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When she got out of prison more than a decade ago, she said, Antwuan wouldn’t leave her alone. He was always scared that she might start using again. He’d give her hugs and hold her hand, all while stealing glances to make sure there were no needle tracks on her arms.

Years ago, while testifying in the Tommy Edelin case, she said Kairi’s death prompted her to turn her life around. For as guilty as she feels about Kairi’s death, she says she also takes solace in the idea that, perhaps, Antwuan decided to change, too, once he saw his mother finally stop using drugs.

“I did help tear down that neighborhood, I really did,” she said. “I don’t talk about the past. It’s something I’m ashamed of. It’s something I got a lot of heartache in. I got a son dead.”

But she said she’s changed and so has her son.

“I told Antwuan to get out of the neighborhood. I told him it was going to kill him. He wouldn’t listen. He said, ‘Ma, I stole from the community and now I got to give back.’”

The question of whether Ball helped tear down or build up Congress Park, or perhaps both, will weigh heavily on Judge Roberts’ mind. Ball’s sentencing date has not been set. In seeking Ball’s release within a matter of months or a few years at the most, his attorneys will almost certainly argue that he was a positive force in the community.

In its sentencing memo, defense attorneys also said that if prosecutors get their way, “he will serve that sentence based upon the government’s decision to charge him with crimes that it knew or should have known could not be proved.”

Similarly, prosecutors will say the neighborhood is a safer place with Ball in prison. In memos, they call Ball “a man who chose to spend the better part of his adult life causing enormous harm to the community.”

Either way, Congress Park undoubtedly has changed. There’s a new supermarket nearby. Housing developments are taking the place of old abandoned buildings. On a recent day, in the small traffic circle in Congress Park which witnesses described as the scene of open-air drug dealing years ago, the abandoned cars and old refrigerators have long since been hauled off.

But the basketball hoops are gone, too. And the computers in a little office that residents say Ball helped run for neighborhood children were seized. Now the office is locked up and stores only janitorial supplies.

As Mrs. Ball-Lee sat down last week to talk about her son, her husband turned on the evening news. A few minutes later, the conversation stopped. The couple listened to a story on the shooting of a 16-year-old D.C. boy, Walter Robinson, found dead in his bedroom.

It happened in Congress Park.