As he enters through the back door and passes through the metal detector to check for any weapons, tears start to well up in the boy's eyes.
Probably no older than 13 and only a little taller than 5 feet, the unidentified boy is wearing a blue polo shirt and a look of regret on his face. He stands next to a patched wall, where another boy on a different day put his head through it out of frustration, anger or fear.
The boy is about to enter the juvenile secure room of the Community Intervention Center. On this day the room is empty. Some days it's filled with students sent from school or picked up off the streets for crimes ranging from ditching school to dealing drugs.
“The paddy wagon came and dropped 42 students off all at once because they were all in a huge gang fight at school,” said Cynthia Gahl, CIC program director. “Sometimes you're able to reach them on their first visit and it straightens them out.
“Other times you just know you will be seeing them again, either here or on the news.”
Youth crime rising
Nearly 1,900 juveniles passed through the Community Intervention Center, 201 NE 50, last year. Since it opened in 1997, staff members say they've seen youth crime skyrocket in the Oklahoma City area.
The Community Intervention Center — a program of Youth Services for Oklahoma County Inc. — is under contract with the Oklahoma City Police Department to provide a safe holding facility for juveniles with misdemeanor and lesser felony charges.
Debra Forshee, president and CEO of Youth Services, said the program gives youth a taste of what a detention center is like and serves as a warning for them to clean up their act. It also gives police officers a safe place to drop off juveniles so they can get back to patrolling the streets.
Juveniles can be held at the facility for up to 24 hours, which allows parents to let them sit and think about things. Community Intervention Center staffers sometimes have to tell parents and guardians that they must pick up their children before the 24-hour period ends, Forshee said.
“We have some parents who are so fed up that they say ‘You have them, you keep them,'” she said. “We then remind them about child abandonment charges and they usually come, but you can really tell with some of these parents that they are just at their wits end. They just don't know what to do anymore.”
Forshee said the second half of the school year usually yields an increase in teens ditching classes and getting into fights. They get antsy waiting for spring break and summer vacation, and the restless energy usually gets them into trouble, she said.
“It's just bad cases of spring fever,” Forshee said.
The secure room is an open area with bright white walls and about a dozen benches. Shoes, backpacks and cellphones aren't allowed. Talking and sleeping also are against the rules.
Scottie Pete and Terrell Johnson work the control room. They check in the juveniles, call their parents and break up gang fights when they notice rival members flashing their signs at each other from across the room.
Johnson has worked at the facility for 11 years. He said he grew up similarly to the kids that he sees every day, cocky and unappreciative of the people trying to teach him life lessons.
“I was kicked out of my house by my mom when I was 15,” Johnson said. “I don't want kids to go through these tough times, but life ain't always peaches and cream. I don't want to see anyone shot or killed so I try and teach them that lesson.”
Gahl said most people would grow frustrated seeing the same offenders over and over again because they can't understand what would make these kids want to keep making the same mistake.
“If you were living homeless or in a terrible home life, you wouldn't be afraid of this,” she said. “This is welcoming. They might be talking with strangers, but sometimes it's easier to talk with strangers.”