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68 Blocks: Life, Death, Hope: Part 2 of 5

Searching for justice, finding no peace

With summer approaching, the rhythm quickens in Bowdoin-Geneva. Violence seems to rise with the heat, but so do a mother’s hopes for her children, and a priest’s quest to connect. Meanwhile, from the weeds, an unlikely garden grows.

This project was reported and written by MARIA CRAMER, MEGHAN E. IRONS, AKILAH JOHNSON, JENNA RUSSELL, and ANDREW RYAN.

It’s not even Memorial Day and it’s already sweltering. The 74-year-old priest shuts the door of the sky-blue church van, fishes in his shirt pocket for the white collar he keeps there, and tucks it in place around his neck. He always wears the collar on his walks across the neighborhood. It is an advertisement that he is no one to fear. Still, in this heat, it would be nice to leave it off.

He sets out briskly, as he always does, from the parking lot on Bowdoin Street, raising a hand each time he passes a face, “Hi, how are ya,” and heads into a purpling dusk along the teeming street. From a distance, Father Richard “Doc” Conway could be a slightly stooped Clint Eastwood, with his silver hair and glinting eyes. The walks are a ritual twice a week, sometimes three. He makes it a point to traverse every street in the neighborhood. The exercise is a side benefit; since triple bypass surgery in December, he is on a strict regimen. But mostly, he goes to be seen. He wants people to know he’s there, especially the gang members. He wants them to see there’s another path if they choose to take it. Maybe they’ll start filling the pews at St. Peter Church on Sundays, not just for the funerals of friends.

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Getting people to church is a much harder mission than it once was. For a century, the church defined the neighborhood, spiritually and physically. Its 150-foot stone tower was visible for miles. A fiery priest built it in 1872 when the neighborhood was still countryside, deliberately making the cathedral massive as a visible rejoinder to the wealthy Protestants who lived there. The floods of poor Irish immigrants who came called it “The Rock.” There were 10 Masses on weekends. But most of the Irish left in the 1970s, and now there are just three Masses. The tower, decaying with age and lack of money to fix it, was condemned in 1980 and cut down by a third.

Waves of new parishioners have passed through — Puerto Ricans,
Vietnamese. Now, they are largely Cape Verdeans drawn to Dorchester in the 1970s, believing there were more opportunities in the city than in Southeastern Massachusetts. A good number of families come to church. It’s considerably harder to draw in the young men who Doc believes need it most.

The only way for Father Doc Conway to reach out to many residents of Bowdoin-Geneva is to walk its streets.

YOON S. BYUN/GLOBE STAFF

The only way for Father Doc Conway to reach out to many residents of Bowdoin-Geneva is to walk its streets.

But this is the work Doc likes best. He likes the challenge, and he prefers neighborhoods like this one, where it feels as though he’s making a difference. “People here are real,” he says.

On the streets here, old Cape Verdean women take his hand and press it to their foreheads. He often shows up at crime scenes. He goes to counsel the families, comfort neighbors, and try to understand what triggered the violence. He speaks their country’s official language, Portuguese. He has learned that people in the community will not come to him. He must be a street priest, walking his beat. He likes to think he’s good at it.

As he walks now, some stare or hurry away. But most return his waves and, when he stops to greet them, accept his playful slaps on the back of the head and the salt he dishes out.

“You know you got two hats on,” he says to a lanky teenage boy walking past.

“Yes, sir, I do,” the boy says, nodding and tipping the two baseball hats balanced on his head.

“Just making sure you know that.”

Doc is on a particular mission this evening. In his hand is a white flier advertising six hotel jobs at the Fairmount Copley Plaza. The hotel is looking for bartenders, busboys, and housekeepers. Doc has someone in mind, 25-year-old Tal, who has survived shootings so often that the priest once overheard someone call him bulletproof.

Tal has been a problem in the neighborhood for years. A poster of his mug shot is taped on a wall at the C-11 district station among a gallery of “impact players,” the police term for gang members to watch closely. He’s threatened cops, mouthed off. Police say he’s in a gang on Norton Street in the heart of the neighborhood. Tal flatly rejects that classification. What police call gang, he calls family, the friends he grew up with and won’t abandon. He’s never been caught with a gun or, as far as anybody knows, shot anyone. But others have shot at him, and done it so often that he’s seen as a trigger for violence. He’s been hit three times in seven years, once in the chest, requiring open-heart surgery. The Globe agreed not to use his full name because of his concerns about his safety.

