ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — His friends call him “Gio,” and so will we.
He has a lot of weight to carry, and having his name in the newspaper would only add to that weight.
Gio, 15, has two early memories.
“I was about 5. We lived in an apartment near the State Fairgrounds, I was trying to get into the apartment and couldn’t open the door,” he said.
He remembers running to the apartment of a neighbor, who came to his aid and helped open the door. They found Gio’s mother passed out from using heroin.
Another time, when he was a little older, he and his younger brother were playing in the median of a busy street near East Central late at night. His mother was at an apartment high on heroin.
He remembers the back of the police car. His mother was in the back of another police car.
Then, there is the memory of coming home when he was 11 and finding his mother dead of a heroin overdose.
He called the ambulance.
“Heroin is really bad stuff,” Gio said in an interview at the YDI Inc. Gang Intervention Program. Present were program director Judy Pacheco, a counselor and his grandmother.
Gio’s grandmother said, “I did what I could. Took her to rehab. Took her to the emergency rooms. Sometimes she went to jail, and the dealers were waiting for her, knocking on her door, when she got out.
“They should charge heroin dealers with murder; they’re killing kids,” she said. Gio looked at her and said, “The kids kill themselves.”
He came to YDI because it had a hip-hop stage and recording program. He likes to sing and has a part in a recorded hip-hopera called “Chasing Nowhere.”
“I wanted to perform,” he said. “I found out about it from a friend.”
He’s one of more than 350 kids YDI’s Gang Intervention program reaches each year. About 25 percent are referred by the Juvenile Court, but most are walk-ins like Gio.
Getting kids moving in a positive direction, instead of a self-destructive one, is the goal, said Rusty Rutherford, an intervention specialist.
“It doesn’t matter what side of town you’re from – preppy white kids from the Heights or gang members from the Valley,” he said. “We all have differences, and we all have problems.”
By any definition, Gio is an “at-risk” teen.
School, to say the least, hasn’t been easy. But his grades are getting better.
He was wearing an ankle bracelet monitor at the time of the interview, because of some recent unstated trouble with the law.
“Its pretty easy to get into trouble,” Gio said. “You don’t have to go looking for it. It just happens.”
But if you think he’s unique, take a look at a series of maps prepared by the University of New Mexico Center for Education Policy Research called Mapping The Landscape.
Peter Winograd, the center’s head, says it paints a bleak portrait of the state’s educational system and the future for many New Mexico kids:
♦ Truancy rates for many schools are over 30 percent. Students with more than 10 absences are considered truant.
♦ Dropout rates of more than 30 percent.
♦ Drug use two or three times the national average.
♦ Poverty rates in some areas above 30 percent.
Leaf through it, and the statistics get more depressing with each page, something Winograd freely admits.
“It is a difficult picture to look at,” Winograd said. “But you have to understand the extent of the problem before you can move forward.”
Solutions may not lie in spending more money, but in how to use the money available, Winograd said.
“You need to start the discussion somewhere,” he said.
But he said he isn’t a defeatist.
“In my lifetime, the Berlin Wall was torn down and segregation was broken,” Winograd said. “Those were significant achievements. This lays out another challenge.”