"C.O., how could you forget me? Well, it's been a while. I'm Mitchell, from Family Court."
Then I remembered who he was. I'd known him when he was a cherubic juvenile delinquent who'd had to make various appearances in Family Court, back in the early 1990s when I worked as a court officer in that hideous hall of justice. Mitchell wasn't a bad kid; it was more that he got caught doing stupid things. He'd get busted for graffiti or fare evasion. His biggest crime had been breaking into a school cafeteria and stealing food. He always showed up at court alone?a lost teenager with no one to vouch for him that he was a good kid in need of a little reining in. He never hurt anyone but himself during his little crime sprees, and he was always good for a laugh as I led him away for another short bid at Spotford.
The time he was busted for stealing food, the female lawyer prosecuting the case took a hard line, asking the judge to sentence Mitchell to a year. The prosecutor's main beef was that Mitchell had no guardian accompanying him. During a break I got the judge's ear and told him Mitchell was being raised by a single mother who couldn't afford to take time off from work, even for this. And as for the crime?what the hell, the kid was hungry, and he hadn't stolen anything but dinner. Luckily for Mitchell, the judge gave him mere probation?and promised him that one more arrest would earn him a longer stay at Spotford.
Well, that worked like a charm. We never saw Mitchell again. After the case was over I escorted him out of the building, wished him well and let him know that that had better be the last I saw of him. The young Mitchell sucked his teeth and said, "What was up with that prosecutor? She acted like I stole her last piece of food. What she, a baker in her off-hours?"
Flash forward eight years, and now here he was in downtown Brooklyn, smiling at me. I asked him what he was up to.
"Well, I kept my promise to that judge and never been back in court. I'm going to school, because I figured out a way to beat society's prejudices."
"Oh yeah? How's that?"
"I'm going digital. You see, if I deal with you over the Internet, you don't know that I was once a poor kid in Brooklyn with a shitty education and a whole bunch of arrests. You don't even know that I'm black unless I tell you, and why should I bother? See, the way I figure it, if I can start up a company like that Kozmo.com, I'll make some big bucks. But the difference will be that my company will go into the ghetto to deliver. I'll beat them at their own game. The ghetto is on the Internet, and my delivery guys will have no cash?everything done by credit card. No chance to rob anyone, and we get them what they need, when they need it. Just like in Manhattan."
I told Mitchell that it might be a viable idea?if, in fact, the neighborhoods he planned to service had enough people with credit cards in them.
"You kidding? They give plastic away. Everyone?at least everyone I want to be doing business with?has credit. I'm learning the knowledge now and getting a business plan together. It'll blow up, and then I'll take you to lunch."
We started to talk about Mitchell's neighborhood, Brownsville, and what's going on there now. I asked him about the spike in violence among younger kids?the pre-17-year-old set that's never been angelic, but that has become increasingly violent in recent years.
Mitchell nodded his head. "You remember back when I was going to court, how them halls of Family Court was always packed with all them little kids and grandmothers, because the mommy done ran out and got her herself hooked up with the glass dick?"
I told him I did.
"So where did all them crack babies go?" Mitchell continued. "They didn't move. They either went with Grandma or to foster homes, and grew up knowing that the two people in this world?their parents?who are supposed to give a fuck about them didn't. So now they coming up as teenagers. You think they got respect for anyone older than them? Hell no. And they ain't tough enough or big enough to deal with or fight with men in their 20s, so what do they do? They get a gun. Bang bang you dead. You think some kid abandoned by his parents give the least bit of shit about you, me or anyone?"
So how does a young man of 21 who's trying to do the right thing deal with violent kid criminals?
Mitchell gave me a sad smile.
"Same way I dealt with those bad-ass Jamaican posses when they were out on the street. I give kids today wide berth. Bump into them on the subway?even though I could kick their little asses?I'm the one saying sorry. I got things I want to do here. I don't got time to be gunned down by some former crack baby."
At the corner of Tillary St. I said goodbye to Mitchell and wished him all the luck in the world. He wished the same to me. As he was about to cross the street he turned.
"Hey, C.O.! Whatever happened to that bitch who wanted to give me a year for stealing that food?"
"I have no idea."
"Maybe she baking cookies or some shit. I tell you, if I ever get this thing together, I'll deliver her a lunch for free."