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Jan. 4, 1995. 4715 Blagden Ave. NW. June 25, 1995. April 10, 1982. Jan. 16, 1995. 120 Anacostia Rd. SE, March 18, 1996. 2219 Paul St. 300 37th St. SE. 10:15 p.m. 1625 13th St. NW. No. 244415. Numbers—dates, addresses, and times—clog Andre Gray’s mind. They clutter the ceiling in his 8-by-10 jail cell, an endless list he cannot escape.
He remembers all the numbers as intimately as a Social Security number, as if they belonged to him.
In the last two years, the litany of numbers has become Gray’s most precious possession. He takes them out at night, embracing them the way a child does a favorite stuffed animal—more for security than out of simple love. In the morning, he squirrels them away in his pants pocket, peeps at them at the breakfast table, and again at lunch. Even when he’s had enough of the stories implicated by the numbers’ menacing whispers, he can’t put them away. And he can’t make them add up. No matter how many times he turns them over in his mind, they don’t tell him how his only son was swallowed by the streets while he sat miles away behind tons of brick, iron, and remorse.
The day after Christmas 1994, Andre Gray stretched his long legs, stirring from sleep around 5 in the morning. He pulled on his jeans and shirt and strolled across the expansive campus of the Maryland Correctional Training Center (MCTC) to the cafeteria for breakfast.
His day was his own—Maryland law prohibits prison officials from placing demands on inmates’ time. So he wrote letters, read, and took a class, studying for the GED. That day found him in the middle of an effort to turn his life around after decades of acting the fool. He wanted to make this his last trip to prison. Gray has been incarcerated four times in his brief 33 years; he’s seen the inside of jails and prisons in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.
On the same day, Gray’s namesake, Andre Anthony Bell, popped out of bed in the District. He was staying with his mother on 37th Street SE, although he usually spent his weekdays at the Columbia group home at 4715 Blagden Ave. NW, in the city’s middle-class Crestwood community. He came home to his Greenway neighborhood only on weekends and holidays. Tall and lean, Andre could easily have been mistaken for older than his 12 years, but his adolescent manners and habits betrayed him. At the breakfast table, he wolfed down a bowl of cereal, pausing to joke with his mother, Annette Bell. The day before—Christmas Day—he had been lavishly bathed in new clothing she’d purchased. Andre’s wish for a Nintendo game would have to wait until the after-Christmas sales, when items were more affordable.
Winter’s late arrival permitted mild temperatures to prevail, enticing many of the children out of school for the holidays into the streets. Andre wasn’t any different; he traveled aimlessly around the neighborhood before finally arriving at his aunt’s apartment in the Stoddert Terrace public housing complex at 120 Anacostia Rd. SE, just two blocks from his mother’s apartment.
Built in 1960, Stoddert was part of the city’s overall effort to exorcise unsightly and unhealthy alley dwellings, which served as home to many of the District’s poor and were a breeding ground for tuberculosis. The 200 garden-style, bronze-colored brick apartments sported a clean look when they were built, but by 1994—like a prostitute on the street too long—they had begun to fall apart. The wear of more than 150 households, with average annual incomes only slightly higher than $8,000, sent the complex into slow decay; doors hanging off hinges, locks long gone, and knee-high grass provided indisputable evidence that the city couldn’t manage its public housing.
Despite signs of ruin, Andre wore his neighborhood comfortably. He liked the hustle of activity at his aunt’s house; he lingered longer than he should have, and night skies found him still playing with cousins. Finally, around 10 p.m. his mother called, telling him to “get his butt on home.”
Bell can’t explain why she waited so long to check on her son or why he wasn’t given a specific time to call the day quits. Time was, city street lights served as children’s unofficial curfew monitor; when they came on, parents expected to see their children touching the inside of the front door. But a whole lot has changed over the past two decades. Perhaps Bell relied on the fact that Andre was with her sister; then again, a 14-year-old friend of Andre’s had been shot two days earlier in the same neighborhood. Bell stood at her window and watched for Andre to come into view.
Normally, when Andre left his aunt’s home he sprinted up the hilly side of 37th Street or he strolled a block east on Anacostia Road, then cut through an alley near the Stoneridge I apartment complex, past two huge blue trash cans where residents dumped just about anything. After he came out of the alley and turned right on 37th Street, he’d be within a few hundred feet of his apartment. But that night, Bell didn’t see her son as she peered from the window. Instead, she watched a young girl stop at one group of boys and apparently ask for directions. They pointed to the window where Bell stood peering into the night.