Last year, three young men with handkerchiefs over their faces mounted a fence at a July 4 party at his house and began firing into the crowd. A man standing near Tal, his cousin, was killed. Doc, along with neighborhood worker Susan Young and a police captain who took a liking to Tal, launched an effort to get him out of Bowdoin-Geneva. Susan had met him two years earlier, just after starting her job at Bowdoin Street Health Center. Tal had warned her that driving with him in the car could be dangerous because someone might shoot. But he also called her constantly, wailing about needing a job. One day, a colleague of hers was in a pizza shop in the neighborhood where Tal was eating. A group of young men passing on the sidewalk stopped. One of them made the shape of a gun with his hand and pointed it through the glass at Tal. “You’re dead,” he mouthed. That’s when Susan started trying to find Tal a way out of the neighborhood. After the Fourth of July shooting, the effort became urgent. They wanted him somewhere safe, somewhere bullets meant for him wouldn’t endanger others.

It didn’t pan out. Tal didn’t want to go to the places they offered — a job program that would have sent him to Maine, and a rooming house in Chelsea. Now, authorities will settle for getting him employed and on track to a safer life.

Doc can’t help liking Tal. He’s got charm and exuberance that are hard to resist. On the street, everyone seems to know him. Girls wave. Cars honk. When he sees people he knows, he waves wildly and bursts into a smile of delight. And, as troubled as Tal’s life has been, Doc thinks he sees in him a genuine desire to be saved.

Doc cuts down Norton Street and approaches a porch. A stout, round-faced woman, Tal’s mother, stares back at him.

“Where is my friend?” Doc asks.

She shrugs. “He’s not around.”

“Alright, tell him I’m looking for him,” he says and heads back out to Norton to continue his walk.

***

Jhana Senxian strides down the sidewalk on Coleman Street, past the long blocks of brick row houses. She passes the former crack house, now boarded up; the house with the clematis vine climbing skyward; the house with the “Obama for President” sign in the window.

She is headed to the community garden at the end of her street, once the dominion of the aging Ella Pierce, a neighbor and longtime caretaker who has taken ill.

The street feels secluded, canyonlike, though she is only a block off busy Bowdoin Street.

Late May sunlight filters down into the narrow space, reflecting off warm brick and picking up a rosy tint.

Jhana has been passing by the tall black garden fence for years, never really seeing it. The garden has always been a mystery to her, a padlocked wilderness with an uncertain purpose.

It is a challenge for Father Doc Conway to find ways to reach the people he ministers to on the streets, but this is the work that he likes best, where it feels like he is making a difference.

BILL GREENE/GLOBE STAFF

It is a challenge for Father Doc Conway to find ways to reach the people he ministers to on the streets, but this is the work that he likes best, where it feels like he is making a difference.

Today the heavy gate is unlocked and she steps through, tall and striking in jeans and a crisp white button-down shirt, her long, dark hair tied back with a scarf. She has the intense, appraising air of someone sizing something up.

The garden sits on land once occupied by a half-dozen houses, some of which were condemned before they were torn down.

It is clear the place, once a neighborhood jewel, has seen better days. There are weeds and piles of brush and plots that look abandoned. Jhana sees a need for structure: nametags on the plots; a list of who has keys and where they live.

But as she strolls deeper into the garden, under the maples, a grander vision begins to take shape in her mind. Of the garden as it should be: a busy, beautiful, welcoming place; an asset benefiting not just a handful of gardeners, but the whole street, the whole neighborhood.

Jhana and her neighbors can stake a claim. They can grow flowers in the garden and transplant them, into sidewalk gardens up and down Coleman Street.

The idea is deeply pleasing: And why stop there? Why couldn’t Bowdoin Street, a block away, be planted with daisies and lilies from the garden? Would that be the craziest thing in the world?

It could be the start of something new, for the garden and the neighborhood. It could bring together people on her street.

