As the boys settle in, Greg Thompson sits at a table in a humid classroom on the Temple University campus, nervously smoothing his tie.
He's banking on a scared-straight cliché, that the story of the man at his side - an ex-con who committed murder at 16, before he got a driver's license, danced at his senior prom, or got his high school diploma, and wasted a third of his life in prison - will deter his audience of youthful first-time offenders.
Thompson, 49, works to guide inmates and ex-offenders, young and old, toward successful reentry to society, and he hopes that maybe, just maybe, a connection will be made.
The dozen boys, most with round faces and budding mustaches, were all convicted of illegal gun possession, some caught with a gun in a school locker or under the seat of a car. But instead of jail, they have been sent to a program founded by Thompson a generation ago, Don't Fall Down in the Hood.
"That means somebody thought you were valuable enough to be given another chance," Thompson, a teddy bear of a man, with thinning hair and a bushy beard, offered as part of his welcome on a late afternoon.
He then presented the speaker, Anthony Harrison, 36, a muscular man in a white T-shirt and khakis with a bald head and deep-set eyes.
When Harrison was a skinny teen nicknamed Tone, he shot and killed a young man over a North Philadelphia drug corner. This was his first time sharing his confession with notes of regret instead of pride.
Before the 45-minute talk even began, Thompson kicked out one heavyset teen for yawning and rolling his eyes.
"Your body language talks," Thompson said. "You're saying you don't want to be here, and the only alternative for you guys is incarceration."
With Thompson moderating, Harrison described his odyssey growing up in the concrete mazes of two public housing projects.
When he was 9, his mother, a correctional officer with whom his relationship is still strained, left him and his four brothers for a former inmate. Her last words were something like "she was done," Harrison recalled with measured, soft-spoken words.
He bounced between his father's house and an aunt's, and he passed through a half-dozen schools for his unruly behavior, once throwing a textbook at a teacher's head.
At 12, he said, he joined his cousin, who was later shot and killed, and brother, now in jail for murder, in selling crack cocaine. As he came of age, the yellowy rocks were ravaging poor neighborhoods and enriching teens with larger incomes than their parents'.
"You don't see yourself as poisoning your community," Harrison explained. "You just want the next dollar."
On the couple of corners they ran, Harrison said, the trio made "overwhelming" money, netting thousands of dollars a day. He blew his third on flashy sweat suits, sneakers, a car, and pretty girls. Then came the bullets to protect it all.
According to Harrison's account and court records, the murder took place on a Saturday night in March 1991 at Judson and Berks Streets. Harrison and his cousin fought with a 27-year-old named Brian Timothy Simpkins over who controlled the heavy drug corner. Harrison settled it with a gun, shooting Simpkins in the stomach. Simpkins fell to one knee.
"How did he look?" Thompson asked, needing to slow the moment for effect.
"He looked at me," said Harrison, "and he was scared . . . crying, sweating."
Harrison kept shooting.
Simpkins got up, staggered a couple of steps, and fell. He lay on his back in the street, his chest pooling with blood.
Harrison looked out at the class, all eyes on him, and explained: "That was my state of mind, and the way I lived my life. It didn't matter. He tried to take something from me."
After the shooting, with Simpkins' blood staining his white sweat suit, Harrison bragged to his friends, he said. He remembers how "they laughed, they cheered."
Thompson asked Harrison repeatedly about regret, hoping he could summon enough emotion and remorse to break through to his young audience.
"I think about it every day," Harrison said gently. "I see his face. . . . If I had to do it all over again, I'd do it differently."
Six weeks after the shooting, Harrison was arrested and charged with third-degree murder, fingered by a witness. Harrison, then 17, was sentenced to six to 12 years in Graterford Prison and served the maximum, subject to a daily diet of fights and fear.
One polite-looking 15-year-old, with a GPS monitor atop his fresh white sneaker, asked what Harrison had thought about during that time.
"I wasn't done yet," he said. "I was hardheaded. I thought, 'Soon as I get out, I'm going to be right back at it.' "
Sure enough, after his release he was arrested seven more times in a succession of drug and gun charges.
But this time, Harrison said, his hands clasped on the table, "I'm trying hard not to make the same mistakes."
For the last three months, Harrison, a father of four, with an 11th-grade education, has been living in a halfway house. With Thompson, who works at the South Philadelphia-based Kingdom Care Reentry Network, he has developed a plan that includes attending parenting classes (his oldest child is 5), finding a certification program in carpentry or plumbing, landing some type of job, and helping to mentor young offenders.
There were more thoughtful questions, the last from a lanky 19-year-old: "You ever think how his family felt after you killed him?"
Harrison struggled with his answer. But then, with time almost up, he found the words to explain why he was there.
"When I look at y'all, I see me," he said, pausing to scan the boys' faces. "I was in a situation just like y'all are in now. Now I wish I would have stayed the course, but I just didn't listen. Try to see that you have an opportunity to change your life, even though you've been to court. I don't want y'all to go through the same things I went through."
As the boys filed out, one by one, they shook Harrison's hand.
Before Thompson dropped Harrison off for his curfew at the halfway house, the counselor and the ex-con lingered to discuss how things had gone.
In his mind, Thompson was somewhat disappointed. He wondered if his messenger had been powerful enough, and if anything of value had gotten through.
Harrison, having put his life on display, offered a dose of realism. "When I was their age, I heard the same speech," he said. "It's going to take more."
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