'Crime Boy' lifts himself to a new life
Teen arrested 60 times by age 12
April 10, 1997
From Correspondent John Zarrella
VENUS, Florida (CNN) -- Four years ago, Percy Campbell was a poster child for what's wrong with America's kids.
By the tender age of 12, he had racked up more than 60 arrests in his hometown of Fort Lauderdale. Stealing, burglary and armed robbery were a way of life, a family business. He had been in and out of detention for much of his young life.
The media dubbed him "Crime Boy."
Today, amidst the scrubby terrain of rural Venus, Florida, there is a new Percy Campbell. He's a nationally ranked champion power lifter. He counsels other teens in trouble with the law. His grades have soared, and his reading skills have gone from second-grade level to seventh-grade.
"I feel like I'm maturing a lot. I guess because I'm growing," Campbell says. "I feel like a whole new person."(238K/10 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Campbell gets last chance at rural ranch
Two years ago, "Crime Boy" was given a final chance to avoid prison. He was sent to the Last Chance Ranch, a facility for troubled teens. The daily routine -- cleaning pig pens and chicken coops -- is light years away from the streets of Fort Lauderdale.
After his arrival, Campbell struck up a close friendship with Neville Graham, a staff member and former police officer from Barbados. It was an unlikely match, especially considering how Graham felt about Campbell when they first met.
"I thought he was one obnoxious young man. That's the truth," Graham says. "I was wondering, 'What am I putting myself into?'"
The duo found a common language in the weight room.
"One day, I just looked and saw him training," Graham says. "He seemed to be really enthused about weight training. We just started talking. I told him about my interest in body building, and we started going from there."
Campbell 8-for-8 in competitions
Under Graham's tutelage, Campbell has competed in eight weightlifting competitions -- and brought home eight first-place trophies. He's now ranked among the 20 best teen power lifters in the country, and hopes to bring home his first national title in May.
Campbell says he was used to everybody ignoring him. His only close family relationship is with his mother, who is in a Georgia prison. Now when he needs someone to lean on, he has Graham.
"He's always there, if I've got a problem," Campbell says. "I just step in, pull him aside and say, 'Sir, I need to talk to you.'"
In a symbolic ceremony, Campbell had a mock funeral for "Crime Boy," complete with a wooden cross reading "R.I.P."
"This is like a grave for another person -- that person was within me, that was making me do a lot of things," he says. "And I just put him to rest."
Campbell has another year at Last Chance. After that, whether "Crime Boy" stays dead and buried will be up to him.
"I believe there is a sincere change," Graham says. "But I know if he goes back to the area he came from that there will be loads of distractions."(401K/18 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
"It's all up to me, really," Campbell says. "You learn from your mistakes."
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