“She was asking people where Andre lived,” remembers Bell. “Then my cousin came speeding up in his car and told me Andre had been shot. He pulled me by the hand to make me hurry up. We went through the alley and down the one street. That’s when I saw him laying on the ground.”
Fifteen minutes after his mother’s call, Andre had stepped out of his aunt’s apartment and walked down the short flight of steps to the sidewalk, when a barrage of bullets pierced his body and head. Now Bell gazed at her child, sprawled helplessly on the black asphalt; it seemed like hundreds of bullets were scattered everywhere. A red stream flowed through the street.
“They wouldn’t let me go to him,” Bell says, listlessly retracing that day with cruel detail. “He had all this stuff on him.”
Thirty minutes after arriving in a speeding ambulance at the emergency entrance of D.C. General Hospital at 19th and Massachusetts Avenue SE, the boy who’d played with his mother as he slurped his morning cereal was pronounced dead.
“They never let me see him until after he died,” Bell says somberly.
Andre became the youngest homicide victim in the District for 1994. All told, 399 people were killed that year. The Washington Post reported that police found “spent cartridges from two different weapons” at the scene. The police also said there were stolen tires and hubcaps strewn about, and a dent puller, often used by car thieves, was found in the sleeve of Andre’s jacket.
Gray learned about his murder from prison authorities.
“I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe. You hear about that sort of thing on the news all the time. Not once did I think it would happen to him,” says Gray. “I’m a firm believer that when the Lord is ready for you, he’ll call. But I didn’t think that would happen to him. Besides, I wasn’t aware of nothing he was involved with that would warrant that kind of killing.
“I mean, you fall, hit your head, or something falls out the sky; lightning strikes and a tree falls on you. I mean, circumstances beyond your control, what can you say? Life goes on,” Gray continues. A look of bafflement crowds his face.
“But that sort of killing…” Gray’s voice trails off; his eyes close for a moment. The room falls silent.
Gray had never committed a cold-blooded murder. He grew up as a misdemeanor, and graduated to felony crime, but he never plain-old shot someone. He is typical of the kind of prisoner living in Maryland’s overcrowded correction system: 95 percent of the 21,299 inmates in state facilities last August were males; 78 percent of those were African-Americans. The average age was 32.1 years. And like most, inmate No. 244415 had been both perpetrator and victim of the drug epidemic that continues to sweep through parts of certain cities.
Gray landed in jail in Virginia in 1981 for attempted armed robbery. By 1988 he was out on parole. In 1990 he landed in Lorton. In 1992, he was picked up for a parole violation in the District. Then in 1994 he went to MCTC to serve out a 10-year sentence for unarmed robbery, reckless endangerment, and stealing over $300.
Like most prisons, MCTC is a place full of plots, plans, and dreams in abeyance. Most inmates set out, albeit on the wrong track, to get their part of the American dream. As the dream has receded for so many young black males, the prisons have burgeoned.
When MCTC opened in the 1960s, it was to serve as home to juvenile offenders and offer vocational and academic programs as rehabilitative tools. But today, the nearly 3,000 residents at the minimum- and medium-security facility are of all ages. An expanding population inspired the construction of a new housing unit in 1991, a visitors center in 1993, and in 1995, the program building. Gray is on the wrong end of a growing industry.
A small room in the program building, with two standard warehouse-style brown office desks and an odd collection of unmatched chairs, has been reserved for my interview with Gray. He is accompanied by a prison spokesperson, who observes the entire process—mostly to make sure nothing untoward is said about the prison or its officials. They needn’t have worried; Gray’s institutionalization has smothered his expectations. He actually thinks MCTC is a nice spot, as prisons go.
The air in the interview room is filled with a man’s unspoken remembrances, the weighty oppression of guilt and loss.
Gray wears blue jeans and a maroon and blue striped shirt. His toffee-colored face is undistinguished except for his mustache, which tweaks upward at the ends in old-fashioned handlebar style. There is an edge suggested by his clipped speech; on the street the choppy rhythm must have been menacing, but here it just seems short on polish. Nearly 6 feet tall and muscular—the result of a consistent weight program—Gray could have played football or some other game, but he chose drug dealing. He takes a seat in a straight-backed office chair and sits bolt upright. A window peers out at the barbed-wire fence. Gray’s eyes are focused straight ahead, although I am seated next to him. (In the street you learn early not to look a person directly in the eye; often it’s interpreted as an invitation to battle.) A glimpse of a silver front tooth sneaks through his lips only once or twice during a 90-minute interview. There is little reason for smiles. Gray wants to know who killed his son.