The idea shines, but the details are fuzzy. Jhana has never gardened in her life.

And she doesn’t know the neighborhood that well. Growing up in a different part of Dorchester, she was determined to get out and see the world. She became an anthropologist, traveled widely, lived in Rome. When she returned, to work on her doctorate at Harvard, she fell in love with a house on Coleman Street, its quiet charm, its shady back yard.

She didn’t see the problems right away. Then her neighbors told her about the drug dealers, prostitutes, rats. And she thought: We should do something.

She had started a small business, devoted to solving urban problems, and decided to make her street one of its projects. She created the Coleman Street Neighbors Association and hung up fliers announcing the first meeting.

The handful of neighbors who came agreed on one thing: Somebody ought to get rid of the rats. They pointed to the garden and told her it was the source — the large, untidy compost pile in the corner.

She has arranged a meeting with the man who runs the place, on his own now, with Ella Pierce, still sick. He is in the garden now, and Jhana walks over to meet him, a wiry, white-haired figure wearing beat-up work boots. Years ago, he fought to build this place, convinced it could help change the neighborhood. He has spent years beating back the weeds.

“It’s beautiful,” she tells him. “But it needs to be maintained.”

They stand together in the sun. ­Tiny white butterflies flit over pink peonies.

Jhana doesn’t know exactly what she’s getting into. She doesn’t know that even in a little community garden — seemingly forgotten — there can be tensions and high stakes, fruitful alliances and bitter rivalries.

But a garden starts with planting, and that is what Jhana must do, if she wants to fill her street with flowers.

She will write to local farmers, asking them to donate plants. Maybe they will want to help her make the neighborhood beautiful.

***

Theresa Johnson reaches for the phone and dials. She’s sitting anxious and alone inside an eerily silent house. Not even Jalanae is here. The 13-year-old left hours ago with a friend to walk up Blue Hill Avenue and watch the Haitian Unity Parade.

She knows her child, knows Jalanae is not some boy-crazed teen into drinking or drugs. Jalanae barely tolerates her mother’s cigarette smoke. So it’s not the same kind of worry as she has with her two sons, Sean and Easy.

But this is one of the few times Jalanae has left the house on her own. Sitting in her small kitchen, a purple peace ribbon magnet on the refrigerator, Theresa lets her imagination roam.

Susan Young, a health center worker, visited homeless men on a patch of Olney Street known as “the office.”

YOON S. BYUN/GLOBE STAFF

Susan Young, a health center worker, visited homeless men on a patch of Olney Street known as “the office.”

What if someone tries to snatch her, molest her? Jalanae, with her curvy frame, doesn’t look 13.

It’s 5:30 already, and the parade should be winding down. She picks up the phone.

“When do you think you’ll make it home?”

Theresa listens and frowns.

“No, I’m sorry. At 13, that’s not a good answer.”

Jalanae checks in again at 6 and 6:30 and finally makes it home about 7.

Theresa spends much of the next week planning a Memorial Day cookout that never happens.

That Friday, while scrolling through Facebook on her phone, first at work, then at home, she keeps seeing the same tribute in her newsfeed: RIP. RIP. She doesn’t make much of it at first. Until someone attaches the name. It’s someone she knows.

Theresa shuts herself in her bedroom. Her friend can’t be dead. She just saw him, and now, just like that, he’s gone, killed in a work accident.

Watching television, crying, Theresa keeps returning to one thought: the Book of Life. Her mother always told her about it, and how you’ll be judged at the end.

Right and wrong. The just and the unjust. Easy and Sean. She’s thinking about her life, too — mistakes she made, debts to be paid.

Theresa Johnson’s children are her greatest joy, and biggest headache, especially the two boys.

Sean and Etohn. Livewire and Easy. Brothers first. Brothers always. But in the streets: rivals. Sean got his name from the streets, Etohn from his grandfather, the boy’s laid-back demeanor evident even as a baby.

Both represent their ’hoods — Franklin Field and Greenwood Street. One is a public housing complex, the other a street. For years these ’hoods hated each other, shot at each other. This is where they’re from. But where you’re from is not necessarily where you live. It’s what ’hood you represent.

