A Thanksgiving NOT To recollect
In November of 1980, I was the director of Juvenile Advocates, a legal advocacy program for incarcerated teenagers situated in Morgantown, West Virginia. My job consisted of monitoring the remedy of juveniles who had been locked up in county jails, detention centers and what had been identified then, as reform colleges.Perhaps the most interesting part of the job was that about each two weeks I might drive the roller-coaster roads of the state to interview the youngsters locked up in the varied establishments from the West Virginia Industrial School for Boys in Pruntytown to the West Virginia Industrial School for Women in Salem and the Leckie Youth Center, situated manner down in the coalfields of McDowell County.
The names “Industrial Faculty” and “Reform Faculty” have been vestiges of the early twentieth century reform motion. Prior to that age of enlightenment, teenagers who broke the law had been treated an identical to adults. They had been tried in criminal courts, locked up in state prisons along side grownup inmates and even hung from the gallows. With the appearance of the progressive movement, delinquency got here to be considered extra as a social problem having its roots in poverty, discrimination and household disintegration.
I might quote the nice flip-of-the century social reformer Jane Adams, but I believe the Jets provide essentially the most eloquent explanation: “Dear Kindly Sgt. Krupke, you gotta understand, it is just our upbringing upke that will get us out of hand, our mothers all are junkies, our fathers are all drunks, golly Moses naturally we’re punks.” Somewhat than punish delinquents in prisons, the stone island replacement badge considering went, they must be despatched to colleges to be ‘reformed,’ made more ‘industrious.’
By the point I had arrived at the West Virginia Industrial Faculty for Boys (initially named the West Virginia Reform Faculty) – the power I visited most steadily – in 1980, the lofty purpose of rehabilitation had way back given strategy to punishment, harsh punishment. The next from a West Virginia Supreme Courtroom opinion is a description of some of these punitive practices, “‘Ground time’ was a punishment whereby the inmate apparently was required to face stiffly in one place for several hours every day without speaking… ‘Bench time’ was a punishment that required the inmate to sit in a specified location with arms crossed for several hours each day and for several days with out talking or moving.” Different draconian measures, like making a boy hold a stack of books in out-stretched arms for hours at a time or forcing a boy down on his fingers and knees to clean a floor with a tooth brush till the boy’s knees bled, were common.
The establishment was based mostly upon a behavioral modification remedy mannequin the place youngsters moved from stage 1 by stage 4 (the release degree). But for those who screwed up you were sent down to Level Zero. Stone Island Jumpers Jackets Every boy was assigned a unique shade shirt relying on his level and in the middle of every shirt was the West Virginia seal together with the state motto, Montani Semper Liberi – Mountaineers are Always Free. Phrase.
In-built 1891, the administration constructing the place I had a make-shift office, had the look and feel a large stone fortress. The boys slept in dormitory cottages spread throughout the campus – unless of course they committed a critical infraction – like speaking back to a CO or stealing food, then they would be despatched to Level Zero and a tiny windowless cell.
I began my job in April 1980 and that November, I obtained an invitation to have Thanksgiving dinner at the Industrial School for Boys. Coincidentally, my mother was stone island replacement badge coming down from Long Island that same week to see me. She had not visited the state since I had moved there in 1978 and that i wished to show her the true West Virginia. What better approach, than to ask her to Thanksgiving dinner at a reform faculty
For most mothers, especially a Bronx-born Jewish mother, spending a vacation dinner at a juvenile prison would not necessarily be a prudent choice. But my mother was not simply any Jewish mother. She was an previous lefty who marched towards the prosecution of the Rosenbergs, escorted W.E.B. DuBois to political conferences and named me after Paul Robeson. I figured Thanksgiving with 200 juvenile delinquents and their guards would be excellent.
We arrived on the mess hall in the late afternoon and took our seats at a long table alongside the Warden, his spouse, the assistant Warden and a priest. My mother in fact sat subsequent to the priest. All along the wall, guarding every exit was a stern-faced C.O. (corrections officer). The boys silently filed into the hall (that was a rule – they had to stroll in single file and were not allowed to speak) and stood in front of their place setting: a yellow plastic plate, plastic water glass and plastic spoon and fork – no knives in fact. Each boy stood in complete silence till all of them had been within the corridor and when the word was given, they sat down at the same time – still in silence.
As she looked up and down the rows my mother whispered to me that they appeared really skinny and sickly. She was anticipating brawny, powerful trying thugs however all she noticed have been scrawny pimply-confronted kids with blank expressions. Earlier than the boys sat down, we all rose and the priest gave the benediction. Even in reform school, you could have to offer thanks. As we sat down, the room was crammed with an amazing flourish of plastic forks clapping against the laborious plastic plates and huge whooshing slurps and lip smacks. Two hundred hungry teenage jaws chowing down creates its own distinctive din.
I known as my mother the opposite day to ask what she recalled about that Thanksgiving meal. Two issues jumped out – the mashed potatoes had a barely green tinge to them despite the fact that they were made from powder and the cake had a vivid pink frosting. All I remember is the turkey swimming in a translucent brownish gravy and making an attempt to chop it with the side of a fork. My mother and the priest engaged in polite chit-chat, however for probably the most part she looked shell-shocked. For her, the sea of lonely, young faces was overwhelming. As soon because the pink cake was eaten, we left. It was a Thanksgiving not to recollect.
I was by no means invited back to a different Thanksgiving dinner. I am fairly certain it had to do with the truth that over the following three years I used to be continuously filing lawsuits towards the institution as well as every different reform college, forestry camp, detention center and jail within the state that violated a teenager’s rights. As a result of the these efforts and those of other juvenile rights attorneys, the West Virginia Industrial Faculty for Boys ultimately was closed down in 1983.
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