In a three-story, yellow stone house at 82 V St. NW. five teen-age girls are struggling to adapt to a new way of life centered somewhere between the comforts of home and the constraints of a detention center.
The residence, called The New Group Home, is the first of the Department of Human Resource's community-based facilities to house youngsters committed by the courts as truants and discipline problems.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, four girls spoke of time spent in detention centers during their early lives "on the run."
Mamie, the oldest, lounges on the black leather sofa knitting while Carolyn and Toni rough house. Ivy smiles through the scene while Ma (Marion) Merritt, one of the home's four counselors yells for order.
Jennie McFarland, the cook, sits by the window trying, in vain, to stay cool.
A few months ago, they all lived or worked in Maple Glen, a detention center in Laurel, Md. DHR is seeking to close Maple Glen by August 1 and transfer its residents and youths in Cedar knoll, an institution primarily for delinquents, to homes in the city.
The program to place these youths in a more home-like setting under the People In Need of Supervision (PINS) program was undertaken by DHR two years ago with funds supplied by a grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. Failure to fully implement the program by August 1 would result in the city repaying LEAA $200,000 in grant funds.
In May, 12 girls were sent from Maple Glen to The New Group Home, DHR's first home in the PINS program. J.L. Wyatt, DHR's chief of institutional care services in Laurel, Md., said seven of those girls were later sent to Cedar Knoll. Five of them were recommitted as People In Need of Supervision, and two as delinquents.
Althea White, a counselor at The New Group Home, cites "an inability to cope with the rapid change from institution to community homes" as the reason the girls were sent back. There are indications, she said, that the remaining five are struggling with the same problem.
As a reporter listened, the girls discussed violations of group home rules as casually as they break them. Talk of going home is just that, talk. They say they have no homes to go back to.
"It's not like a real home," said Toni, a street-wise 13-year-old. "The thing is, there's no place like home. But when they told me they were sending me here, you just don't know how happy I felt. This is halfway point to getting back to my people!"
For Toni, the move to 82 V St. meant the end of a bout with truancy - she'll be a high school sophomore this fall - and a revolving-door pattern in and out of Maple Glen. The pattern began, Toni said, when she was first sent to the institution on truancy charges. She was 11 years old at the time.
After her first incarceration. Maple Glen became her second home. Her first, she said, had been the streets.
"My parents broke up when I was 2," she said. "I lived with my father but I thought he was old fashioned and I kept running away. I started getting in trouble and staying out late at night. I went without food. Then I got sent down.
"I didn't think when I was running away that, hey, this was the only place I had to stay." She thought a moment. "I learned a lesson from that."
Mamie, 16, said she's learned her lesson, too.
"It'll never happen again," she said solemnly. "I feel I might as well go back to school and get my education."
She'll enter high school this fall.
Truancy was also the charge that sent Mamie to several institutions. The youngster said she was glad to get away from a home that contained 19 relatives.
At 13, she said, no school would take her because of truancy and because she fought with her teachers.
Mamie said her aversion to school began at age 11, after her mother died. The running eventually led her to Maple Glen and Cedar Knoll. In the institutions, she said, she experienced time in solitary confinement, punishment for cussing and girls at Cedar Knoll armed with weapons they'd smuggled in.
"I wasn't scared though, cause I brought it on myself," she reasons. "Since I brought it on myself I had to suffer the consequences."
Carolyn's story followed a similar pattern.
"I was living with my aunt. My father's a patient at Saint Elizabeths," she explains. "I kept running away from home. So I was sent to Maple Glen. From there I came here."
"I hate this house!" Carolyn yelled dramatically. "I'm going to run away. They're going to send me to C.K. (Cedar Knoll)."
No one responded.
"They're going to send me to C.K.," she repeated.
"Yeah," piped up Toni," "cause she came in this morning at 6 from last night."
"How do you know?" challenged Carolyn.
"'Cause I came back at 10:45 and I was up when you and Ivy came in."
"I didn't come in late!" Ivy protested.
"What time did you come in?" asked Toni patiently.
Ivy tried to suppress a grin.
"I came in 5. . . .6 (a.m.). Something like that."
"She came in a minute before me," Carolyn chuckled. "Ms. White was at the door." Carolyn does her best Ms. White imitation. "She told me. "You know where you're going, don't you? You're going down to C.K. I'm just going to give you another chance.'"
Counselor Althea White says it didn't happen quite that way.
"She said I was going to give her another chance?" Her voice strains to stay at a moderate volume. "I'm not going to give then another chance!" she explodes. "Yes, I made reference to Cedar Knoll. What I said was, 'If you ladies feel you cannot cooperate with the rules of the house, I'm going to write a report documenting your behavior out of the daily log book. Other girls have been sent to Cedar Knoll for whatever the reason may be and I don't see where you ladies are any better.'"