Theresa doesn’t really know everything Easy’s done and doesn’t ask. He’s so secretive about his dirt. She’s not sure he would even bother telling the truth. “My older brother tells my mother stuff I would never tell,” Easy says. “I know it’s lying, but I just don’t want her to see me that way. I want her to see me as a good boy.”

So does Sean, but he also doesn’t want his mother singing her sons’ praises should something serious happen. “So she don’t be one of those parents out here like, ‘Oh, my son was this and my son was that,’ not knowing your son was a little terror.”

At 24, Sean is a year older than his brother, stockier, and a smidgen shorter. Tattoos are inked on the back of both hands, one for a deceased aunt, the other for his grandfather. And his daughter’s — his princess’s — name is spelled in two-tone letters down his left forearm. Trinity.

Theresa never wanted boys. She grew up in this neighborhood and knew well that the road to manhood for black boys is too often a minefield of police harassment, gang activity, and low academic expectations. She tried to steer them straight with punishment for back talk and bad grades, and rewards for being good, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle bed sheets and mini pool tables.

It worked, until high school.

Once her oldest children hit adolescence, the streets drowned out her influence. It started with drinking, smoking, and hanging out. Still, she tried. If they were going to smoke weed, it had to be in the house so things couldn’t get out of control. Theresa feared police would stop her sons with a few grams — enough for a couple of blunts — in their pockets, enough to get arrested.

Soon, fistfights turned into gunfights.

The summer before Sean’s sophomore year, when they lived on Greenwood Street, some guys approached, wanting to know where he was from. Nowhere, he told them, but a fight ensued.

He phoned people from Greenwood he thought were friends, but no one came. So he stopped hanging with them and Easy did, too.

Once school started, Sean bumped into someone he used to play ball with, eventually going up to the Field one day after a game.

Soon, he was met with an ultimatum: “If you really want to be around here and hanging with us, you gotta show us you really down for it.”

So he volunteered to go “do something.” First, to prove his loyalty. Then, to honor the bonds he built. “When everyone was like, ‘Yo, let’s go do this,’ I’m like, ‘F*** that! I’m going.’ ”

“That’s why they call me Livewire, because I used to do a lot of stupid s***.”

Eventually, Easy started hanging with Greenwood again, although not in a hardcore way.

Both boys started skipping school. Sometimes, it seemed Theresa spent more time in the office at English High than at the school where she works, Marshall Elementary. Eventually, they dropped out or got kicked out.

Still, Theresa won’t put them out. She can’t. Yes, they are defiant, and both have criminal records, but they’re her children, and she will defend them when no one else will, especially Easy, betrayed by the truth a decade ago.

As an eighth-grader at Harbor Middle School, back when it was on Bowdoin Street, Easy was accused of stealing the teacher’s edition of a book. During a suspension hearing, the principal mentioned Easy was also suspected of stealing field trip money.

“Huh?”

“There’s just some field trip money that came up missing, and although we can’t prove it, we suspect that Etohn had something to do with it.”

It clicked. Theresa turned to her son: “You and I both know that a couple of weeks ago, you had a nice little amount of money, and I don’t know where you got that money from. So, if that money came from that field trip, you need to tell the truth.”

Easy sat silent and unbowed.

“We’re not leaving this room. You need to tell the truth,” Theresa insisted.

So he did. He admitted stealing the money. And they expelled him.

Theresa sent Easy into the hallway and pleaded with the principal. Suspend him. Send him to the counseling center. But expel him? Don’t do that.

“I knew he had done wrong. I felt like I did a good thing, and I felt like I made my son do a good thing.”

But good led to bad, Easy’s candor was punished, and Theresa carries that pain.

For years, Easy would joke around with his mother, saying: “You never got my back, Mummy.” And Theresa always felt there was truth there. “I felt like I owed Easy. You know, to be in his corner.”

But some things she will not tolerate. Dealing drugs is one. Bringing guns into the house is another.

Sean was 16 when Theresa found a gun in a dresser drawer while looking for a hair brush. He tried to play it off, telling her it was fake, but she didn’t buy it.

“Either the gun goes or you go,” she said.

He left, stashing the gun at some girl’s house.

That was the last time Sean ever brought a gun into his mother’s house.

