The Little Thief

The message never did sink in. Throughout 1990 counselors working with Carrie pushed for placement in an out-of-town delinquency program. Judge Petersen was reluctant. "We need to solve Carrie's problems in the Scott project, not at some program upstate," he reasoned. But when Carrie started the 1990 school year by missing the first month of classes, Petersen relented. By late October the girl was on her way to Alachua Halfway House in Gainesville, one of the programs recommended in HRS's original 1989 report.

Carrie herself dismisses her two-month stint at Alachua as if shooing away a bothersome fly, but she did well there at first. Problems came up at Christmas, when Carrie was scheduled to visit Miami. She wanted to spend the holiday with Delores Walker. HRS wanted her to stay elsewhere, because a Foster Care home study conducted by the agency had recently concluded Walker's dwelling did not meet state requirements for licensing. "At one point Judge Petersen and I jumped in the car and went out to do our survey of Miss Walker's place," recalls Stephen Harper, the chief assistant public defender for Dade's juvenile division who handled Carrie's case. "What did we find? Like anyone else in that project, Miss Walker is poor and has trouble paying her rent. But she cared about Carrie and that was obvious."

Jeanne James, an administrator for HRS's Foster Care program, says policy forbids her to discuss the specific decision to deny Walker a foster-care license. "Believe me, we bend over backwards to approve a home, especially with a child like this," she says. "But there are some things we can't waive. We would be negligent if we did."

Carrie was placed in a foster home, and she promptly ran away to Delores Walker's. Within a week of her return to Alachua, she ran again. Judge Petersen issued another pick-up order, but court records show that as far as the state was concerned, Carrie remained a runaway for nearly six months.

"It was ridiculous," Petersen says. "We all knew she was at Miss Walker's but no one went out to get her. As far as the system was concerned, her case was over. I think there's really a sense of relief in the system every time we issue one of those pick-up orders, because there's one less kid to deal with." Earlier this year, Petersen had responded to HRS workers' rightful claims that police are responsible for pick-up orders by personally telephoning Metro-Dade police. "Here I am, a judge, trying to get a pick-up order executed and I couldn't even get the person I needed on the phone," Petersen recalls. Police wouldn't have had to go far to find Carrie Jones. The back door to Delores Walker's apartment is about twenty paces from Metro-Dade's Team Police substation, a base for officers who patrol the Scott project.

In June Petersen sent a message to Carrie through a friend of hers who'd ended up in juvenile court. Petersen wanted her back in school and promised not to lock her up if she would appear in court. Carrie did come to see him, and he placed her at the Try Center, a local school for troubled youths. "That place was for boys," is Carrie's only trenchant memory of the center. She missed twelve days during her first month and soon gave up altogether, reclaiming her well-worn status as a runaway. She remained "in hiding" at Walker's home as the current school year commenced, afraid, she says, that if she went to school HRS would ship her to a foster home. Given the results of a second HRS Foster Care home study in July, her fears were likely justified. Investigators again deemed Walker's house unsuitable.

"They told me it was because I didn't have a phone and the fire extinguisher was too small. They said HUD wouldn't let her stay on my lease and that they didn't want her living in the same house with my eighteen-year-old boy," says Walker with a shrug. "But my boy is like a brother to Carrie. He ain't no boyfriend. To be honest, Carrie's the only girl that ain't pregnant around here. The only one. One of them girls ain't nothing but, what, thirteen?"

Indeed, Carrie's resistance to the liabilities of romance appears to hold firm. Despite the unmistakable curves of femininity, she walks with a swagger that tends to warn off suitors. "I don't have no boyfriend," she snaps. "Don't get me wrong. I have friends as boys. Them's the best kind of friends to hang around. It sounds like boys get me in trouble, but look, the boys done taught me a lot. Girls haven't taught me anything but how to lay up and make a baby. And once boys put a baby in you, they leave."

Carrie was introduced firsthand to that particular axiom at age five, when her father disappeared. But in the Canyon, the lesson is reinforced with alarming regularity. Earlier this month, a friend of Carrie's found out her nineteen-year-old boyfriend had been shot and killed by police in an aborted drug deal on NW 58th Avenue. According to Carrie's friend, who relates the circumstances of her young lover's death with calm detachment, he had already fathered three children.

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