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A WRITER WITH PLENTY OF TIME TO REFLECT ON MISSPENT YOUTH

A young man blogs about jail life and the scarred path that led here.

Teddy Braden is in the Pinellas County Jail. That's not that unusual. He's not yet 21. That's also not that unusual. He's in on a drug charge. That's definitely not that unusual.

About Braden, though, there is at least one thing that is very much unusual.

He blogs.

Braden, who was 19 when he went in last year and has since turned 20, blogs with the help of his mother. She takes his notes and letters he sends her in the mail and posts them onteeninjail.blogspot.com. They've been doing this for almost two months now.

The titles of some of his posts: "Drug rehab at 16." "Is my life over before it begins?" "A Halloween army of ninjas." "A lead pipe to the face." "Hope."

Braden started blogging mostly as a lark, and because it was his mother's idea, whatever, why not, and what the heck else was he going to do? Maybe, his mother thought, it could send a message that might help others: Look here. Don't be like this. But along the way, post by post, it has come to mean something more than that.

"Writing down my feelings, my past experiences," Braden said in a recent interview at the jail, "it makes me think of things I could've done better, and what I can do better in the future."

"You can see he has a lot more confidence," his mother, Kelly Shannon Kelly, said at her home, about 15 minutes north of the jail. "People are listening to him. They're paying attention to him.

"He's not nobody anymore," she said.

Braden was 13 when he was arrested for the first time. He broke into a house. That's what his considerable record is, first as a juvenile, then as an adult: doing drugs, selling drugs, taking stuff that isn't his. Burglary. Grand theft. Marijuana, cocaine, Xanax, Ecstasy. He did time in juvy. He did more time in juvy. His driving record reads like this: revocation, revocation, suspension, suspension.

Last year, he was arrested five times - all for drugs. The fifth time was in October. He was charged with selling 50 Ecstasy pills in a Wal-Mart parking lot. That's trafficking, which comes with stiffer penalties than simply doing or having, especially with a record like his. So he landed in jail.

He has a tattoo across the top of his back. Big letters: The World Is Mine.

His next court hearing is Tuesday. He could get up to 31/2 years in prison.

Why?

Maybe it's because he was 4 when his grandmother died of a heart attack and he was there to see it. Maybe it's because his other grandmother has been disabled with multiple sclerosis for more than 20 years. Maybe it's that his parents got divorced when he was little. Maybe it's that his mother was raised Baptist-strict, and so she didn't want to raise her son that way, because she always felt so strangled by that, and so she was a little too look-the-other-way in the way she raised him. Maybe it's that depression runs in the family.

But everybody's got stuff, Braden said. It doesn't make the things he did okay. He was the one who started doing drugs. He started selling drugs to keep doing drugs. The more drugs he did, the less anything else mattered; the more drugs he sold, the more invincible he felt. He's matter-of-fact about this. Once he wrote $1,500 in checks from his disabled grandmother's checking account.

So he started writing. The first post on the blog went up on July 14:

"Why am I writing this blog? To send a message to the world: How I came to be here, what the conditions are like, how the inmates are treated and what the future may or may not hold for me."

A week later he wrote, "I'm scared."

On Aug. 10, he wrote, "I'm not trying to save the world. I'm just trying to help those who will listen."

On Aug. 20: "I want to say here that my addiction to Xanax has caused me more trouble than I can ever say. I remember nothing of what I do when I'm high on Xanax."

And on Aug. 26: "Stop while you're ahead. Think of everything you and your loved ones can lose."

His blog is a window into life in jail, and also regret.

Braden dresses every day in a navy blue jail jumpsuit, and he makes two bucks a day doing laundry, but he has sure been reading. Patricia Cornwell, Dean Koontz, James Patterson. A Million Little Pieces, The Good Earth, The Grapes of Wrath. Whatever his mother sends him.

When he gets out, whenever that might be, he wants to go to college, he said, for writing. He likes writing, he said, but he still has lots to learn.

"My punctuations aren't perfect," he said in the interview at the jail.

This is a work in progress.

So is he.

Aren't we all.

Times news researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8751.

* * *

All in a year

Ted Braden was arrested five times in 2008, all for drugs.

JAN. 4, 2008

MARCH 24, 2008

SEPT. 11, 2008

OCT. 7, 2008

OCT. 30, 2008

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