Having committed very serious violent crimes at a very young age and subsequently, having been acquainted with many other young men who are incarcerated for murder and felony murder, can you draw any conclusions or speculate about the difference between those of you in prison and the teenagers who may flirt with trouble, but who never cross the line and become involved in violent crimes?
From my experience, the only difference I can tell in teens who have been involved in serious crimes and those who have only dabbled in non-violent crimes is situation. The vast majority of juvenile offenders are not hardened criminals. They are not prone to being violent by themselves. But when they get with other kids, they get bolder. Teens will push each other to go a bit further until things get out of line. I remember when I broke into a house at 14 with a friend of mine; it was the only time I had done it and it was the home of a friend of my buddy. I was terrified, even though I knew nobody was home. We approached in stages, kinda daring each other to get a little closer. When he would be apprehensive I would run ahead to the next tree to show him up. When I’d start backing down, he’d rush forward.
That is the way it works with kids. They are more prone to get into trouble with back-up than when they are alone. I met kids with crimes completely out of character for them who basically got caught up in the pack mentality. Robbing a store or doing a drive-by seems like such a better idea with others around and when the others are cooler older kids or young adults, the teen has little chance of resisting.
The inner city kids are the ones who are really screwed. I know some juvenile LWOPs who grew up in houses where “I shot that fool up” was just as common around the house as “we’re out of milk, go to the store”. In a house full of gang members in and out of jail, what chance does a kid have? Violence is normal for them, it is acceptable in the eyes of their authority figures. In all other respects these kids were normal kids trying to be just like Daddy (or, more often, an uncle or older brother) so when doing a drive-by is suggested, there’s no reason to pause to give thought. Older gang members use those kids and their thirst for acceptance and love. They encourage them to commit crimes. Teens are notoriously susceptible to peer pressure.