Darrell Shanklin and his boys pressed a strong shiny blade to the pizza man's jumpy Adam's apple, ready to slash a throat for $30 and a pack of Newport 100s.
That's why Shanklin's back in jail, this time on adult charges.
No problem. He figures he'll just rat out the thugs arrested with him, cut a deal with prosecutors, strip off his orange prison jumpsuit and waltz out of jail. He'll do a year, five at most. By then, he'll be old enough to drink alcohol without sneaking it.
Shanklin was part of Charlie Squad, 14 teen-aged delinquents assaulted repeatedly by guards at a state-run boot camp in Western Maryland and then released last year with promises of "maximum supervised probation" by the state's Department of Juvenile Justice.
The promises were never kept, and the results have been predictable: more drug dealing, more drug use, more victims, more arrests.
The stories of their failings and abuse, told over four days in The Sun in December, illustrated the utter inadequacies of Maryland's probation programs for delinquents and upended the juvenile justice agency.
Top state officials quickly shut down the state's three boot camps for juveniles and promised drastic changes - giving child advocates the first real hope in decades for reform.
But almost seven months after those promises echoed from Annapolis, the agency has done little or nothing to help Shanklin and most of the other Charlie Squad "cadets," let alone carry out the changes.
Juvenile justice officials have yet to even contact many of the kids, including the most desperate of them, those pictured in the newspaper shooting up with dirty needles, using and dealing drugs.
"At the absolute very minimum, you think they would've gone after kids like that, publicly identified," says Jann Jackson, executive director of Maryland Advocates for Children and Youth.
"I've asked a lot of people about some justice for these kids who sparked all this discussion in the first place, and I've gotten no answers. If they're not going to be compensated, at least how about some services for them? I've gotten no answers about that, either."
Lost in the system
Since their release from boot camp in March, not one of the 14 Charlie Squad cadets has lived up to the terms of his probation.
Juvenile justice officials have lost complete track of seven of the them since December. They closed one of those cases, although the teen never lived up to terms of his probation. Family members say they don't know where he is.
When the series was published, the kids had been back on the streets nine months. In that time, 11 of 14 had gotten into trouble again.
And since the official promises of reforms in December, all but one of them have been arrested at least one more time - some of them three, four and five times since December - on charges as serious as auto theft, assault, armed robbery and attempted murder.
Like Shanklin, eight of these 12 have been picked up adult charges - graduating to the adult justice system that costs Maryland taxpayers $779 million a year.
The kid who hasn't been jailed? He tested positive for drugs in Charles County, was told by authorities not to use them any more and was sent home.
A Baltimore kid named Christopher Leight is more typical. He had been missing since one month after his release. No warrant was issued for him. No official looked for him.
This month, he was finally taken into custody - only after being charged, as an adult, with dealing drugs while packing a handgun. He now sits in a city jail.
So the teens make their own way, cutting deals after being tossed in jail, continuing their drug use, dope slinging, all kinds of crimes - all the while supposedly still on probation, or under state control.
And Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and new Juvenile Justice Secretary Bishop L. Robinson now refuse to discuss Charlie Squad at all.
On their own
If a Charlie Squad cadet like Jimmy Phelps - photographed plunging heroin into his arm - is on the path to recovering from his addiction, he's going it entirely on his own. The state agency that arranged for him to be beat up repeatedly for 20 weeks last year has offered no help or sign of concern.
After a photo was published of him with a needle in his arm, no one from the state did anything to help him or to punish him - even though he was still on probation.
As far as juvenile justice officials know, he's still wandering with the zombies in Southwest Baltimore, scratching from the dope, looking for his next fix.
But that's not the case. In a suburb of Baltimore these days, Phelps is getting ready for work.
He once looked as though he would never make it, in jail or out. Just a month after boot camp, after ignoring the terms of his probation with no penalty, he became hooked on heroin, getting the dope wherever he could find it, shooting up with any needle around, dirty or not.
Before long, he was turning 18 with a foot already in the grave - crusty with scabs, strung out, fearing AIDS, although not enough to lose the drugs.