Who indeed? How many parents in the District ask that question each year? For a few, the answer comes quickly: The gun goes off, an arrest is made, and the perpetrator is punished. But for most, a child’s killing is a moment of frozen horror and deadly certainty. They hear the news—because news travels fast in the neighborhoods—and run the few blocks to the scene of the tragedy or take the short ride to get a final glimpse of the child before the body is carted away to the medical examiner’s office. But Gray was denied that bit of peace. He was 75 miles away, locked up with his thoughts, when news of his only son’s death reached him.
Gray was stunned; he disbelieved the words coming from the warden’s mouth. And then the questions: Who did this terrible thing? What person could slam bullet after bullet into a child’s body? The questions spilled from his mouth quicker than the tears streamed down his face. The walls offered only echoes.
Andre had been the one good thing in Gray’s troubled life, and now someone had simply rubbed him out of the picture, leaving darkness where there had been a ray of light. And all with no explanation. The questions rattled Gray’s brain: Why had his mother waited until 10 at night to get him home? Why hadn’t she simply let him spend the night? Or why hadn’t she gone to meet him halfway?
For days, Gray wasn’t satisfied with the answers he gave himself. They were incomplete and illogical. He understood the heinousness of the crime. He knew people capable of that sort of killing. But how had his son, a nice kid who loved his daddy, come to dance with these kinds of people?
It takes a long time for a murder to occur, even those seemingly executed in the heat of passion. Broader forces—race, gender, environment, and family conditions—converged and conspired to lay Andre Anthony Bell down, even before he was born. His death was preordained, if not premeditated.
Andre is a number now. African-American males in the District had been dying like flies struck down by a ruthless swatter. In 1991, young black males like Andre were killed nationally at a rate eight times higher than white men. Homicide was the second leading cause of death among black children, according to a recent report by the Kellogg Foundation. Had Andre lived, completed school, and stayed drug-free and out of prison, it would have been a miracle.
Andre burst into the world on a day that looked and felt a lot like the one on which he died. According to the National Climatic Data Center, the temperature in Washington on April 10, 1982, peaked at 55 and fell to 35—rather cool for spring in the District. The day Andre died, 12 years later, the high was 55 and the low 33. Armchair psychics might say he was destined to die on a day like that.
Bell doesn’t remember the weather on the day she gave birth to her only child. She’d been in labor at Greater Southeast Community Hospital for more than 20 hours; she wanted to drop the load. Andre finally arrived, weighing 6 pounds 7 ounces. His father observed Andre’s birth in the same way he marked his death: alone, in a jail.
Not that Bell expected any different. From the beginning, she realized she’d made a mistake with Gray. She found another friend soon after Andre was born, and by the time Gray came home, Bell had decided her son didn’t need to be around a man who was likely to spend much of his life in prison.
“I had a lot of help from my mother and father,” she says of those days. “My mother worked at a nursery, and she took him to school with her and I didn’t have to pay. I went to hair school and I worked at People’s drugstore, while they kept him.
“At one time we went to Texas with a friend of mine, but that didn’t work out, so we came back here,” Bell continues. “But all that time, his father was never in the picture.”
Even if he had been, Bell isn’t so sure she would have wanted him involved. Bell worried that Gray’s influence might lead the boy to follow in his dad’s footsteps—all the way to the nearest jail. She says Gray “taught Andre wrong things.”
“I’m not going to put him down, but he wasn’t the kind of person I wanted Andre around,” Bell says. “I had a lot of problems out of that, because Andre wanted to be around his daddy.”
What son—or daughter for that matter—doesn’t want to be around his father? The bond, even a weak one, is built of stuff that common sense can’t breach. Consequently, whenever his dad was out of jail, Andre often stole away from his mother’s apartment on his bicycle, traveling several miles to his dad’s place on Stanton Road SE.
“His father, whenever he came home, was a distraction,” says Bell. “[Andre] wanted to be there with his father. It wasn’t a good thing. Every time I went into the old neighborhood, Andre was showing off. His father let him do anything.”
Andre struggled to find a place to stand as a young man. With his father absent, he saw himself as the man of the house and didn’t much like his mother’s male friend. When his mother managed to move from public housing to the apartment on 37th Street, Andre balked. And the move cost his mother and him the valuable and immediate support system of Bell’s father.
