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Published: Sunday, 9/23/2007

Inmate now wishes court had been strict earlier

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Angelo Cortez regrets that punishment for his early offenses never made enough impact for him to correct his behavior. Angelo Cortez regrets that punishment for his early offenses never made enough impact for him to correct his behavior.
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As buses pulled through his East Toledo neighborhood not so long ago picking up other youths his age, Angelo Cortez would kiss his mother good-bye before heading outside.

But by the time his bus pulled up, the teen had vanished.

It wasn't that the Waite High School student didn't want to go to school. Rather it just seemed that people were so willing to line up for a quick hit from the heroin that he carefully divided and cut into plastic bags.

"School was just like a second choice to me," he said.

But time, which had then seemed so promising, is all the teen has these days at the London Correctional Facility in central Ohio's Madison County, a three-hour drive from his home.

Cortez is one of 315 youths who Lucas County Juvenile Court turned over to the adult system between 2002 and 2006. They are the juveniles who the court believes are no longer "amenable to rehabilitation."

And that means Cortez, a fan of barbecued ribs and shrimp, these days must be content with the prison's turkey slices.

He said he regrets his crimes, but he also believes that things might have turned out differently had the Lucas County Juvenile Court cracked down on him earlier.

Before he caught the felonies that landed him in prison, Cortez was arrested at least four times, records show - once carrying a knife, another time with a bag of brown heroin and $440 cash.

He was given a warning letter for stealing a pair of $30 cubic zirconia earrings, and other cases were dismissed or diverted to other programs.

Once the court ordered him to spend six hours cleaning a youth club, he said.

"They're giving [youths] too much slack," he said of the juvenile court. "If you make them do something for their first little crime, that should wake you up unless you're hard-headed Time will break you down."

And as for detention, the now-19-year-old said: "Most of the time [I] just go and five minutes later, I'm out on the street My mom'd come and get me."

Even when a magistrate suspended a prison sentence for drug abuse - warning Cortez that his next trip back to court would be a shortcut to prison - the teen saw the threat as fleeting.

"I looked at it like, 'OK, whatever.' They let me out and that's all that mattered. Once they said they were going to let me out, I didn't hear nothing else."

Two months later, police found Cortez, two other teens, scales, heroin, and plastic bags in a hotel room. And three weeks after that, police surrounded a van at the rear of his house. Inside was Cortez - still holding heroin and plastic bags.

"As soon as I turned around, police were in my face, 'Don't move.' I'm like, 'What are you doing?'•" he recalled.

He wasn't worried. Even in a courtroom that November, Judge Denise Cubbon's words just seemed to slip together.

"I'd just zoned out," Cortez recalled. "Then I heard her say, 'bound you over to Lucas County [Common Pleas] Court.'•"

Stunned, he was led out of the court in handcuffs. He glanced back: "I was tripping. My mom walked out of the court crying, my lawyers talking to my ma."

He was 17.

Judge Cubbon, now the court's new administrative judge, is adamant: Second chances, like a suspended or "stayed" sentence to prison, will happen only once in her courtroom, she said.

"I never say 'If I see your face again, I'm sending you to the Department of Youth Services' unless I mean it," she said.

Cortez's three-year sentence isn't up for another year. This spring, his friends graduated from high school. At parties, they asked his brother about him.

He wished he'd heeded the magistrate's earlier threat.

"Life," he said, shaking his head, "is nothing to be messed with."



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