But Phelps has been off dope more than four months now. He used methadone to break the habit, then decided he didn't want to be hooked on that drug and kicked that, too. Now he works at a fast-food restaurant, getting by, at least for the time being, without supervision.
"I done it on my own," he says.
Phelps doesn't want his picture in the newspaper again. He doesn't even want the name of the suburb he's working in known to juvenile justice officials. They haven't contacted him in months, and he doesn't want them to.
One of his biggest fears is that if officials find out where he is, he'll end up back in the system he was in when he turned into a junkie.
What of the others from Charlie Squad?
Michael Taylor, a beefy 15-year-old also from Baltimore, was jailed on charges of attempted murder 39 days after his release from boot camp.
He got out. Prosecutors finally decided, after he had spent eight months in an adult jail, not to go ahead with the charges that he shot a man four times.
But within weeks after his release, after an aunt notified juvenile justice officials that he was running wild again, he was locked up again in a state facility, the Victor Cullen Academy in Frederick County, for violating his probation.
Roland "Reno" Scott, another city kid, went back to dealing drugs within weeks after his release. He's back in now.
Last year, just months after he graduated from the Savage Leadership Challenge, the boot camp where Charlie Squad suffered the assaults, he was sent back.
On a trip away from the camp in December, he decided he'd had enough. He bolted and went on the run for a day before cops caught up with him.
The 17-year-old, who lost his mother when she crashed her car and his father to AIDS from a dirty heroin needle, is locked up at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, the juvenile facility in Baltimore County. He's not due to be released until next year.
What of Derrick Horrey, who got into trouble when juvenile justice officials broke their promise to get him into the Marine Corps and away from the anarchy of West Baltimore?
As soon as he was released from the Savage boot camp last year, Horrey went it alone.
Within two weeks, he picked up an adult charge of dealing crack. Following the pattern he struck in the juvenile justice system, he was then released and three days later picked up another charge in the adult system, again for dealing crack.
Horrey was released a second time, picked up a third charge three days later and was released again. He managed to go two months before he picked up his fourth adult charge. Two months later he picked up his fifth.
This is just as Horrey had feared before he left the boot camp. He didn't want to come back to Baltimore - wanted to go directly from the camp into the military, so the temptations of the corner wouldn't swallow him.
State juvenile justice workers, assuring him they'd get him right into the Marines, asked Horrey to spend just one weekend at home. He did. But the state didn't keep its promise, and Horrey hasn't helped matters.
Now 18, he's a five-time loser in just his first year of adulthood. His most recent charge, for assault, cost him 12 days in jail, far less than it could have been but, his grandmother fears, a sign of things to come.
These days, he carries his belongings from one house to another, wondering what happened.
"Sometimes I think he's safer in jail," says the grandmother, Veda Hartley. "I'm hoping to God nobody don't hurt him while he's out. The way he lives, with all them drugs, I don't know why somebody don't."
He gave up on the military, she says, after he was locked up for the third time, after his mother went back to jail, too, after he heard nothing from the juvenile justice agency about his new crimes or those promises of the military.
"They never got back to him, and he won't talk about it no more," his grandmother says. "He got disappointed and the runaround, so I think that's it for him. I think he thinks drugs is easier."
In the wake of the revelations about Charlie Squad, state officials - from Glendening and Townsend on down - had plenty to say about the deplorable state of Maryland's juvenile justice system and how the 14 cadets had been mistreated, inside the camp and during their probation.
But these days, Department of Juvenile Justice spokesman Bob Kannenberg says neither he nor Robinson, appointed in December to fix the agency, has any comment about "how Charlie Squad is doing, generally."
In recent months, Robinson has declined or simply not responded to a half-dozen requests for an interview about the department and its progress or lack of it, other than to issue a two-sentence written statement that reform is under way.
The governor, the lieutenant governor and Robinson will not address any aspect of Charlie Squad, why the state has not been in contact with Shanklin or Phelps or many of the other kids, or why no one from the agency even knows the whereabouts of half of them - although in theory six of the seven missing squad members are still on probation.