Like the dent puller up his sleeve, there were little signs that Andre was moving beyond his years and out of his depth. He and his mother began to fight.
“He got with the little guy downstairs and they got in trouble. One year they broke the door downstairs and that was $300. He didn’t get anything for Christmas that year because I had to pay for the door,” says Bell. “The little boy was tearing me apart; he was worrying me to death.
“I had to work. I would get phone calls from school all the time saying Andre was acting up,” Bell continues. “One night me and my friend went to get some crabs. I told Andre to wait here. When I got back, the guy next door said Andre cussed him out. I got after [Andre] and he tried to swing on me. So I beat his butt.
“The belt accidentally went across his face and left a welt. The next day the teacher called the police and they said I was abusing Andre. I was trying to discipline him. Then they found out what the real deal was—was that Andre was trying to abuse me. He was trying to control me.”
Bell and her son became part of the system, and Andre was placed in a group home. Jeff Brooks, who was then manager of the group home, said Andre was mighty angry—like a lot of kids who come up hard.
“It wasn’t a normal situation. He was dealing with a lot of things,” explains Brooks.
Brooks remembers a talk he had with Andre after one of the times he exploded, his temper getting the better of him. “I told him, ‘Either you’re going to be somebody or you’re going to end up in jail or dead.’
“Things got better,” continues Brooks. “But the main thing, the big adjustment [for Andre], was dealing with not having his father around.”
If it’s true that the future is built out of yesterday’s choices, then Gray may be as responsible for his son’s death as anyone else. After all, he helped sculpt the environment in the District that made it easy to kill and common for children to fall victim to violence. He was an absent father even before his son’s birth, and once his son was ready to learn, Gray was the embodiment of how not to live a life.
A native Washingtonian, Gray dropped out of Douglass Junior High School in Southeast in the eighth grade and flung himself with abandon into the fast life, selling and using drugs. Later, he robbed whomever he could to support his habit.
“I wasn’t patient enough to work and honestly earn the life I wanted for myself,” says Gray. “Being a male, thinking I had all the answers, I chose to be a hardhead and did what I thought was best for me.”
Gray met Annette Bell when they were very young: Gray was only 9, and sniffing around an older girl of 11 seemed the “man thing” to do.
“I asked her, ‘Can I have a chance?’” recalls an unsmiling Gray. “She was in senior high when I used to pick her up in my car.”
But not all good beginnings end famously. Bell dropped out of Anacostia High School in Southeast while in the 10th grade. Soon she was pregnant with Gray’s child. The two never married. Even before Andre was born, the relationship between his mom and dad was on the outs. While Bell was pregnant, Gray, then 18, landed in a Virginia jail. The first time he set eyes on his son, Andre was already 5 months old.
“I left Andre’s father when he was 5 months old,” says Bell, 35, a willow-thin woman wearing cut-off jeans and a T-shirt as she sits at her dining-room table; her café au lait face is distinguished by high cheek bones and unadorned by makeup.
“He was always in jail. He’d come out a week; two weeks later he was back in. He was always aggravating me, trying to get back with me,” explains Bell.
“It just seems like he can’t live out here. He’s always got to be in trouble. He can’t say this is [his] last time going to jail….He wasn’t there for Andre.”
Gray doesn’t deny he shortchanged his son. “I beat myself in the head every day,” he says. “I tell myself, ‘You should have been there.’”
A few weeks after the murder, Gray came across an item in the Washington Post: a small news brief that wasn’t more than three inches of type, which noted that Prince George’s County fire investigators had charged a Suitland man with arson in the Dec. 26 burning of a 1988 Dodge van they believe was used in the fatal drive-by shooting of 12-year-old Andre Anthony Bell. Alark Bethea, 24, of Suitland, was being held on $30,000 bond. “Arson officials and detectives from D.C. homicide have been working together,” the Post reported P.G. County Fire Department spokesman Pete Piringer as saying.
Gray allowed himself to begin hoping again. Maybe justice would be done. The police had apprehended one of the killers; the rest couldn’t be far behind. But hope is a comet, long awaited but quickly fleeting. Five months passed; each day Gray combed the paper. But nothing. There wasn’t any further word on Bethea or any other arrests. What happened?
Like a drowning man, Gray thrashed about for help, searching for a lifeline that offered potential for redemption, for a connection with his dead son, for him to say in the end he had done right by the boy.
