By DOUG LIVINGSTON
Anthony Sanders is wary of what he says, even within the protective walls of Ohio Valley Teen Challenge. The men he has wronged are the kind who carry loaded weapons and do not easily let go of a grudge.
“Stuff does happen to people when they talk too much,” he cautions. “I pray there’s no repercussions.” Greg Todd knows all too well that people will talk. His bad reputation growing up in East Liverpool follows him today.
Sitting at OVTC, he rests his head against his clasped hands, his eyes fixed on the table. He recalls the cement cell in the Columbiana County Jail where he sat on a thin bed sheet over a stiff mattress covering a metal rack. In all his life, he had never felt so alone.
“Literally jumping out of my skin,” he remembered. “There was no one I could call. There was no one.”
As Bob Pavlich sits behind his OVTC desk, air whistles through his nasal passage. He squeezes the tip of his nose between his thumb and index finger. It’s the lingering irritation in his nasal passages caused by years of cocaine use, which has left a dime-sized hole in his septum. We are all on a path in life. Not all paths are perfect.
For Todd, Sanders and Pavlich, their paths that were laden with drugs and crime all started with seemingly harmless compromises as young boys.
Pavlich, 32, is now an ordained pastor and director of operations at OVTC, working up the group’s ranks after being a graduate himself. But in Poland — as a kid — he was a thug.
Sanders, 23, is from the west side of Warren. He is a resident at OVTC. Like many of the men, he has a child waiting for him after rehabilitation and family relationships to reconcile.
Todd, 32, is in between roles at OVTC. He has graduated from OVTC and is following in the footsteps of Pavlich.
Todd is currently a staff supervisor for one of the program’s work outfits. Todd grew up in what he calls a good home with happily married parents.
“Dad worked hard every day. Mom was a stay-home mom.”
Todd is the youngest of three children. His sister is seven years older, his brother 11 years older. He said he felt like an only child because of the age gap.
He received good grades in school. He played baseball from age 8 and picked up football at 14.
Sanders’ childhood was the opposite. His was filled with contempt.
“My parents divorced,” Sanders said. “Me and my brother, we stuck close. ... We chose to live with my dad.”
Sanders, 10 at the time, takes credit for raising his brother, who was three years younger. Sanders, in turn, said he was raised at the bar his dad owned.
“My dad always had money,” he said. “It was so easy for me growing up to never have to worry about running out of money ’cause I would just go rob dad.”
At 14, Sanders would stay at a friend’s place and sneak into his father’s house. He knew every creak in every step. He slipped into his father’s wallet and took $200 to $300 each time. Pavlich grew up in Poland with supportive parents like Todd’s and without the worry of money, like Sanders.
His family’s history gave no indication of the troubles he would encounter.
“No drugs, no alcohol, no anything,” Pavlich said. “I come from a good family.”
At 11, he was golfing with his dad. He pitched for his baseball team. He was an active child and received encouragement from his family.
“I remember as a kid, me and my dad used to go bowling like every Friday night. You know, because we’d have bowling league on Saturday.”
Summers were spent vacationing. Pavlich recalls golfing on the nicest courses Myrtle Beach offered.
“Actually, I had a real good life. Just your typical ... Poland kid.” Pavlich remembers his first car, a humble 1984 Celebrity.
“Thinking I was sweet, pulling the seats back, ’cause I was a gangsta,” he said through a sarcastic laugh.
“Wearing my hat crooked and living in Poland. You know, people still do that these days, and it makes me laugh.”
He first tried alcohol at a Fourth of July party. He snuck cigarettes from family members and did all those things a boy is told not to do. He did them because he thought it was cool.
“That’s how my first compromises started,” Pavlich said. He would slowly cave in to drugs and alcohol until he couldn’t wake up without snorting cocaine and washing it down with rum.
Pavlich would not be alone.
Todd battled heroin addiction that wreaked havoc on his life and the ones he loved. His addiction led to petty thefts that landed him in jail for half of his 20s. Sanders survived a series of near-fatal incidents and a life of crime fueled by his addiction.
The stories of Greg, Bob and Anthony continue Thursday. On Tuesday, we continue the story of OVTC.
The NewsOutlet is a joint media venture by student and professional journalists and is a collaboration of Youngstown State University, WYSU radio and The Vindicator.