Twin time bombs waiting to go off


McRaymond Norrington led me through his house to the kitchen window in the back.

"Is this where they slept?" I asked, peering out.

"This is where they slept," he said grimly.

In the yard next door stood a beat- up old camper truck surrounded by trash.

"Sometimes, I'd come out in the morning and see them all crammed up in that cab there. You know, I like to mind my own business so I didn't say anything. But when I got to know them, man, it almost tore my heart out."

Norrington shook his head sadly.

"What were they like?" I asked.

"Average guys," said Norrington. "They didn't look what you'd call hard or anything. But I guarantee you they are. One of them told me he's been incarcerated off and on since he was 13. That's the thing that hurts. I figure that if it doesn't show, there's still time."

Norrington learned that the two young men sleeping in the abandoned truck next door were released about a month ago from state prison after serving time for either drugs or theft. They are twin brothers, both 27 years old.

They had no money. No job. No place to stay and no food. In desperation, they had turned to their younger sister, who rented a one-bedroom apartment in the house next to Norrington's. But their younger sister also had three small children and she doesn't work either and sometimes other relatives also came to stay. So the two men slept outside, the only place they had.

"These guys need help," said Norrington. "I have never seen a grown man sit down and cry. But that's just what one of them did. He was saying, 'Man, what am I gonna do? I don't have no place to stay. I'm hungry. Nobody'll hire me. I don't want to have to get a tool [a gun] and hurt somebody, but what else am I gonna do?' " "Like I said," said Norrington, "it tears my heart out to hear a young man talking like that -- with no place to go and no alternatives."

Norrington and his wife tried to help. They would give the men food. Norrington went around to businesses in his Pimlico community, trying to find them jobs. But who wants to hire men with criminal records?

"The guy who owns the grocery store said he sometimes hires people, but only if they're in counseling, and only if their counselor will recommend them."

"See," continued Norrington, "this is what we've got to start thinking about. The whole question is, what do you do with people after they've been incarcerated? What is out there for them? Who's going to help them? We lock these guys up, then they come out with nothing. And a lot of times, it's just a matter of time until they hurt somebody or rob somebody."

"And who do you think they're going to turn around and hurt?" demanded Norrington. "They're going to come after you and me."

So that's part of the story. These two young men -- they are like time bombs, ticking, waiting to go off and hurt someone. Why can't we do something?

Norrington is 53 years old, a retired driver for the state Mass Transit Administration. He has lived in his home in Pimlico for 25 years, and he has seen the community plummet.

He points to his neighbors: "This house, and this one, and this one, and this one here, they are all homeowners," he says, and each private home he has indicated is neat, clean, well cared for.

But the rental properties scattered throughout the block look like, well, like slum dwellings -- and that, too, is part of this story. Pimlico is home to stable, sober, hard-working families. But it also is one of the most dangerous, drug-infected sections of the city. And so you have to ask how this could happen, in a neighborhood with so many caring people? Who's at fault?

But back to the two men. Their little sister, Wanda, adds yet another piece to this sad, sad story.

"All their lives," she said, "they've been locked up, a back and forth kind of thing. Stealing cars, breaking into cars, taking people's things. They're not hard people. They've got talent. They've got good heads on their shoulders. But it seems like that's all they know."

Wanda said no one else in their family wants to be associated with her brothers. But she felt she couldn't turn her back on them.

"They showed up one Sunday at 12:30 a.m., saying, 'Wanda, we're hungry' and 'Can we sleep outside in the truck?' I said, 'You can sleep in here.' But they said they're used to sleeping out. And it's true. One of them got beat up real bad five years ago for sleeping on somebody's porch."

"I cried out to them, once," continued Wanda. "I said, 'Don't you know you're hurting me? Sleeping in my back yard like this? I'm your baby sister. I should be coming to you for help!' "

Indeed, Wanda dreams of going back to school, but is finding it tough. She is 22 years old, attractive and well-spoken. But she has three children and dropped out of school in the 10th grade. She says she was raped by her mother's boyfriend as a young girl, and found it hard to cope with. She has a beautiful singing voice.

"My life was tough, too," she said. "Everybody's life is tough. But I think I take life seriously. That's how I'm different from them."

Now, the final piece of this story. Recently, Wanda had to send her brothers away.

She said they broke into an acquaintance's house and stole electronic equipment and, reportedly, a .25-caliber gun. Wanda and her boyfriend made them return the electronic equipment. But her brothers kept the gun. Now, they have disappeared.

And so, the clock, is ticking, ticking, ticking. You can hear it, like a time bomb waiting to go off.

We can see the ending to this story so very clearly.

Yet all we have is questions.

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