A Thanksgiving NOT To recollect
In November of 1980, I used to be the director of Juvenile Advocates, a legal advocacy program for incarcerated teens located in Morgantown, West Virginia. My job consisted of monitoring the treatment of juveniles who were locked up in county jails, detention centers and what had been known then, as reform faculties.Perhaps probably the most interesting a part of the job was that about every two weeks I would drive the roller-coaster roads of the state to interview the kids locked up in the varied establishments from the West Virginia Industrial College for Boys in Pruntytown to the West Virginia Industrial Faculty for Women in Salem and the Leckie Youth Middle, situated method down in the coalfields of McDowell County.
The names “Industrial Faculty” and “Reform Faculty” were vestiges of the early twentieth century reform movement. Previous to that age of enlightenment, teenagers who broke the legislation have been handled an identical to adults. They have been tried in criminal courts, locked up in state prisons along side adult inmates and even hung from the gallows. With the arrival of the progressive motion, delinquency came to be considered more as a social drawback having its roots in poverty, discrimination and household stone island giacchetto disintegration.
I may quote the great turn-of-the century social reformer Jane Adams, but I feel the Jets provide probably the most eloquent rationalization: “Dear Kindly Sgt. Krupke, you gotta understand, it’s just 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.” Fairly than punish delinquents in prisons, the pondering went, they must be despatched to varsities to be ‘reformed,’ made extra ‘industrious.’
By the time I had arrived on the West Virginia Industrial School for Boys (originally named the West Virginia Reform College) – the facility I visited most frequently – in 1980, the lofty objective of rehabilitation had way back given solution to punishment, harsh punishment. The next from a West Virginia Supreme Court opinion is a description of a few of these punitive practices, “‘Floor time’ was a punishment whereby the inmate apparently was required to stand stiffly in a single position for several hours every day with out speaking… ‘Bench time’ was a punishment that required the inmate to sit in a specified location with arms crossed for a number of hours every day and for a number of days with out speaking or shifting.” 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 wash a flooring with a tooth brush till the boy’s knees bled, were common.
The establishment was primarily based upon a behavioral modification remedy mannequin where kids moved from stage 1 through level four (the release degree). However in the event you screwed up you have been despatched right down to Level Zero. Every boy was assigned a unique color shirt depending on his stage and in the middle of every shirt was the West Virginia seal together with the state motto, Montani Semper Liberi – Mountaineers are Always Free. Word.
Inbuilt 1891, the administration constructing the place I had a make-shift workplace, had the appear and feel a massive stone fortress. The boys slept in dormitory cottages spread all through the campus – until of course they dedicated a critical infraction – like speaking back to a CO or stealing meals, then they would be despatched to Level Zero and a tiny windowless cell.
I began my job in April 1980 and that November, I received an invite to have Thanksgiving dinner at the Industrial Faculty for Boys. Coincidentally, my mother was coming down from Lengthy Island that very same week to see me. She had not visited the state since I had moved there in 1978 and that i wanted to point out her the true West Virginia. What higher method, than to invite her to Thanksgiving dinner at a reform school
For most mothers, particularly a Bronx-born Jewish mother, spending a vacation dinner at a juvenile prison wouldn’t necessarily be a prudent choice. However my mother was not simply any Jewish mother. She was an old lefty who marched in opposition to 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 could be excellent.
We arrived on the mess hall within the late afternoon and took our seats at a long desk alongside the Warden, his spouse, the assistant Warden and a priest. My mom after all sat next to the priest. All along the wall, guarding every exit was a stern-confronted C.O. (corrections officer). The boys silently filed into the corridor (that was a rule – they needed 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 after all. Every boy stood in total silence until all of them were in the corridor and when the word was given, they sat down at the identical time – nonetheless in silence.
As she appeared up and down the rows my mother whispered to me that they looked really skinny and sickly. She was expecting brawny, tough wanting thugs but all she noticed had been scrawny pimply-faced kids with blank expressions. Before the boys sat down, all of us rose and the priest gave the benediction. Even in reform faculty, you may have to offer thanks. As we sat down, the room was stuffed with an awesome flourish of plastic forks clapping against the arduous plastic plates and big whooshing slurps and lip smacks. Two hundred hungry teenage jaws chowing down creates its personal unique din.
I referred to as my mom the opposite day to ask what she recalled about that Thanksgiving meal. Two things jumped out – the mashed potatoes had a slightly inexperienced tinge to them although 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 aspect of a fork. My mother and the priest engaged in polite chit-chat, but for probably the most part she appeared 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 remember.
I was never invited back to a different Thanksgiving dinner. I’m pretty certain it had to do with the fact that over the next 3 years I used to be always filing lawsuits in opposition to the institution as well as every other reform school, forestry camp, detention center and jail within the state that violated a teenager’s rights. Because of the these efforts and people of other juvenile rights attorneys, the West Virginia Industrial School for Boys ultimately was closed down in 1983.