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Outside the prison for the first time in more than a year, Banks makes his way across the parking lot to sign his release certificate. He carries with him bags of clothing, school work and other personal items he has collected over the past year.

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Behind was prison, where he spent the past 12 months and four days. There, he was known to some inmates as "valedictorian" for his quiet, well-spoken ways -- and the fact that he could read at all.

In front of him was the street where Banks used to live the hustler life, the "a yo-boy lifestyle of standing on the corners" that ultimately led to his drug and gun convictions.

"I'm just going to stay clear of all the people who were a hindrance to me before. I'm not going to let (my life) go down the tubes," Banks declared as he stood outside the fence.

He was a different man than the thug who was pictured in his prison mug shot from just a year earlier. He was much different than the boy who used to dodge imaginary bullets with his younger brother, using their mother's East Baltimore house as the backdrop for a regular game of "policeman."

"I wanted to be part of the solution," he said, remembering his childhood role as the "good cop."

But by 13, the "good cop" was smoking pot. By 14, he was selling cocaine.

"I forfeited my childhood. I wanted to be older at a younger age. (I had) a dream of being an adult," he said.

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Copyright 2003 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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Photographs and special report banner and design by Adam Newman / Maryland Newsline

Story by Sarah Schaffer / Capital News Service