Longform

DIE LIKE A MAN

Page 5 of 7

One night shortly before the transfer hearing, two friends told Frosty they were going to make a break. Initially, he refused to join them. He shut himself in his room.

As he was sitting there, considering the possibilities, something snapped. He ran from the cottage in thongs and joined the other two, who had somehow obtained wire cutters. They cut through the Cyclone fencing. Frosty sprinted away on foot. The other two stole a car from the parking lot. Police caught Frosty later that night, still in thongs and prison garb.

"I got there on my next visit to do my reading with him," says Becker. "He was in the isolation cell. I just sat down and shrugged my shoulders. But you know, nothing makes more sense in the world than for a kid scared to death of prison to make a run for it." Something Frosty said that night now haunts her. "We wound up talking for four or five hours. He told me then he'd tried to kill himself two or three times before. Once with a razor blade. And once he tried to hang himself in isolation. But a guard came by and found him."
Several days later, after a brief hearing, Maricopa County Juvenile Court Judge Mark Armstrong transferred Frosty to adult court. Judge Armstrong declined comment on the case, and the court documents are confidential.

Once the case had been transferred, Frosty's public defender told him that he could get ten years of "hard" time in prison if he gambled on a trial and lost. A guilty plea, on the other hand, would bring either probation or four years of "soft" time with possible release in two. Frosty took the deal, praying for probation.

Frosty pleaded guilty on the advice of his public defender. He signed the papers, not knowing his mother had talked to witnesses who might be able to support a claim of self-defense.

"I was very upset when I found out about it," says his mother. "It seemed like they just wanted to tell him anything to get him out of the way."
But Frosty decided to gamble on the mercy of the court.
Not without doubts.

The probation department's presentencing report wasn't good news, based on the probation officer's brief conversation with Frosty and his mother and the pile of paperwork accumulated in Frosty's long, agonizing passage through the system. His probation officer described him as an "unfortunate and unworkable" juvenile who had been exposed to a full range of treatment but remained "violent and impulsive."

The psychological evaluation indicated that he displayed little self-control and a fierce resistance to authority. When not directly supervised, he was likely to be "compulsive, changeable and unaware of his assaultive behavior."

"The combination of his impulsive behavior and violent effects of inhaling paint make the defendant a potentially dangerous young man. He is functionally illiterate, has extremely limited prospects for employment and a dysfunctional family to which he must look for support. Probation cannot provide any new services for treatment to make the defendant less of a safety risk," the report concluded.

Back at Adobe, Frosty grew increasingly desperate. "He was a little guy who'd spent his life in a system that hadn't rendered any effective help," says the Reverend Myers, the Guadalupe priest who knows Frosty's family. "He knew he was just dead meat in the adult system."

"I gotta get probation," Frosty repeated, knowing all too well what can happen to a little guy in prison. @rule:

@body:While awaiting sentencing, Frosty fell into a conversation through the ventilation ducts with two other youths in the juvenile holding cells of the Madison Street Jail. They talked about one inmate who'd managed to cut open his own throat and another who had hanged himself from a light fixture. One of the other inmates said they should make a suicide pact.

Their cell doors burst open. Guards grabbed them and handcuffed them by the ankles and wrists to their steel-frame beds. "Four-pointing" is the standard penalty for anyone who so much as mentions committing suicide. Frosty lay staring at the ceiling while his hands slowly turned blue.

"I came to visit the next day, and found out he was in isolation," says Becker. "The guard was saying, 'That kid's trouble. First he stops up the drain and floods his room, then he paints a mural on his wall of a naked woman, now he's four-pointed for suicide.' They considered being suicidal a discipline problem."
Frosty didn't sleep at all the night before his sentencing.
His case had been assigned to Superior Court Judge Cheryl Hendrix, who had been sanctioned by the Arizona Supreme Court in 1985 for granting her court clerk special jail visitations with a convicted murderer, to whom she had granted special telephone privileges. Judge Hendrix also achieved notoriety for her comments to a man charged with stealing a can of beans. As she sentenced the man to prison, the judge handed him a can of beans and said, "I wanted to make sure you didn't get shortchanged . . . I hope you enjoy them, sir," according to news accounts. Later Hendrix told her court stenographer to strike her remarks from the official transcript.

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Peter Aleshire