Carmen Pagan ran down the stairs of her North Palethorp Street home and out the door when she got the text.
She jumped in her car, sped over to Kip and Cambria, and grabbed a bat from her trunk.
She raced to the corner to get her kid back, and if any of the dealers her son was hell-bent on emulating was inclined to interfere, they’d have to go through her, and her metal bat.
“I’ll be damned if you guys are going to be having my kid selling drugs out here,” she shouted.
Her son ran before she could drag him back home. So she turned to social media. No shame. No apologies. No wasting time like she did the last time he ran to the corners and she posted missing posters, searching the neighborhood on foot and by car, before the cops caught up to him for selling drugs.
“When I tell you that I went block by block, door by door, because I was afraid my son is going to get killed out here, I’m not exaggerating,” she said.
On Oct. 4, she posted this and a photo of her son on Facebook:
“Philadelphia Police Department this is my son Elijah sharpe D.O.B 7/14/2000 who cut his Gps off and now has an active bench warrant and went awol . If you happen to be driving by kip and cambria or that area where he is aspiring to be a drug dealer please pick his ass up ! Sincerely a concerned mother who doesn’t want her son shot and killed !”
When something bad happens to young people in Philadelphia, the first question asked is a loaded: “Where are the parents?”
It’s not a question you hear as quickly or as often when the kids are from the `burbs or when they aren’t black or brown.
Pagan, 39, knows better than most about the challenges of the streets of North Philadelphia’s Fairhill section where she’s rearing her five children. She grew up here. She took and sold drugs here. In 2006, she went to prison for five years and left her kids here to be raised by family.
Last year, her older brother, Richard Davila, was killed less than a mile away, an innocent bystander who police said was struck by stray bullets from a drug-related shootout on the 100 block of West Wishart Street.
“I know how cold these streets are and I keep trying to tell him, ‘I was out there selling drugs, getting high, going nowhere.’ You would think that he’d see that and say, ‘that’s not the life I want to lead.'”
She acknowledges that behind her son’s behavior is part adolescent rebellion, part sins she visited upon a boy who was 6 when she went away. The absence of a mother and father left a void her oldest son has filled with anger.
But she’s tried to set a better example for her children since her release in 2011, earning a college degree from Eastern University, even though, she thinks, the felonies on her record are keeping her from finding a permanent, full-time job.
“I’m not perfect. I know I’m not perfect, but I won’t apologize for my past,” she said. “I don’t live there no more.”
She walks to the living room to point at a picture of her son, at 14, on a horse, before he quit a community equestrian program.
“He’s not a drug dealer,” she says.
Soon after he ran from her, police caught up to him in a stolen car and arrested him. That brought her relief.
This month, she is to be back again in front of a judge and she knows she’ll be asked what they should do with the teenager. He’s in the juvenile system now, but she knows if something doesn’t change, it won’t be long before he gets treated by the courts as an adult.
“Obviously he hasn’t learned anything because he’s still doing the same thing,” she said. “And what’s going to end up happening is they’re going to end up killing him out on the streets. As a mother all you want to do is protect your kids, but he’s gotten to that age, I can’t physically hold him, so what am I supposed to do? Let my kid sell drugs? Let him get killed out there? I can’t let that happen.”
She knows her son will hate her when she tells the judge to keep him behind bars.
But at least he’ll be alive.