MAXWELL:  Public eye harsh when loved ones fall

2/23/2000 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


As a person with a high-profile job and broad name recognition, I have walked in the shoes of St. Petersburg police Chief Goliath Davis III, Tampa police Chief Bennie Holder, Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice and others. Like them, I know only too well the embarrassment and shame of having a close relative on the wrong side of the law.

As we all know by now, for example, Davis’ younger brother, 46-year-old Geoffrey Davis, is in the maximum security wing of the Pinellas County Jail and is unable to raise bail. His rap sheet is a doozy.

So is my son’s.

My son has spent five of his 28 years on Earth behind bars for dealing drugs, robbery, assault and violating parole. His last encounter with the law occurred while he lived with me in St. Petersburg three years ago. He had served two years in Putnam Correction Institution in East Palatka and was paroled to my home. I did everything in my power to get him on the right track: drove him each day to find a job, gave him pocket money, helped him get his driver’s license, enrolled him in GED classes and generally gave him a comfortable and safe environment in which to live.

To show his appreciation, he sold both of my expensive bicycles, my kayak, my antique double-barrel shotgun, my precious six-pack of Billy Beer (which I bought in Plains, Ga.), the color television in my home office and one of my rare Mark Twain novels.

Why did he sell these items? For crack cocaine. Where did his propensity to use dope come from? I do not know. It certainly did not come from me or his mother. Illegal drugs were never in our home. My son was influenced on his own on the streets.

We did everything to keep him out of trouble. We did all of the counseling routines. We loved him. We bought him all of the things a normal American child receives. We read to him. We took him on fun vacations. I took him across the country on my Harley, and we camped in every state between Florida and California. It was a glorious, macho, man-to-man adventure, and I thought that we had developed a special bond that would endure and keep him out of trouble.

In addition to being his parents, we tried to be his buddies. We even took him to church regularly. Nothing worked. During his teen years, he started to act as if he had lost his mind. He broke into homes, stole cars, smoked pot. The list goes on. Needless to say, we spent thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees, bail and professional advice.

When he turned 21, however, I decided that enough was enough. NO MORE MONEY. No more sleepless nights. The time had come for him to grow up. The next time he was arrested, I let him stay in jail. He was convicted and sentenced to three years. Upon release, he promptly broke parole and went back to prison. He was released a year ago.

Since then, I have seen a remarkable change in him. He has studied culinary art and has landed a good chef’s job in North Carolina. I believe that he has grown up. My daughter (same genes), who turns 18 in May, is her brother’s opposite. She has never been in trouble _ even at school. She is studious, respectful of adults and her schoolmates, and the orchestra director at her school says she is one of the best cellists he has ever taught. She has performed both in the United States and abroad. She will attend college in the fall.

Why did these children turn out to be so different? I do not know. Do I take credit for my son? Yes and no. Do I take credit for my daughter? Yes and no. I have decided that when the time comes, children become self-actualizing people who do what they want. When I was 16, for example, I told my father that I was not going to be a farm worker and would not follow him through another season in which I would experience more hardship. I was going to college. And that was that.

Sure, Chief Davis, Chief Holder and Sheriff Rice might be embarrassed, but they are in no way responsible for the troubles of their relatives. The problem is that the public, especially these men’s detractors, love to hear that well-known people have scandal in their orbit.

When my son was arrested in St. Petersburg, one of my critics who knew about the arrest stopped me in Publix, gloated and told me that I was a hypocrite, that _ because of my son’s troubles _ I had no right to tell blacks to take responsibility for their lives.

I spoke to my son last week and learned that he has earned the GED, has a great apartment, a 3-year-old car, a new girlfriend and a job that pays $20,000. Not bad for a young man who seemed hellbent on self-destructing just a few years ago. He may make his old man proud yet.