Mike Morrill, Glendening's spokesman, says only juvenile justice officials can speak to specific cases. But, he adds, the plight of Charlie Squad is no reflection on efforts under way to improve the agency, explaining, "We never saw this as being about 14 kids. This is about an entire system being changed, and that's what we're going about doing."
Townsend, who bills herself as the governor's point-person on criminal issues, now says through a spokesman that she won't discuss Charlie Squad or the department until Robinson does. Another spokesman says the lieutenant governor stands by the comments from the governor's office.
The juvenile justice agency gave a Sun reporter full access to the kids at the camps and to their records before the December series was published. The agency cut that off after the department's failings were outlined. The current fate of Charlie Squad was determined through adult records, interviews with kids who are not now locked in juvenile jails and through juvenile records obtained through other means.
Glendening and Townsend brought Robinson into the department after they said they were misled by top aides, and were surprised anything untoward was happening at the state's three boot camps for juvenile delinquents.
Punctuating their shock, they also closed the camps and ousted the secretary and undersecretary of the department, both their appointees, and three other juvenile justice officials. Along with critics of the department who have insisted for years on the need for reforms, Glendening and Townsend agreed that big changes were a must.
The proposed reforms were supposed to include better oversight of kids once they're released from juvenile jails. Townsend again called for a system of rewards for good behavior and punishment for bad - "graduated sanctions" - to be put in place. Long a part of her recipe for dealing with delinquents, it has never been carried out with any consistency.
But during the General Assembly session that began in January, the governor and lieutenant governor helped kill most every piece of legislation proposed for the juvenile justice system - publicly putting their faith in Robinson's appointment instead of mandating systemic change.
They did, however, win a record 16 percent budget increase for the department from the legislature, giving it a total of more than $160 million to spend annually. And Robinson has said that with that new money, he could make the department run as it's supposed to.
But even if the agency functions as officials intend, many advocates say, kids like those from Charlie Squad will still be left on their own because the department is so intent on jailing them - instead of preventing crimes in the first place, getting them mental health help or substance abuse treatment or appropriate schooling.
Essentially, the department locks the kids up and lets them go. Over and over again.
Not one member of Charlie Squad has been locked up fewer than three times since first entering the juvenile justice system. Since being released from the camp, one, Horrey, has been locked up five times.
Statewide, about eight of every 10 kids who come into contact with Maryland's juvenile justice agency are caught committing another crime - giving Maryland one of the worst juvenile recidivism rates in the nation.
"With no intervention, no follow-up, you see these juveniles over and over going back to the life of crime," says Michael Taylor's attorney, Richard G. Berger of Baltimore. "Had they intervened - they being the juvenile justice system and the family - maybe you wouldn't see kids like him graduating to being more hard-core and more violent."
Adds Heather Ford, director of the Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition: "This agency is completely broken, and they're still tinkering around the edges with it. I think they need to blow it up and give it a complete budgetary overhaul."
Meanwhile, officials are still promising changes.
The legislature's budget increase did not take effect until July 1, which limited the juvenile justice agency's ability to make changes quickly, its defenders note. But the specifics of when and how those funds will be put to use have not been announced.
The agency has also delayed fixing other problems that were identified even earlier, such as the need to follow higher standards at state juvenile detention facilities.
A new set of such standards was adopted by the state last year, calling for reducing overcrowding at state facilities by treating more kids in their homes and neighborhoods - rather than in jails, where they're sometimes forced to sleep on the floor. Those standards aren't yet being enforced.
"There's no question that the reforms that are needed will take some time," says Jim McComb, chairman of the Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition. "At the same time, there are some things they could do in the short run to inspire some confidence that these changes are going to be made.
"That confidence hasn't been inspired, not when they can't even give us a time-line for implementing the detention standards or when no attempt is being made to treat kids publicly identified as having serious drug problems."
But advocates say they have little choice but to continue pushing Glendening, Townsend, Robinson and legislators. The new secretary, they say, has been working with them to carry out some of the probation-related changes suggested by a task force appointed by the governor after the series was published in December.