White said the two girls have broken curfew constantly since coming to the home.
"It began with Ivy a month and a half after she got here; with Carolyn in May," she said. "These girls roam up and down the street - even on V Street.
"They're been coming in at 5, 6, 8 o'clock and I have no idea where they go. If you ask them they tell us, 'None of your business." The other girls are asking, 'What are you going to do about Carolyn and Ivy?'"
"We have girls that are cooperating, who do come in on time. These kids have to change their behavior," she added.
Curfew hours, explained the counselors, are 9:30 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends.
"They're supposed to restrict us," smiled Carolyn who said she came home before dark when her mother was alive.
"They don't do nothing," added Ivy. "They should restrict us, then maybe we'd know how to act," she said.
"There are restrictions," corrected counselor Mary Nolan. "If they violate curfew, they're not supposed to go out the next day. But the girls rarely listen, and there aren't any locks on the doors."
Group home rules demand that the girls sign out, giving their destination, before they leave the home. Again, they said, they rarely follow the rule.
"When we sign out and we're not on this block, they don't have nothing to do with where we go as long as we're back here on time," said Toni.
"I signed out and I didn't put where I was going," said Carolyn of her jaunt the evening before. "Ms. Bennet was there when I signed out."
Bennet confirmed the statement.
"She didn't write down where she was going, and I rarely ask them because they wouldn't tell you anyway," she said. Her voice drags along tiredly, just a shade above a whisper.
"We're trying to help them. We're definitely concerned. But they can be in the front of the house and I can go to the bathroom or into the kitchen, when I come back they've disappeared," she said helplessly.
"You can't check on them all the time! We're not supposed to be policemen," Bennet added.
Bennet said drinking is against house rules. Carolyn said she drinks beer off the premises. Smoking is discouraged and anti-smoking films are shown, but all the girls smoke.
Counselors acknowledge that curfew, drinking, and any other violations could provide sufficient cause to send any one of the girls back to the institutions.
"The kids have a habit of threatening staff," said White. "They'll tell you, 'If you bother my radio, you're going out the window!'"
If the courts judge them unable to adjust to community living, then regardless of DHR's good intentions or LEAA's funds, the youths - even though judged as truants - could be sent to detention centers for delinquents, said DHR officials.
"They're doing that now," said Wyatt, "and I assume they can do it after August 1. At this time, we have 11 females committed as PINS that had specific orders to Cedar Knoll. Five came from the group homes.
"It's been my experience that the individual judges make orders they feel are right regardless of what anyone else says. The court reform act gives the judges authority to co-mingle youngsters (PINS and delinquents)," he explained. "Agencies can't do that."
Wyatt said he believes youths recommitted from the homes should have their status changed to delinquents. Problem youths in the homes may have to be placed in stricter community facilities, he said.
"What we may have to do is work out some gradation of group homes," he suggested. "Right now I don't know what we'll do."
Youngsters at the V Street home have their own idea of what went wrong with former perpetrators.
"They didn't know how to act," said Toni. "They went out when they wanted to. They were being nude in the windows. They didn't know how to take advantage of their opportunities."
With a glance at the counselors she outlined her method for group home success: "You've got to make them (counselors) think you want to do something with yourself. Then you do your thing outside, not in here."
The others agreed. The con, they said, is the only way to get privileges. There is evidence, however, that the girls are benefitting from being in the home.
Most counselors are spoken of affectionately because they are good listeners, the girls said. Marion Merritt, a distinguished-looking, older woman who used to work at Junior Village, has unanimously become Ma Merritt to the group.
The girls are assigned chores - such as making beds, cleaning the living room - which they perform well, if not often. And there has even been an effort, by some, to correct each other's behavior.
They say they are changing.
"Only thing I got out of here so far," said Mamie, concentrating on her knitting, "is I used to cuss people out all the time. Just be nasty! The first time I cussed here. Ms. Thompson (the assistant administrator) told me not to do it anymore." She seems pleased.
Toni said the residential location of the home has influenced her behavior.
"When you're living in a neighborhood with mostly older people you have to respect them. By being around respectful people that adds up. By the time I leave here I'll probably be like that," she reasoned.
Toni said her former neighborhood was inhabited by "hoodlums."
Carolyn turns to counselor Nolan and speaks wistfully of going to live in the suburbs - "some place where there aren't drunks on the street."
Ivy wants to go home.
"I learned my lesson," she said. "I don't want to be locked up anymore. But I haven't been gaining anything positive here. I just haven't! I want to go home to my mother.
The room, again, became quiet.
Finally she admitted, "They wouldn't take me. I have no place to go."
"My mother's trying to get a bigger house," Toni said unconvincingly. "I know I'll mess up with my father." Then she added, "Me and my brothers will bump heads with my mother."
Carolyn didn't say anything. And Mamie just kept on knitting.