It’s no mystery that all these factors together create a huge set of challenges for a child to overcome. There’s a lot of sophisticated number-crunching, but the findings aren’t surprising. A parent with an arrest record, for instance, renders a child five times more likely than his peers to wind up in jail. What’s harder to figure out is what we can do about it, and when. It seems we don’t reach out to children in Harold’s situation early enough. Archye Leacock, executive director of the Institute for the Development of African-American Youth in North Philadelphia, has been working with at-risk kids for 18 years. His “Don’t Fall Down in the ’Hood” program is designed for offenders 13 to 18 years old who have already been convicted of some felony-level crime. An intervention campaign intended to give kids life skills beyond what they learn in the street, DFDITH claims a 90 percent success rate. But Leacock identifies the critical age for kids as somewhere between 11 and 13. “If you don’t reach these kids before they turn 14,” he says, “their ways of thinking are so entrenched … I hate to say it, but with rare exceptions, it’s pretty much done and over with.”
Harold is the kind of kid who could fall through the cracks. At 10, he stands on the precipice of the critical three-year period Leacock describes. Harold has no juvenile arrest record. But he’s in constant need of oversight and discipline in school. What’s available for him?
“Hmm,” says Leacock. “If he hasn’t been arrested? Nothing I can think of. There’s nothing available for a kid like Harold.”
LATE IN THE morning on February 2, 2008, Harold Mayfield Jr. sat in his family’s home in Allegheny West, watching television with his grandmother. On the street outside the house, his father was working. A woman in a green jacket and black knit cap shuffled up to him. She palmed a fistful of bills into his hand. He walked to the east side of North Bailey Street, right across from his house, and reached between the rails of a white porch there. He removed a plastic baggie, fished a few small blue vials from the bag, and handed them to the woman, who shuffled away again. In the next half-hour, Philadelphia police watched Mayfield engage in two more exchanges. They detained his customers a few blocks away, confiscated the crack cocaine in their possession, and arrested Harold Mayfield Sr.
Harold Mayfield Jr. heard the police roll up, and looked outside to see his father taken into custody. He saw his dad cuffed, and watched the police push his head down low, to clear the roof of the squad car as he slid inside. Then he went back to watching television.
I followed Harold through a week of classes at Hope in May; his father had been in jail for three months now, awaiting trial. When I asked him about math, his best subject, he brightened. His favorite sports? He smiled, talking about basketball in a high, clear voice.