EDITOR’S NOTE: For the past six months, On the PULSE has been exploring the World of Reentry in Lycoming County and across the country. Through this series we will explore the criminal justice system through the eyes of participants who have spent years trying to get out of it. Some succeed, while others meet roadblocks along the way. Lycoming County is not alone in this struggle. This series is funded in part through donations from our readers.
On any given day in the 1990s, a young Chad Ling could be found riding his bike and doing tricks with the older kids in his Clearfield County neighborhood.
There was little to do in the one traffic light town of Allport, and Ling was the youngest of a motley crew of 20 neighborhood kids who palled around together. He was a passionate and driven child, always eager to push the limits and impress the older kids.
Ling began smoking marijuana at age 12. He soon escalated to harder drugs including prescription pills, bath salts and, eventually, heroin.
“I would get locked up, I would get out and I would just go back to the same thing over and over again,” Ling said.
The pathway to crime often begins in youth, perpetuated by easy access to criminal activity, a lack of accountability or years of trauma.
Nationally, over 2 million juveniles are arrested each year.
Born in the 1970s, Intistar Martin was raised by her father, a successful drug dealer in Philadelphia. When Martin was three, her mother died.
When her father was arrested, Martin went to live with her aunt. Aggression at school, petty theft and even car theft were common occurrences among her and her cousins as she grew. Around this time, Martin also began to be sexually assaulted on a regular basis by a member of her family.
The first time Martin was arrested was at age 12, when she used a shrimp roll as a pretend gun to rob the person in line in front of her at a convenience store.
“They were serious charges,” she said. “A lot of my attitude and my aggression and my behaviors was because I was being raped every day and couldn’t tell nobody. And the fact that there was criminal activity inside my house and outside my house and I was praised for it.”
Faulty support systems are often the cause of increased crime among youth, according to Cleveland Way, director of the men’s shelter at the American Rescue Workers. Way has worked with youth in Williamsport for over 14 years.
“I think most of that was ingrained,” said Way. “They had to live that way because of their environment or because of trauma and they didn’t have a father figure or parents to get them in the right direction. But nevertheless they made those choices because of the people they were hanging with.”
In Lycoming County, Deputy Chief John Stahl has worked in the probation system for over 15 years. He said it’s common to see the same individuals rotate in and out of his office, either on new offenses or for probation violations that keep them in the system.
But now, Stahl added, he sees the second and third generations of offenders who he first met years prior.
According to a recent Lycoming County prison recidivism study, two-thirds of the inmates who leave the prison are unemployed. Three-quarters are single and of those who are single, 50% have children.
“It’s a definite generational change that we are going through,” Stahl said. “They haven’t been told to get up on time or to have any type of structure of discipline in their life.”
Changing the environment for youth is a community effort, according to Way. He stressed that if children only see negativity around them, that reality will be their life’s ceiling.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” Way said. “We as neighbors and people in the community need to be role models.”