[ISN] He looks at teens in jail, sees himself

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Thu Nov 21 2002 - 23:08:56 PST

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    By Chris Cobbs
    Sentinel Staff Writer
    November 11, 2002
    "The View From Here" is a slice of local life by Sentinel reporters.  
    Today, technology writer Chris Cobbs contributes.
    As a teenage computer hacker, Ejovi Nuwere once tapped into a porn
    site, stole credit card numbers and bought new sneakers.
    Another time, he ordered a laptop computer and had it shipped to an
    abandoned building, where he planned to retrieve it. Watching from a
    hidden alley as the delivery truck arrived, he saw two FBI agents get
    out of an unmarked car and approach the building. He quickly forgot
    about the laptop.
    The hacker, who never did jail time, came face-to-face last week with
    10 teenage boys who are behind bars, albeit for different sorts of
    crimes, such as carjacking, robbery and murder.
    Nuwere appeared at the Orange County jail Nov. 6 at the invitation of
    John Richter, coordinator of the Youthful Offender Program, which
    includes a Literature 'N Living reading component.
    "When I look at you guys, I see myself when I was younger," said
    Nuwere, 22, an Internet security consultant and co-author of Hacker
    Cracker -- A Journey from the Mean Streets of Brooklyn to the
    Frontiers of Cyberspace.
    Each of the teens in the audience had read Hacker Cracker and written
    a book report. Several hundred youngsters have participated in the
    reading program during the past seven years, and about one-third have
    gone on to earn a GED, Richter says.
    Along with improving their reading abilities, the program's goal is to
    change their outlook on life. "Strip away the tough-guy veneer and
    these are not bad guys," Richter says. "For many it's always been
    easier to act tough than to read."
    Nuwere's visit won't transform any of them into computer wizards --
    there aren't even any PCs for them to use for e-mail -- but it seemed
    to meet the objective of giving them a modicum of hope, a reason to
    cling to self-respect as they prepare for possible multiyear terms in
    state prison.
    Wearing black jumpsuits and orange plastic slippers, they listened
    attentively as Nuwere spoke and fielded questions.
    "I came from the same kind of environment as you guys. Growing up in
    Bedford-Stuyvesant, you either sold drugs or used drugs. It's all so
    real to me, it all comes rushing back to me."
    As he talked about his mother's drug use and eventual AIDS-related
    death, Nuwere sat on the edge of a table, his blue shirt untucked, one
    leg swinging beneath him.
    "I didn't have a high and mighty goal when I got into hacking," he
    Hacking, he said, "gave me a sense of power and control. I grew up
    feeling there was nothing beyond the 'hood -- you are born in the
    'hood, you stay in the 'hood.
    "When I got on the computer, I was in this new world for an hour or
    two while I was online. People were still selling drugs and shooting
    guns, but I was immersed in something different."
    Nuwere was good at what he did. So good, in fact, he was never caught
    or prosecuted. By the time he was 15, he had been hired as a security
    analyst by one of the companies whose network he had cracked. Later he
    worked for other companies, composed his biography and now plans to
    help blacks and minorities get into the technology field.
    Nuwere was able to touch a nerve with his audience because of the
    similarities in age and background, Richter said.
    "He came from the same sort of environment," Richter said. "There were
    criminals in his environment. He was in a gang and fought in a gang.  
    Also, he grew up without a dad, just like seven of the 10 inmates. So
    he was like these kids in a lot of ways."
    For all his success, Nuwere regrets that he couldn't protect his
    mother from drug dealers or the disease that claimed her life. He
    couldn't rescue friends who died violently on the streets. Still, he
    has gained a life skill and a sense of empowerment.
    "I've become fearless," he said as the young inmates leaned forward in
    their seats. "When I go into some big office, I feel power because I
    understand the struggle: I've got nothing to lose. I started from the
    bottom like you guys. And when you get out of here, that's the power
    you will have -- the power to start new and without the feeling of
    Veteran corrections officers said Nuwere's message connected.
    "They can relate to his story," said Officer Jeff Harris. "When he
    talked about his mother, drugs and welfare, their situations are the
    same. Looking at them, I think they liked that he turned a bad
    situation into something good. There's a chance they can change their
    lives too."
    The inmates seemed to get it.
    "He never gave up; he stayed strong," said Charles Davis, 16. "He's a
    good role model. He's got his mind squared away, and I can do that.  
    It's my choice. All that can stop me is me."
    Chris Cobbs can be reached at 407-420-5447 or ccobbsat_private
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