Pubdate: Wed, 30 Oct 2002
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2002 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst
Author: Thom Marshall


It's hard to tell who is winning when only one side keeps score.

The big contest at the new activity center/basketball court in the Sunnyside
neighborhood will be over the future of the kids. The Rev. James Nash of St.
Paul Missionary Baptist Church plans to offer activities, challenges and
experiences there, to attract young people and keep them off the streets and
out of prison.

Maintaining any accurate count of his successes will be impossible. We won't
know when his side makes points. We will have no way of counting when a kid
makes a good decision because of something learned or developed at the
activity center.

Only negatives count? On the other hand, we do count when a kid makes a bad
decision that lands him in the criminal justice system. The courts give him
a number. His name goes in a computer so that his conviction can be used to
evaluate him and limit his opportunities for the rest of his life.

A judge or a district attorney can tell voters precisely how many cases have
been processed by which court. A quick check of county and state records
will show us how many jails and prisons we have built, their capacities and

Various officials and politicians often have used such numbers when trying
to convince us they are moving ahead in the competition against drugs and

But Nash has never been convinced of that. He looks around Sunnyside, the
part of Houston where he grew up, the neighborhood around the church he's
led for the past 20 years. He talks to other ministers who look around their
own neighborhoods.

They see the scoreboard from a different point of view. They see the impact
it has on their communities and on the families of the young men who are
getting counted by the system. They see that drugs and drug problems have
not been diminished by the big numbers in jail or prison. They want to
change the score.

Grand opening of the Marcie L. Keys Activity Center (named in honor of the
church's oldest member) was Saturday. A couple hundred people filled the red
folding chairs arranged in rows on the gym floor. A couple dozen more were
seated at the front, facing the audience.

There isn't room here to mention everyone who had a few words to say, but it
soon became apparent that this was something more than the dedication of a
building by a neighborhood church.

Some social workers told how the building will be used as a shelter in
stormy times, and how it can serve as a point of disbursement for
information about the dangers of AIDS and other threats to the health and
well-being of community residents.

State District Judge Jan Krocker came to the ceremony. She and Nash have
become friends. He and another pastor from Houston Ministers Against Crime
recently went to lunch with Krocker to discuss how they can work together to
improve the system.

Prevention, not prison U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Rep. Al
Edwards, both D-Houston, were there. Nash seemed to be speaking to them when
he said we don't need to spend any more money building any more prisons.
What we need, he said, are treatment centers and programs that would help
kids stay out of prisons.

Several other pastors came to show their support. They will get together
again for a news conference at 10 a.m. on Nov. 7 in front of the criminal
courthouse downtown.

They will announce details of their new program to monitor the felony courts
and work with the judges to help kids who deserve another chance to stay out
of prison. They also might mention plans to act on a suggestion made by
state District Judge Michael T. McSpadden, who said they should lobby state
lawmakers to reduce the punishment for small-amount drug crimes.

Mayor Pro Tem Gordon Quan brought to Saturday's opening ceremony a
declaration signed by Mayor Lee Brown. It would have been good if Brown had
been there to do that himself. It's unfortunate he is out of town again, on
another of his trips abroad, because not only is he mayor, he is a former
Houston police chief and former national drug czar, and he often talks about
the importance of neighborhood-based efforts.

It would have meant a lot for him to do some cheering for the side that
doesn't keep score.
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