are doing the damage to yourself.

McClain grew up on the brutal, drug-infested streets in Brooklyn. As a teenager, he became a major drug boss, controlling a corner while operating out of a grocery store.

A gun possession conviction landed McClain in jail and twice sent him to Rikers Island. Once out, he took a bullet in his back during a gun battle and landed in the hospital where he flat-lined twice, nearly dying. Thats when he decided to turn his life around.

He found the Friends of Island Academy, where he met people who helped him believe that what he wanted to do could actually happen.