"There's nothing for me there. And when I go home, guys are always asking me to help them come out here."
He did help Joe by urging him to apply to Orme in 1993. The push may have come just in time. During Joe's first few months at Orme, two of his friends back home were shot to death in arguments. At Joe's police precinct in Harlem, more than 10 felonies are reported every day. In all of 1994 there were two at Orme, the worse of which was a stolen saddle.
"Being here gives you perspective," Joe says. "You have a chance to slow down and think about life. It's freedom."
And it took some getting used to. Harlem slang was a foreign language at Orme. There were unfamiliar people—"I'd never talked to a white kid before," says Bobby—in a land far from fast food and video arcades. To kids from the city, a coyote's nighttime howl sounded more threatening than a police siren's wail. And there was the time that the team returned from a road game to find a pair of peccaries on campus. While their teammates stepped off the van unperturbed by the piglike, grass-eating beasts, the Harlem kids huddled together in the last row of seats.
But by now Orme has become a second home to them. And last year Ronnell's father, Jerry, came for a visit. At night he looked up and saw a wide, glittering brightness he had never imagined. "He tried to take pictures of the stars," Ronnell recalls. "Then in the morning we went for a walk. My father said to me, 'Look at all that sky. I've never seen so much blue in my life.' "