13-year-old thief can’t steal a new life

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13-year-old thief can’t steal a new life

The Southerner

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I heard the distinctive sound of my mom’s dark blue 2005 Honda Accord engine start up. Immediately, feelings of confusion and nervous suspicion clouded my mind. I drove here, so it couldn’t be my mom or dad. It’s definitely not me. I’m not in the driver’s seat. I didn’t turn the keys. I couldn’t have; I’m not even close to being done playing basketball.

All these thoughts occurred in the milliseconds that it took me to turn from the Candler Park court and peer up through the trees towards the source of the noise. My eyes confirmed my worst fears: my mom’s car speeding out of the parking lot like a gerbil nervously scurrying away from the grips of its anxious owner and into the safety of its connecting tubes.

With the car speeding out of my grasp, there weren’t really many effective ways to approach the situation, so naturally, I just ran. I sprinted as fast as my tired legs could carry me, up the hill to the park entrance and then down McClendon towards Fellini’s and the Candler Park Market. It ends up that on a relatively open road, cars can travel faster than humans, even angry ones. They beat me to the intersection by around 10 seconds, turned right onto Clifton and the car went bye-bye. Hunched over on the side of the road, disgusted anger consumed me, and that’s a very rare feeling for me.

Within a week, we heard that the car was totaled, crashed into a tree. The thief was 13 years old Torin Johnson. My wallet, iPod, our new GPS and even my mom’s collection of maps were nowhere to be found. Our insurance paid for what the car was worth, but it didn’t pay for even half of the Prius that we bought as a replacement.

For a little while, I was upset about losing some carefully thought-out playlists and my gym membership card, and I still feel a little guilty for costing my parents thousands of dollars. But after I had more time to think, my focus changed. I forgot about a few songs and gym passes and started thinking about the eighth grader going to juvenile court for car theft. When I was in eighth grade, I was dreaming about going to the NBA and worrying about silly projects and acne.

Let me take you to the juvenile court hearing on September 25th to give you a peek of Torin’s eighth grade experience. The almighty chief judge Belinda Edwards sat on her enormous throne facing the rest of us, and she spoke to Torin’s guardian, his grandmother, who was seated next to Torin. She asked her what she wanted for Torin. The grandmother’s face was tired and strained. She took a long pause and painstakingly told the judge she wanted Torin to get help before he comes home. She then explained how difficult it has been for her, how Torin rarely comes home or goes to school.

In the end though, Torin would be going home with two years of probation and promises that he will obey his grandmother. He promised that he would go to school, follow his grandmother’s 8:00 curfew and not take anything that didn’t belong to him.

Though these promises seemed sincere, two police officers who were involved in the case told me the grim, depressing truth as we rode the elevator: Torin is “a runner”, and by the next day, he would be gone again. They expected to see him on the streets for years to come.

What a life for a 13-year old. It seems like he’s set on a path: a narrow path with tall, solid surrounding walls trapping him, funneling him in one direction. Dreams are left behind. Values and morals are kicked up in the dirt. There are lots of police, but not much help.

And how did Torin get on this path? He didn’t spit out the pacifier and decide he wanted to steal a car when he was older. More than likely, he grew up in a rough environment, had terrible role models, and because of this, his self-expectations plummeted. Torin is old enough to be responsible for his actions and deserves some blame, but if no one instilled good values in him at a young age, it is unfair to expect him to have good values. It’s possible this is not the case for Torin, but I think it’s reasonable to say he had a difficult life growing up, and overcoming these difficulties has been too much for him to handle alone.

It may seem short-sighted to preach about Torin, who is just one of many struggling out there. Saying there are thousands, maybe millions of others doesn’t put it into perspective well enough; we all know there are lots of people less fortunate out there. Just look around instead. Try to understand that other people have concerns more extreme than college applications, awkward conversations and parents that enforce curfew.

Personally, I’ve understood that there are many less fortunate people out there, but I’m ashamed to say that it took a stolen car for me to independently pursue helping one. Better late than never, though. I contacted six different people involved with my case, but none of them could give me Torin’s contact info. I’m not done yet. If you know Torin, let me know, because I think he needs someone to tell him he has a future, and if it’s in racecar driving, he needs some more practice.

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