Theresa, who turns 46 this summer, may not be a religious woman. But sitting in her room, still in mourning, she knows this truth: We all have to answer for the things we do. We will answer to each other. We will answer to God. For in the Book of Life, the names of all mankind are recorded and all people are judged according to their deeds. The names of the righteous, those destined for the world to come, remain. To be blotted out signifies eternal death.

Her name, she vows, won’t be deleted for violating this truth: A mother never turns her back on her children, no matter what.

***

Doc is out on his circuit, up one street and down another. He walks the long compass-line of Draper Street, a place of frequent violence, past cookouts and houses with brilliant gardens of roses and rhododendrons. A woman comes to the curb and scoops gray water for her flowers from a pool left from earlier in the day, when children opened a fire hydrant to play in the spray.

Theresa Johnson and her daughter Jalanae, 13. Theresa knows her daughter isn’t one for trouble, but still worries about her constantly when she is out of the house.

YOON S. BYUN/GLOBE STAFF

Theresa Johnson and her daughter Jalanae, 13. Theresa knows her daughter isn’t one for trouble, but still worries about her constantly when she is out of the house.

He goes to Hendry Street, where neighbors have been complaining lately about drug traffic and threats. He stands for a time before a big yellow house at the end of the street that residents say is the source of the trouble. He wonders aloud if anything can be done, then turns to head back.

As he approaches the parking lot where the van waits, a banged-up white Civic growls furiously toward him and comes to a stop beside him. Tal grins up at the priest through the open driver’s side window. With his round, cherubic face, he looks 10 years younger than his age — 25 — and, as ever, he is full of bravado. He’s dressed up for a party, blue-and-white button-down shirt, hair in braids. The car is a new acquisition.

“This needs a blessing,” Doc says, peering into the car. “Maybe last rites.” He still has the white flier with the job listings and holds it out for Tal.

Tal bounds from the car and glances at the flier. He thinks the housekeeper job would suit him. Still grinning, he shoves the paper in his pocket.

Two young men, Tal’s friends, amble up Bowdoin Street, shake hands with him, then loiter at an iron fence a few feet away, watching silently.

Tal lights a Newport and broadens his smile, needling Doc about the women he’ll be taking to bed tonight. “I am going to part-tay!” he says.

Doc reaches out to slap him on the back of the head. Tal ducks and laughs. The priest tells him to be good. “You’re on the cusp of getting a job,” he says.

He reminds Tal police are just looking for a reason to go after him.

“You know where to find me if you need anything,” he says, pointing to the big cathedral up the street.

“I don’t go to church!” Tal calls back.

The priest watches while Tal gets in the car and zooms away with a roar.

“Now they’ll get him on a noise violation,” he mutters.

***

‘I don’t want to see you in a courtroom again, ever.” The judge’s stern words that day 25 years ago ring as loud to Big Nate now as they did back then, when he sat in this courtroom the first time. At least he thinks it was the same courtroom. Then he was in his 20s and sat at the defense table, the judge staring down from the bench, looking him straight in the eye. Today, he sits in the back row while lawyers select jurors. The trial of his son Nicholas’s accused killers has begun. The two defendants are at the defense table, their backs to the gallery. They seem so small, so young, like school boys in their pressed shirts and ties. The 22-year-old, with the acne scars, stares coolly. The younger one, the 18-year-old who fired the gun, looks uncertain and afraid, with the fragile face of a figurine.

Nate Davis and Latrina Fomby-Davis listened quietly to the verdict in the trial of their son’s murder.

YOON S. BYUN/GLOBE STAFF

Nate Davis and Latrina Fomby-Davis listened quietly to the verdict in the trial of their son’s murder.

Those many years ago, when Big Nate sat where they are, he already had had a long criminal career, one that started when he was a teenager. A friend had gotten a knife and liked showing it off and talking about what he was going to do with it. Nate and his other friends only laughed at him. One night when they were all together in the Fenway, the friend said he was going to hold up someone. They laughed again, dared him. Two college students near a hot dog cart looked like easy targets, and they approached from behind.

“Gimme the cash,’’ Nate’s friend said.

The students gave up their wallets. Nate took the hot dogs and ate them.

