A Thanksgiving NOT To recollect
In November of 1980, I used to be the director of Juvenile Advocates, a authorized advocacy program for incarcerated teenagers situated in Morgantown, West Virginia. My job consisted of monitoring the therapy of juveniles who had been locked up in county jails, detention centers and what were known then, as reform schools.Perhaps essentially the most fascinating a part of the job was that about each two weeks I would drive the roller-coaster roads of the state to interview the kids locked up in the assorted institutions from the West Virginia Industrial Faculty for Boys in Pruntytown to the West Virginia Industrial Faculty for Women in Salem and the Leckie Youth Heart, situated method down in the coalfields of McDowell County.
The names “Industrial School” and “Reform Faculty” have been vestiges of the early twentieth century reform motion. Prior to that age of enlightenment, teenagers who broke the law have been handled identical to adults. They have been tried in criminal courts, locked up in state prisons along facet grownup inmates and even hung from the gallows. With the arrival of the progressive motion, delinquency came to be considered more as a social downside stone island junior cheap having its roots in poverty, discrimination and family disintegration.
I may quote the good turn-of-the century social reformer Jane Adams, however I think the Jets provide probably the most eloquent explanation: “Expensive Kindly Sgt. Krupke, you gotta perceive, it is simply our upbringing upke that gets us out of hand, our mothers all are junkies, our fathers are all drunks, golly Moses naturally we’re punks.” Relatively than punish delinquents in prisons, the pondering went, they needs to be despatched to schools to be ‘reformed,’ made extra ‘industrious.’
By the time I had arrived on the West Virginia Industrial School for Boys (initially named the West Virginia Reform College) – the ability I visited most steadily – in 1980, the lofty purpose of rehabilitation had way back given way to punishment, harsh punishment. The next from a West Virginia Supreme Court opinion is a description of a few of these punitive practices, “‘Flooring time’ was a punishment whereby the inmate apparently was required to stand stiffly in a single place for a number of hours every day without talking… ‘Bench time’ was a punishment that required the inmate to take a seat in a specified location with arms crossed for a number of hours every day and for several days without talking or transferring.” 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 arms and knees to clean a floor with a tooth brush till the boy’s knees bled, had been frequent.
The institution was primarily based upon a behavioral modification treatment mannequin the place children moved from degree 1 by stage 4 (the discharge stage). But in the event you screwed up you had been despatched all the way down to Level Zero. Every boy was assigned a different color shirt depending on his degree 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 where I had stone island junior cheap a make-shift workplace, had the look and feel a large stone fortress. The boys slept in dormitory cottages spread all through the campus – unless in fact they committed a critical infraction – like speaking again to a CO or stealing food, then they could be despatched to Stage Zero and a tiny windowless cell.
I began my job in April 1980 and that November, I received an invitation to have Thanksgiving dinner at the Industrial Faculty for Boys. Coincidentally, my mom was coming down from Lengthy Island that same week to see me. She had not visited the state since I had moved there in 1978 and i wished to indicate her the real West Virginia. What better approach, than to invite her to Thanksgiving dinner at a reform faculty
For most mothers, particularly a Bronx-born Jewish mom, spending a holiday dinner at a juvenile prison wouldn’t essentially be a prudent selection. However my mother was not simply any Jewish mom. She was an previous lefty who marched towards the prosecution of the Rosenbergs, escorted W.E.B. DuBois to political meetings and named me after Paul Robeson. I figured Thanksgiving with 200 juvenile delinquents and their guards would be perfect.
We arrived at the mess hall within the late afternoon and took our seats at a protracted table alongside the Warden, his spouse, the assistant Warden and a priest. My mother of course sat next to the priest. All alongside the wall, guarding each exit was a stern-confronted C.O. (corrections officer). The boys silently filed into the corridor (that was a rule – they had to stroll in single file and weren’t allowed to talk) and stood in front of their place setting: a yellow plastic plate, plastic water glass and plastic spoon and fork – no knives of course. Every boy stood in whole silence until all of them had been within the corridor and when the phrase was given, they sat down at the identical time – still in silence.
As she regarded up and down the rows my mom whispered to me that they seemed actually skinny and sickly. She was anticipating brawny, robust looking thugs however all she saw have been scrawny pimply-confronted children with clean expressions. Before the boys sat down, we all rose and the priest gave the benediction. Even in reform faculty, you’ve to offer thanks. As we sat down, the room was full of an awesome flourish of plastic forks clapping in opposition to the laborious plastic plates and large whooshing slurps and lip smacks. Two hundred hungry teenage jaws chowing down creates its own distinctive din.
I known as my mother the other day to ask what she recalled about that Thanksgiving meal. Two things jumped out – the mashed potatoes had a barely green tinge to them even though they had been made from powder and the cake had a bright 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 mom and the priest engaged in polite chit-chat, however for the most half she regarded shell-shocked. For her, the sea of lonely, young faces was overwhelming. As soon as the pink cake was eaten, we left. It was a Thanksgiving not to recollect.
I was by no means invited back to another Thanksgiving dinner. I’m fairly sure it had to do with the truth that over the subsequent 3 years I was always filing lawsuits against the establishment in addition to each different reform college, forestry camp, detention center and jail within the state that violated a teenager’s rights. On account of the these efforts and those of different juvenile rights attorneys, the West Virginia Industrial School for Boys eventually was closed down in 1983.