LLOYD GRAY: Trying to reach troubled kids

LLOYD GRAY

LLOYD GRAY

Lt. Ronnie Partlow of the Lee County Sheriff’s Department is a burly, tough-looking guy you wouldn’t want to go up against. But he’s got a soft spot – or better stated, a big heart – for kids in trouble with the law.

He’s director of the Lee County Juvenile Detention Center, and that big heart keeps him from giving up on kids other people consider lost causes.

A big part of the reason is that he knows what most have had to contend with in their young lives, and it’s not an overabundance of positive parental attention. He sees it every day.

He sees it when a mother can’t be bothered to come pick up her child when it’s time for him to leave the detention center, saying she doesn’t have a way to get there. When he takes the child home, he sees two cars in the front and a barbecue going on in the back.

He sees it in the 11-year-old boy who’s angry at everybody and trusting of no one because he’s been sexually abused by the men he trusted in his life. He sees it in the 16-year-old girl they gave a going-away party for at the center who cried through the whole thing because she’d never had a party of any kind, or a birthday cake – ever.

He sees it every time a child asks him, “Why won’t my mama (or my daddy) come get me?”

Says Partlow: “How do you answer that? What do you say?”

He even sees it when he hears somebody say, “All that kid needs is a good butt-whipping.” He remembers watching a mom do just that at the center – in front of everybody – and it wasn’t very long before the kid was back for shoplifting.

“Sometimes a butt-whipping isn’t the answer,” Partlow says. “Sometimes these kids need love.”

That’s what he aims to give them. On Friday he told the Tupelo Kiwanis Club, as he’s telling any civic groups or churches that will hear him, that the smallest things go a long way.

When no one has ever paid any attention to you, or if they did they cursed, belittled or abused you, just listening is a great gift. When you’ve never had a birthday cake, it’s amazing what somebody caring enough to give you one can do to change, at least for a moment, your perspective on the world.

Partlow isn’t naive. He knows the odds that all the kids he deals with on a daily basis will get their lives turned around are slim. But he’s determined that some of them will.

“If all we do is keep them here, then turn them back out without changing them, what’s our purpose?” he asks.

He’s been in his current job since 2010. Not long ago he went to Sheriff Jim Johnson and said he wanted to do something more than just cycle these kids through the system. The sheriff gave him the go-ahead.

He heard about a positive behavior intervention and support program, similar to what some schools have, in Hinds County. He paid a surprise visit there and was impressed.

He’s started it on a limited basis in Lee County, with good results. Kids who behave well during the week may be rewarded with a movie and popcorn over the weekend. Those who don’t miss out.

Some churches have gotten interested and visited the kids, bringing snacks and just talking with them. Partlow would like more involvement. In fact, he’d like to have something to reward the good behavior of kids 365 days a year.

That takes money, time and effort from the community. He’s asking people to help out in the simplest ways – pay for a birthday cake, pick up refreshments, come up with ideas and, yes, money for little rewards.

I don’t usually make pitches in this column. I will for this. Partlow’s office number is 620-1712. Tell him you want to help; he’ll tell you how you can.

This is important work, and if you hear Ronnie Partlow, you’ll know just how important.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.