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The system's messed up

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The system's messed up
Lockup: Lake County Juvenile Justice
10 p.m. Saturday, beginning July 4
MSNBC

Filmmaker Karen Grau has documented many heartbreaking cases in her decade-plus career reporting on the juvenile-justice system, but maybe none sadder and more surprising than the story of Kenneth. The 17-year-old is the centerpiece of Grau's latest Lockup installment, Lake County Juvenile Justice, a six-part series that takes us inside the system in northern Indiana (not Florida's Lake County). When viewers first meet him in the footage, he's crying. He's been arrested because he and his 15-year-old brother, Kentrell, "had did some stuff over at the bus station." He wants to go home to be there to help with his brother, six sisters, nieces and nephews who live with his mother.

Kenneth looks young and helpless and innocent — a fragile flower -— and you hope he gets to go home. He's that convincing. Then we watch the flower wilt as more information about Kenneth's past crimes and his family history comes into the picture.

What Grau does here — what she does so well — is to let the story unfold without comment or bias of any kind. She simply lets us learn about kids like Kenneth and Kentrell (who shows no remorse until he begins to copy his brother's tears) and the people inside and outside the justice system who have a hand in their future.

We find judges like Mary Beth Bonaventura, doing the best they can against what appear to be hopeless odds. Bonaventura handles a staggering 3,200 cases a year. She's sympathetic: "Sometimes it's just survival," she says of the kids she sees. "They get out there and have to perpetrate before they're perpetrated against."

But she's tough enough to ignore the tears of a kid like Kenneth, a Gary, Ind., native who, it turns out, has been locked up seven times for crimes far worse than what he did at the bus station. We're left thankful that judges like Bonaventura are around to dispense reasonable justice intended to get the brothers the help they need so they don't end up in adult prison.

Part One of Lake County Juvenile Justice also introduces us to Devon, an 18-year-old from Hobart who's been picked up on a bench warrant issued when he was 17. His arm is in a sling, the result of a gunshot wound he suffered when he tried to rob a drug dealer. Devon acknowledges that he's been locked up three of the past four years, and that he has a reputation as a dealer and a gang member.

"I like the rush of seeing how close I get to getting caught without actually getting caught," he says. It's an odd thing to say, considering how many times he's actually been caught. He also says, "As soon as I get this legal trouble out of the way, I'm going to have a good life."

With any luck, taking a bullet will be a wakeup call. But who knows? Grau takes us inside a world that's typically closed to the media; her practiced fly-on-the-wall storytelling style makes Lake County Juvenile Justice fascinating. She doesn't hype the reality, doesn't set out to create a world of villains and heroes. She simply lets us see how the world of juvenile justice works. (Reruns of the previous week's installment of Lake County Juvenile Justice air at 9 p.m. Saturday, followed by new episodes.)

arts@orlandoweekly.com

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