Slipping Through the Cracks: Mom says she did all she could for jailed son

Slipping Through the Cracks

Keene Brown is 16 years old, and he's a convicted armed robber. He'll spend the next 20 years of his life locked up at the Dixon Correctional Center in Jackson, LA.

"It's hard. This is my child. I'm supposed to be raising my child. A correctional officer is not supposed to be raising my child. He's not supposed to be in jail. He should be home, playing sports. He's supposed to be doing what a child is supposed to do," Rolanda Brown said.

Rolanda said jail was the last place she imagined her son would end up. She said Keene grew up in what most would consider a normal environment.

"Not a bad one, not a violent one. It was a good one. Keene ain't never saw nothing bad. He had a loving family," Rolanda said.

"I've been knowing Keene Brown since he was 8 years old. He actually played little league for me," Larry Barabino Jr. said.

Barabino is the former director of NORD and speaks highly of the boy he said everyone on the playground called "Big Blue."

Barabino was Keene's coach and mentor.

"He was a big, young, goofy kid who would trip over his own feet. ...I think Keene Brown had the potential of being minimum collegiate offensive lineman," he said.

In 2009, when Keene was 9 years old, his father was murdered. His mom said she could see a change in her son.

"He wouldn't eat. I had to ask him, 'Keene, are you alright?' He wouldn't talk. I had to, like, pull things out of him," Rolanda said.

Rolanda said she enrolled Keene in a program to help him deal with his feelings. She said he was eventually diagnosed with ADHD and given medication. Meanwhile, his coach at the ball park continued to play a role in Keene's life.

"When Keene was out here at the playground, his mom would call. She would have trouble with Keene. She couldn't get to the school. She didn't have transportation. I would go to the school for Keene. I would have his teachers even calling me for Keene," Barabino said.

Barabino said Keene's behavioral problems started becoming even more evident when he aged out of the NORD program.

"He'd get off the bus Friday and stay out Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I'm like, 'Keene, you've got to let me know where you are.' He'd come home when it was school time to go to school," Rolanda said.

One weekend at 4 a.m., Rolanda said she got the call no mother wants to get.

"They said, 'Mrs. Brown, this is a detective.' I was like, Oh my God, I grabbed my chest," Rolanda said.

Keene was arrested at 14 years old, accused of an armed robbery spree with two other juveniles.

"I never thought in a million years he was hurting people. I never thought that," Rolanda said.

She said Keene is a follower, and despite her discipline, she believes he always tried to fit in.

"I'm looking at him, and I'm like, really Keene? This is the life you want? Because that wasn't our plans. Our plans were for you to finish school and go to a four-year college," Rolanda said.

Once again, she called on Keene's coach for help. He was there and even spoke to the Juvenile Court judge on Kenne's behalf.

"When I saw him come in, shackled, coming from the Youth Study Center, all he could do is drop his head. And when I talked to him, I told him, 'Listen, I love you like a son.' I told him, 'I'm disappointed in you. I'm very disappointed because you know better.' He said, 'Coach, I'm sorry. I'm sorry,'" Barabino said.

Keene pleaded guilty and was given credit for time served. He was released from the Youth Study Center on strict house arrest and wore an ankle monitor. Rolando knew her son was getting a second chance.

"But, I wish they had a program. That's what we need to do. Once they come home out of jail, have some type of program to rehabilitate them. Don't just let them go," Rolanda said.

She said Keene only wore the ankle monitor for a few months before it was removed after Sheriff Marlin Gusman said he lacked funding to continue the program.

"I didn't want that to happen," says Rolanda.

When the ankle monitor was removed, she said Keene began to venture out again.

"One day he was supposed to be going to the Chinese place to pick me up some Chinese food, and he didn't come back. Then, I get a phone call again. He's in jail with the same people," Rolanda said.

Keene, now 16, is convicted - this time as an adult - for eight counts of armed robbery. He'll spend the next 20 years behind bars.

"I cry every day. I'm mentally and spiritually broken. No mother wants to see their child do 20 years. No mother wants to see her child hurt nobody. That's wasn't my intentions," Rolanda said.

"I do know that Keene's mom went above and beyond to try to get him as much help as possible. I do know that she worked hard to help him. Unfortunately, when a young man gets to those teenage years, listening to mom is sometimes a challenge. That's when mom needs help," Barabino said.

Rolanda believes there should be more programs available for at-risk teens.

"I'm not here to want to be super mom or nothing like that. This is about my son. This about Keene. It's about, I tried and I feel like the system failed us," Rolanda said.

As for the victims?

"I apologize and I'm sorry," Rolanda said. "That was not my intention. I know I didn't walk in your shoes. I know how you feel, but justice has been served. I ask them to forgive me and my child."

Rolanda now hopes Keene will get the help he needs in jail through programs to rehabilitate him. She wants his story to serve as an example of what she said so many other mothers across New Orleans are dealing with as their teenage kids are slipping through the cracks.

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