By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
When Debrow was 17 1/2, he would be called to account for how he spent his TYC days. At that time, he would be interviewed by TYC's Special Services Committee, which was charged with examining his records, conducting a psychological evaluation, interviewing staff and forwarding a recommendation about Debrow's future to a Bexar County judge. If Debrow was a screw-up, he could expect the worst possible outcome: a recommendation that he be sent to adult prison to continue his sentence.
The decision was ultimately up to the judge, but TYC would send its representative to the court hearing to make a case. It was Debrow's job to explain himself, and there would be much to explain.
At TYC, all the kids attend school, participate in group and, as needed, take part in special programs such as "intensive resocialization." Teachers, shrinks and staffers are on hand to provide one-on-one care. "We've got to treat them," explains TYC court liaison Leonard Cucolo, who would testify at Debrow's court hearing. Cucolo wouldn't comment specifically on Debrow's case, but he explained the system's obligation to treat every kid, whether he's a sheep or a psychopath. "We're responsible for them until they're 17 1/2 under the old law. If a youth comes in at 12 and is a behavior problem, we can't go back to the court until that time."
Debrow, however, had a problem that the vast majority of his fellow charges didn't share--a determinate sentence that could extend into middle age if need be. He was surrounded by kids with sentences of just a few months, kids who could see a way out. He saw none. As his friend Carvae, who also had a determinate sentence, wrote in a letter, "At 12 years old, we were nothing but babies trying to be somebody. We've never had a car, house, wife, kids, nothing in our name but a murder case. To this day we deal with the fact that if we was to die in here we lived no life."
That feeling of hopelessness about the future, Debrow says, would eventually snuff out any impulse to work toward a positive change. At times, he would pick up jobs in TYC, work diligently for a few months, try to "get back on track and do something for myself," then things would go "downhill." It didn't help that he was in a succession of schools--West Texas, Brownwood State School and Giddings State School, where some of the hardest cases go--that were swimming with Crips and Bloods, a phenomenon of the times. "Back then, we had a lot of gang members come into TYC," Cucolo explains. "We don't select who comes in, so they're bringing in their problems."
The hopeful moments were so scarce, Debrow recalls them with touching exactitude. One of the highlights of his stay in Brownwood was a 1994 trip outside the compound to McDonald's, accompanied by a kindly administrator. He remembers precisely what he ate: two hamburgers, a large order of fries and a Coke.
Debrow summed up his attitude while recalling a failed escape from Brownwood. He had a lot of time to think while he spent the entire night hogtied in his room. "I had 27 years and I didn't give a damn," he writes. "I had nothing to lose."
I was always in trouble. TYC staff labeled me as incorrigible. All the groups that I went to. All the skills that I was taught. None of that would help me. I could change if I wanted to but I wasn't ready to change. I wanted to enjoy my life the way I wanted to. And acting a damn fool was a part of it.
For some odd reason I thought I was losing my mind. I continued to misbehave and I was always thinking about violence. I constantly had negative things on my mind. I wanted to stay in trouble. Being in trouble helped me pass my time.