“In my initial effort I wrote Miss Cindy Loose, of the Washington Post,” Gray recalls. “That was in April 1995. But I got no response. I wrote her again on June 25, 1995. But she never responded to my letter.”
Gray was relentless. He couldn’t sleep; his son’s killers were roaming the streets, free. Someone had to be able to help. He wrote D.C. Superior Court Judge Mildred Edwards. She had come into Andre’s life when he and his mother were battling each other. She’d been in the picture for nearly three years; clearly she cared enough to want to know what was happening with the police investigation. And because of her clout, Gray thought she might be able to put the squeeze on the police.
Judge Edwards didn’t respond to Gray’s letter dated July 18, 1995. Reached at her office earlier this month, Judge Edwards confirms she received Gray’s letter: “I didn’t write back because there was nothing I could tell him. There was nothing, in my view, that would be appropriate for me to do.
“It’s tragic that it’s been well over a year and they have not been able to close that case,” she continues. “I have a feeling the case is not ever going to be closed. The youngest homicide victim…It’s very, very sad.
“It’s unfortunate [Gray] is always operating from the logistical position of someone locked up. I know this is a source of tremendous heartache for him. It’s a source of tremendous unhappiness for me, too.”
There were other letters, other rejections and nonanswers. In all fairness, a letter with a prison return address rarely gets read seriously by people in a position to do something about it. Prisoners with all sorts of time on their hands are forever writing the media, claiming unfair treatment or the inside scoop on some egregious event.
Gray finally got someone to respond to his cry for help. On Dec. 3, 1995, and Jan. 1, 1996, he wrote to Suzanne Smith, legal program administrator for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland, located in Baltimore. Ironically, she responded to Gray’s appeal one year to the day after his son’s funeral. In her letter she told Gray the “PG County court system had no record of a case against Alark Bethea,” although the fire department reported that the case was “still under investigation.”
Smith went on to state the obvious: “This does not satisfy your understandable need to know who committed this terrible crime against your son. Unfortunately, however, this is not the kind of matter we generally handle, and we simply are not in the position to investigate further.”
Still, Gray didn’t give up. On Jan. 7, 1996, he wrote the ACLU of the National Capital Area. Fritz Malhauser, coordinator for the Litigation Screening Committee, repeated more or less what Smith had said: “The ACLU can do little about the priority of cases that the Metropolitan Police investigate, and you must recognize that it gets much more difficult with the passage of time to find new facts or witnesses.”
Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) spokesperson Officer Anthony O’Leary says only that the case is “still under investigation.” He refused to answer these questions: Is the homicide detective working with P.G. County? Was Alark Bethea ever a suspect? Are there others under suspicion?
Officer Kenny Bryson says the department is unable to reveal the answers to such questions, whether they come from Gray or anybody else. He says it is “not police protocol” to get into suspects, especially in “this situation where a case is still under active investigation.”
Bryson also says that it’s not impossible for the police to solve an 18-month-old crime: “That’s why we have the cold-case squad. They are working on cases that go farther back than [Bell’s 1994 murder],” he says.
“The thing about homicide cases is that the main witness is dead,” continues Bryson. “That leaves you dependent on other witnesses, somebody else out there who saw something or knows something.” But when it comes to Andre, no one seems to know anything.
Just after Andre’s murder, the police issued an appeal to the community for help in solving the crime. Persons providing information leading to an arrest and indictment in the case were eligible for a reward of up to $1,000. Bryson can’t say how many calls MPD received in response to the request for information.
Bell says the police told her earlier this year that they had a suspect in custody but no one would testify against the person. “They said they had to let him go,” she adds.
None of the scraps of information about Andre Jr.’s killing soothes Gray’s pain. Each time he talks about the murder and his quest to find the killers, he ticks off the dates and addresses endlessly. He doesn’t glance down at notes. There isn’t any hesitation about whom he wrote on what date, where that person’s office is located. He looks straight ahead and recites as if the figures are written in the air he breathes. He is relentless, but then again, he is 75 miles away from the crime scene.
“I feel somebody knows something. Very little effort was spent to find these people. I do believe if there had been pressure, more concern from his mother, or the D.C. Council member from the ward, there might have been more action,” says Gray.
“But when you look at it, people think along the avenues that his daddy is in jail, his mother lacks interest, he was found with a dent puller in the sleeve of his coat—they might have concluded he was involved in drugs and that might have motivated law officials to be relaxed,” he says, without pity or hope.
