This meeting is held in a small room in a local social services agency. Three board representatives sit in a row facing the youthful offender. The youth's mother sits behind and to the right of her son. The board representatives include Ms. Langdon, a Black woman in her midthirties who is an advertising agency executive; Mr. James, a retired White police officer; and Mrs. Perez, a Latino mother of four in her fifties who has worked as a waitress most of her life.
The offender, Enrico Gonzales, is Latino, 14, and a gang member. His mother, Ms. Gonzales, is a Latino single mother in her early thirties who works as a hotel maid. She has two other children. Enrico is before the board as a result of a gang-related break-in and burglary at the Clark Street Convenience Store. He was adjudicated for breaking and entering and for stealing goods valued at $350. The board members have concerns for the young Black Henderson family, who live above the store and felt invaded and were terrified by what might have happened when the burglary took place below them. Neither the store owner nor the Henderson family is present at this meeting, which is not part of the adjudication process.
Mr. James begins by explaining to Enrico what the board is expected to do. "You have already been convicted of stealing $350 from the Clark Street Store. Because of your age and your mother's pleading, the court has referred you to us to come up with an appropriate punishment rather than send you to the training school. You know what the training school is?"
"Yeah," Enrico nodded.
"Well, you're a lucky young man. Now then, how are you gonna pay back the $350?"
The boy shrugged, "Don't know?"
"You got a job?"
"Sometimes? What the hell does that mean?" Mr. James demanded.
Rather than respond, Enrico's glance shifted to the floor.
Motioning for Mr. James to remain quiet, Ms. Langdon asked, "What do you do when you work sometimes?"
"Sweep floors for the meat market."
"Ah, the Greyson Meat Market?"
"How much do you make an hour?"
"How many hours do you work a week?"
"Sometimes 10. Sometimes more or less."
"Then you do have some income," Mr. James noted directly.
"Enrico, how do you use that money now?" asked Mrs. Perez.
"Buy some things."
"What kind of things?"
Enrico slumped further in the chair and answered without making eye contact. "Food. Maybe a tape. Things."
Noticing the pleading eyes of Enrico's mother, Mrs. Perez directed her next question to her. "Is that about right, Ms. Gonzales?"
"Yes, but the food is food for the family. He keeps very little of what he earns for himself. He gives the money to me and I give him a couple dollars a week for himself. Enrico is a good boy."
"Well that may be, but he is going to have to pay back the value of the goods he stole," Ms. Langdon interjected rapidly.
"He's already getting a big break," added Mr. James, arms crossed. "We can't let him get off scot-free just because you don't make enough money to feed your family."
Wearily, Ms. Gonzales looked to Mrs. Perez for help.
"You will need to work out with Enrico a way for him to pay back the grocer," Mrs. Perez said. "We don't want to put your family in jeopardy, but your son has committed a crime and has to make things right. I've raised four children myself. We parents have to take some responsibility for our young. You can't just let him hang out with a gang or he will go bad for sure."
"The money is just money. Isn't anybody concerned about that young Black family living over the store? They were terrorized." Pointing at Enrico, Ms. Langdon asked, "What are you going to do for them, young man?"
"Huh," Enrico grunted blankly.
"You don't give a damn about them, do you?" her voice rose sharply. "They're Blacks living in a Latino neighborhood. I don't know why they chose to live there, but they got rights to their safety."
"Enrico," began Mrs. Perez, "Would you be willing to meet with that couple, if they would be willing to meet with you? There would be another person present to make sure everything was safe and so on."
"Why would I do that?"
"Maybe they need to know that you didn't want to hurt them. Maybe you need to see them to know that you did more wrong that night than steal some things off a shelf. Maybe they need to see you. That you're a real person and not some TV hood."
Enrico grinned a half smile, "Okay. If you think it would help."
(During this meeting a restitution plan for the store owner was worked out and a potential meeting with the young family living above the store was arranged. The board also agreed to look into finding services to help Enrico and his family.)
To review this case from a cross-cultural perspective, consider the following questions.
2 This account is fictional.