They still hope Robinson's promises of reform do not go the way of those of his predecessors.
The task force recommendations went well beyond probation to a scathing assessment of the juvenile justice agency, concluding that the department had virtually no strategy for holding kids accountable for their crimes or treating their needs.
The task force asked the agency to determine which kids are truly dangerous so it could avoid locking up those who are not. It also recommended putting more money into mental health and drug-addiction treatment, family counseling and education; and it called for the development of a better information system to track kids and deal with them before they graduate to real trouble.
Daniel W. Moylan, a retired juvenile judge from Washington County who helped lead the task force last winter, says that at first he was concerned that nobody seemed to be paying any attention to his group's recommendations.
But he now adds: "What gives me hope is the department now has the leadership it never had before, and for the first time I can remember, the secretary is bringing people in from the outside and really seems interested in what we're saying. He knows he can't go it alone."
But Shanklin's very much on his own.
"How're them other guys doing?" the 17-year-old asks in June from behind the thick glass at the Charles County Detention Center, an adult facility. "Anybody else locked up?"
He figures he's facing one to five years. Probably closer to one, he believes before his plea bargain is worked out. He can cut it, he insists, though his eyes flit as he speaks - never could hide his nervousness very well. He's been in jail since March and figures he'll probably get credit for the time he's served.
And so in Courtroom A of the Charles County Courthouse last month, Pamala Shanklin, Darrell Shanklin's mother, shifts uncomfortably on the wooden pews and waits for her son to be brought in. She rests her chin on the cane she uses to walk, shakily because of her multiple sclerosis, but she is there for Darrell, says that's how it'll always be, whatever his problems.
"He's still my baby," she says. "He'll always be my baby."
She sits in the courtroom seven hours, waiting for her son's case to be called.
She waits while the judge sentences a car thief. Waits while another thug who stole Christmas presents from under a tree answers for his crime. Waits while a 17-year-old kid who raped a 12-year-old girl tells the judge that, yes, he's guilty, and wears a grin as he leaves the courtroom.
Finally, it's Shanklin's turn. His case is the last of the day.
Sheriff's deputies lead him into the courtroom. He wears a black shirt and black pants. His mother says it's a small thing but she's glad he's not in the prison jumpsuit.
But he is handcuffed and shackled, just as he was when he arrived at the Western Maryland boot camp to be rehabilitated more than a year earlier. Only now, he's in a lot more trouble.
He shuffles before the judge, and his mother looks at him, makes a moment of eye contact with her son and manages a closed smile. She has not seen him since March, except behind that thick glass at the jail, and she is nearly close enough to touch him, a blessing.
Circuit Judge Richard J. Clark asks Shanklin if he understands the charges against him.
"Yes, sir," Shanklin replies.
"And you understand the possible sentence?" the judge asks.
"Yes, sir," Shanklin replies again.
"And you still wish to plead guilty?"
The sentence will very likely be more than five years, not the year that Shanklin was counting on. As it turned out, his partners who put the blade to the pizza man's throat - and together with Shanklin robbed a second one - pleaded guilty as well. Prosecutors never needed Shanklin's plea bargain.
Shanklin's plea deal formally calls for a maximum of 14 years, consistent with Maryland sentencing guidelines for adult offenders. There's no mandatory minimum.
But when Shanklin is sentenced next month, the judge will be using guidelines that suggest a minimum of four years in prison. Typically in Charles County, judges sentence somewhere in the middle of the guideline range - which, in Shanklin's case, would be somewhere around nine years.
So chances are, this 17-year-old robber of two pizza men - for a total take of about $50 and those Newport 100s - will be at least 26 years old when he's released.
Outside the courtroom, Pamala Shanklin nearly falls as she steps gingerly toward her son, now being hustled back to jail. The deputies take pity and step aside as the mother balances herself, one arm pressing down on her cane, the other wrapped around her Darrell, her face pressed against his heart.
"We love you, Darrell," she says, and there are tears from both the mother and the son.
"I love you, too," he says, and the deputies ease the teen-ager away to await sentencing, as an adult.