The African proverb about it taking a whole village to raise a child has become a cliché, but in Andre’s case it could be said that the whole village neglected him. The village, however, did not miss the opportunity to turn out in grand style on Jan. 4, 1995, to bury him. “An ice cream vendor, a school crossing guard, and the city’s new mayor” were among the hundreds who filled the pews at Mount Gilead Baptist Church at 1625 13th St. NW, reported the Washington Post. Judge Edwards, group home counselor Brooks, and caseworker Janet Bandy all came to the funeral of 1994’s youngest homicide victim. They spoke about how wonderful Andre had become just prior to his death. You know the story.
Gray, who had been transferred to MCTC only a month earlier, was prevented from attending his son’s funeral because the state’s budget woes prevented it from providing transportation and security. “I was hurt,” says Gray, sounding more ashamed than angry.
“But I think the decision was appropriate under the circumstance. [Prison officials] did send a bouquet of flowers to the funeral. And they sent a card to the church,” he continues.
Bell says Bandy “just pushed me aside” and made the burial arrangements. Speaking at the funeral, Bandy talked about Andre’s contagious smile. “He was only 12. I can’t even grasp it—not having a chance to graduate from high school or go to the prom,” the Post quoted her saying.
The flowers are gone, the speeches are over, but Andre is still unaccounted for. The politicos and bureaucrats reacted with shock when he ended up dead, but none have made it their business to find out how he ended up that way. Mayor Marion Barry, then recently elected to his current term, was pictured in the Post hugging a grieving Bell. But when asked if he remembered Andre, he said, “The name doesn’t ring a bell.” Raymone Bain, Barry’s press secretary, quickly came to the mayor’s defense, saying Barry “goes to a lot of funerals; he can’t be expected to remember every one.”
“How do we become accustomed to saying goodbye to the Andres of our city?” the Post quoted Andre’s mentor, Calvin Woodland asking at the funeral. “How can we sit in our homes so comfortably while our babies are outside killing one another?”
“Children should be loved, nurtured, provided for, protected—that is not asking too much,” the Rev. Jeffrey Haggray, pastor of Mount Gilead, said at Andre’s funeral.
Annette Bell is in the kitchen boiling water for tea. Some talk show drones from a small television set sitting on a bench. But Bell isn’t listening. She is explaining how she can’t go outside anymore. How she sleeps all day because at night she can’t. How one time she was driving a car and saw someone who looked like Andre; she turned completely around, almost causing an accident, “looking to make sure.”
She sleeps with a toddler-size stuffed orangutan that Andre called Sean after one of his cousins. Except for a cat that occasionally strolls across the dining room and brushes against Bell’s leg before retreating to the bedroom, there isn’t any activity. But there are signs a child once lived here: School photos grace the wall and a nearby end table. Another photograph from the funeral sits on the coffee table. A half-burned candle is nearby.
Bell says she wants to have more children, but she can’t seem to get pregnant; she thinks maybe she’s afraid. “My father says I should have had one,” she offers. “I’m really scared—the way this place is. I would have to move someplace where no bullets are flying.
“Sometimes, seems like I see Andre out there,” she adds.
It’s almost 2:30; inmate No. 244415 must be in his cell at a certain hour—something about counting bodies. The hope seems to be leaking from his voice as the interview draws to a close. He is clear there aren’t any promises—just a story to be told. He cautions me not to bring his mama and his family into the story. They don’t know anything, he says. Besides, the person who would do such a thing to a 12-year-old boy can be expected to do the same to an adult. He doesn’t want to endanger his family. Anyway, this is something he has to do on his own.
Gray thinks he has turned his life around. He lives in the “honor” housing unit, is studying for the GED, participates in sports events, and meets regularly with the social workers. He’s been on the waiting list for barber training since November 1994, just after he arrived.
“This is a pretty nice facility compared to many others I’ve been in,” he adds.
Still, Gray is haunted. He can’t get away from the numbers—addresses and dates, especially Dec. 26. He is hoping for a break. But he knows it may never come.
“I think sometimes, it could have been me,” Gray says somberly. “My involvement in the street, with the life I was living; it could have been me.
“But the Lord spared me,” he continues. “Sometimes I wonder, if he spared me but took him. I think like that. I lay down at night in my cell and look at the ceiling and ask myself, why? Why him and not me?” CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photos by Darrow Montgomery.