Nate was electrified. It was so easy.

The group of friends robbed again and again. It was fun, he says. The people he robbed had money to spare. That’s how he justified it at the time.

He was arrested time and again, but it didn’t stop him. His mother, working and going to nursing school at the same time, anguished over him. When she came to bail him out after his first arrest, she had warned that if he was going to be a criminal, then he had better be the best thief ever because this would be the last time she would bail him out. That didn’t stop him, either.

Even the stern admonition from the judge that day didn’t make a lasting impression. It would be more than a decade before he quit that life. He eventually sold drugs and started making real money, bought kids ice cream, gave money to families who needed it. He felt like a hero.

One night, one of Nate’s friends pulled the trigger during a robbery. It only grazed the victim’s shoulder, but the man dropped to the ground. Nate’s friends ran, but Nate knelt next to him, put pressure on the wound, assured him he was OK. He stayed until he heard sirens. “I got to go,” Nate says he told the man. “I’m sorry, but I got to go.”

The police caught up with him that night but eventually released him when the man would not identify him as one of the robbers.

Sitting now in the courtroom, watching the mutter of business up front, all Nate can think is that those two men at the defense table took his son. He’d done bad things in his own life, but he had never killed.

The drawn-out process of picking a jury takes days. In the middle of it, the court took a day off. Nate and his wife, Trina, went to Faneuil Hall to watch their daughter Natalie graduate from high school. As Natalie took the stage and accepted her diploma, Trina threw a fist high in the air. “Yeah!” she screamed from the balcony, an instant of elation that passes in a moment, like fading sunlight.

Joshua Fernandes (left) and Crisostomo Lopes were convicted of killing Nicholas Fomby-Davis.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

Joshua Fernandes (left) and Crisostomo Lopes were convicted of killing Nicholas Fomby-Davis.

On Friday, June 8, testimony is set to start. Trina wears a white dress. Nate puts on a polo shirt and slacks. She packs extra packages of Kleenex in her bag.

The courtroom is now full. There are harsh-looking men with tattoos and a small man in a pinstripe suit sitting near the front. He stares meekly ahead, his feet flat on the floor. He is the father of the younger defendant.

Nate and Trina and their daughters come to seats in the front row and sit stiffly, as though braced for what is about to come.

The courtroom goes quiet, and the prosecutor begins to speak:

“It was the Memorial Day weekend,” he says. “In the Dorchester area, people around the community didn’t have school the next day. Didn’t have work the next day. It was a beautiful, almost blissful holiday weekend. . . . ”

The Davises seem to huddle together as the prosecutor recounts the scooter ride, the near accident in the street, the ambush. Big Nate watches, rapt, as the lawyer extends his hand to reenact the three shots fired from the gun — one bullet missing Nicholas, the second striking his thigh, the third his chest. As the lawyer describes the trajectory of the final, fatal shot, through the heart and the left lung, Nate is overcome. He shouts, “Oh, man!” and stomps from the courtroom.

Trina is called to the stand. She walks deliberately, passing the defense table without looking. She folds her hands in her lap, answers questions about her children, how she raised them. She describes the phone call from her older daughter that night, remembers dropping the phone and driving panicked to the scene.

“There was was an ambulance just leaving. Little Nate was still there crying, and I was just screaming, ‘Where is Nicholas? Where is Nicholas? Where is Nicholas?’ And he said, ‘Mommy, Nicholas is in that ambulance.’ ” Then she bows her head and weeps.

Over the next two weeks, they relive the last 10 minutes of their son’s life again and again as witnesses take the stand: The gang unit officer, the cop who tried to save him, a neighborhood resident who was driving by, the woman in the variety store where Nicholas fell.

Nate delivered his victim impact statement. Fernandes and Lopes received mandatory life sentences.

BILL GREENE/GLOBE STAFF

Nate delivered his victim impact statement. Fernandes and Lopes received mandatory life sentences.

Big Nate has outbursts. During a break, guards drag him away after a stare-down with a tough man with R.I.P. tattooed across the back of his hand. During another, the man in the pinstripe suit comes near, turns his face to Big Nate, as though in apology. Big Nate stares, and the man turns again to leave.

