We told an 11-year-old he did the right thing by snitching on his dad. Then, we let him get lost in the system.
by Brian Hickey (source http://www.citypaper.com)
"Hopefully, down the road, this won't be a story about a kid who did something great to escape a bad life but wasn't able to in the end. Hopefully, it won't be a story about him ending up in a gutter, in jail or 6 feet under. Will people be there to help him when all the attention goes away? How this story ends is going to be up to all of us."
These are the words of Tony Wrice, son of Mantua's legendary anti-drug fighter Herman Wrice, circa December 2002. He was talking about Eddie Sheed Jr., an 11-year-old symbol of doing the right thing. It was around the time that the mayor and police commissioner couldn't say enough about Eddie's "incredible bravery and resolve."
THE FAMILY: Eddie's older sister Rachonda Lewis and 4-year-old niece Najanae, outside the DHS offices
While most adults take the path toward self-preservation, Eddie walked into a police station and told the desk officer that his father regularly placed a loaded handgun into his tiny hand and forced him to sell crack; if he refused, Daddy said he'd beat him with a belt or throw him into the Schuylkill. Then, Daddy would promise that everything would be better — someday.
Eddie didn't buy it. He took the officers to the Brewerytown corner he worked, pointed and said, "That's him, right there." An undercover buy came next, followed by the press conferences and good-example-making. Before long, Eddie's dad was off to serve 12 to 25 for his crime against humanity.
But what's happened since might be the greatest offense of all.
In the time since the spotlight faded, and other opportunities for officials to exploit arose, Eddie hasn't been sleeping in his own bed. Nope, he was shipped off to child-placement facilities in central Pennsylvania, Colorado and Texas. Along the way, he's run away, gotten into countless scraps with kids who, according to his mother, Rhonda Overton, were there because they "raped their sisters." At times, the police have gotten involved.
"He's confused, tired and scared. He wants to know what he's doing surrounded by these crazy people," says Overton, a mother of six. "Yeah, he's got an anger problem. Hell, I'm angry. But he didn't have it until the system took him away. He was calm, but now he's getting madder by the day."
Overton, along with Eddie's brother, sister, niece and other supporters, were standing outside the DHS office at 15th and Arch last Friday. They wore T-shirts silk-screened that read, "DHS: Let Him Come Home," and watched a pair of DHS workers inexplicably, insensitively laugh at their protest from second-floor windows.
Turns out that six weeks ago, Eddie was brought back from Texas. When the case worker showed up at Rhonda's house and declared it fit, the mother figured it was OK to start planning the Welcome Home block party. So did Eddie, who, his mom says, "just wants to come home." Well, they smiled too soon.
This much is clear: Eddie won't be staying at the Fairmount Behavioral Health center for "children and adults who have psychiatric and behavioral problems" much longer. That's because, after Rhonda refused to sign off another placement, a judge signed an emergency order to send him off to Alabama. Seems that the home visit was a mistake. "They said it was a glitch," says Rhonda, who can see the pain in her son's eyes when she visits him at the facility.
DHS says it's out of their hands and won't say why Eddie has yet to go home. Though answers are scarce, police never implicated Rhonda in the drug ring — she got a minor-possession rap — and she wasn't charged with endangering her child. Besides, DHS never questioned the care she provided Eddie's siblings. If he could just come home, she knows the anger would subside.
"He can't understand why they're treating him like this. This little boy who had so much courage? This is no way to treat a hero. Where's the mayor and the commissioner now? Have they even thought about Eddie in the past five years?" asks Eddie's older brother, Andre Young. "He told me that if he could take it back, he'd have never told on his father. He knows he did the right thing, but now he wishes he hadn't said a word."
Well, Philadelphia, we're down the road now, and it looks like a kid who did something great to escape a bad life hasn't. On the charge of not being there to help when the attention went away, we're collectively guilty.
No, the system isn't perfect; there are few clear-cut rights and wrongs here. After all he's been through, Eddie has acted up and officials should be fearful of how that might manifest itself in Mantua. But of all the kids who've fallen through the cracks into a system that breeds anger, Eddie should haunt Philly. We called him a hero, but then we didn't do a goddamned thing to keep him from the gutter, jail or 6 feet under.
Let Rhonda's protest be fair warning: If we forget him again, none of us are any better than his father.