Bay Ridge Gardens kids are given CHOICES
The Capital - Online

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When Capt. Mike King started his career, he met a man who had never tasted a Big Mac, visited a 7-Eleven or dated a woman.

That is because King works in the prison system, and the man was an inmate incarcerated before he was even old enough to go to his prom.

His life was one of the examples King and his fellow corrections officers used Friday in an attempt to keep a group of Annapolis children safe. King is part of CHOICES - Children Having Obstacles Involving Choices Eventually Succeed. Members of the group travel the region and show young people how to avoid a life of crime.

"The people who work in these facilities tell you when to go to bed, when to get out of bed, when to start eating, and when to stop," said King, facility administrator of the Poplar Hill Pre-Release Unit in Quantico, Va. "We had a guy who was almost beat to death because he snored too loud."

King, along with Capt. Kevin King and Capt. Walter Holmes, gave a presentation to nearly 50 children at the Bay Ridge Gardens Apartments. Group members travel around Maryland, Delaware and Virginia talking to about 5,000 children each year. Last year, this effort won them the Governor's Crime Prevention Award in Maryland.

Holmes displayed images of the Eastern Correctional Institution, a Somerset County facility where he is the housing supervisor. It is the Division of Correction's largest state prison, with 3,200 inmates living on 100 acres. Administratively, Poplar Hill is part of ECI, but is a separate facility.

In the summer, the cells can get up to 121 degrees, Holmes said, adding that to cool off, inmates usually place a sheet on the concrete floor and lie there. There are strip searches; inmates who don't consent to them can have their clothes cut off. Showers are given three times a week, and there are six inmates to a shower.

"If you're ashamed of what God gave you, don't come to jail," Holmes said. "That sexual predator that's been locked up for 40 years might be right next to you, licking his chops."

Friday's event was open to children aged 7 and older and a majority of the attendees hadn't reached their teens. This is the age group that often needs to hear these messages the most, said Mavis Scott, president of the Bay Ridge community's tenant board.

"Some of the 11- (and) 12-year-olds have already been in juvenile" detention centers, said Scott, whose brother works for the Baltimore juvenile justice system.

Donleer Walker coordinated the event.

"We're not a problem community, but some of the kids need a little bit of guidance," said Walker, the residential coordinator. "It's tough, but educational too. I learned some things as well as the children."

Keon Williams, 12, said he liked the two-hour presentation.

I learned "that you should not be in a gang when you grow up," Keon said.

Eight-year-old Kyren Sheppard agreed.

"Bloods and Crips and gangs are bad for you," Kyren said.

Although there is no concrete way for CHOICES members to determine how many children benefit from their presentations, they judge this based on how many times they are asked to return to a community. This was their third time in Annapolis, and Friday's participants mentioned having them back again.

Once, Holmes had a young man in Virginia call him in the middle of the night because he was being pressured by a gang. Holmes met with him and talked to him one on one.

"He's been on the straight and narrow ever since," Holmes said. "If we reach one out of thousands, I think we've done our job."