They go home each night spent, and then return to sit through it again. On the day that Little Nate testifies, Trina packs a lunch of macaroni and cheese and fried chicken, along with an SAT study booklet for him to take back to prison. Outside the courtroom, Big Nate catches a fleeting glimpse of his son being led in cuffs down a hallway. Big Nate calls out to him — “Nate!” — and holds up a hand to wave. His son looks back, pauses for a moment and nods hello before he is led away.

***

THE GARDEN IS EMPTY and ablaze with early summer sunlight. From Coleman Street comes the sound of children playing.

The sound comes closer, and a small hand pushes the gate open.

Ghiyahna Ennis, 11, has come to water her plot. The garden is a stone’s throw from her grandfather’s porch, but it is like another world.

It is the closest thing she has to a space of her own.

Ghi-Ghi stands on the garden wall in her flip-flops. She points the hose at the sky, watching the water droplets fall in what looks like slow motion.

Jhana Senxian is working to organize her neighborhood to improve the garden on Coleman Street.

SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF

Jhana Senxian is working to organize her neighborhood to improve the garden on Coleman Street.

“I don’t plan on drinking when I’m older. I don’t plan on having kids. Well, maybe one, but not for a long time,” she says.

Anything seems possible on a lush, green, late afternoon in the garden.

Behind her, her cousins spray mist in the air to make rainbows. They soak their heads, their shirts. Ghi-Ghi tells them to stop, but they ignore her, squealing and spraying each other.

Across the street, on the porch, her Grandpappy is watching. When he sees them dripping wet, trouble erupts.

He orders them all home. NOW.

The next day is hot. Ghiyahna sits on the porch steps, twisted with frustration. A relative promised to take her swimming but hasn’t shown up.

The girls wander around the corner to Dougie’s store. Back on the porch, they share a sticky, bright-green bar of taffy with their baby cousin Fatty. Then they head inside to practice their dance routine for an upcoming family party. But one of their uncles orders them to leave.

Outside again, Ghiyahna starts to cry, tears rolling down her cheeks. She feels like she has no place to be. Her sister follows her across the street to the garden.

They sit under the grape arbor, eating candy in the breeze, lacy vines and heart-shaped leaves entwined over their heads. The sound of Baby Fatty crying seems to come from far away.

***

JUNE 20TH. The first night of summer. Somewhere beneath the streets, a squirrel gnaws through a power cable and plunges the neighborhood into darkness. On top of Meetinghouse Hill, in the big white church that marks the northern edge of the neighborhood, a gathering of residents continues meeting. The crowd in the stuffy room is roughly half white and half black; many of them have lived here, and come to these meetings, for decades. They eat ice cream and listen wearily to the latest news from the police department: another big grant application; another bid for money to stamp out the crime on their streets.

Kaori Tate, 10, (left) and Ghiyahna Ennis, 11, share a plot in the Coleman Street community garden. It’s a stone’s throw from Ghiyahna’s grandfather’s porch, but it’s like another world.

SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF

Kaori Tate, 10, (left) and Ghiyahna Ennis, 11, share a plot in the Coleman Street community garden. It’s a stone’s throw from Ghiyahna’s grandfather’s porch, but it’s like another world.

“It sounds like some kind of scam,” someone calls out in the back, as others murmur in agreement, fanning themselves in the heat.

Outside, the air is hot and sodden. As the last livid streaks of pink fade from the sky, people pour into the streets for relief from the heat. Cars tentatively negotiate busy intersections where traffic lights are dark. Fireworks crackle green and white. Along Bowdoin Street, the only light is the electric-blue pulse of police strobes from the cruisers parked at intervals along the street.

Big Nate and Trina spend the evening on the back porch with Natalie, the moon their only source of light.

The next day, the jury reaches a verdict. The Davises hurry to the courtroom and hear the words they wanted to hear, “guilty” and “guilty.” After the judge sentences Crisostomo Lopes and Joshua Fernandes to mandatory life sentences, the family gathers in a private room in the courthouse and says a prayer.

But as they leave the courthouse, they do not feel the peace they had hoped for. They still have to go home, close their doors, and live forever without their son.

Reporters and photographers involved in this project can be reached at 68blocks@globe.com.
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