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 positioned in Morgantown, West Virginia. My job consisted of monitoring the treatment of juveniles who were locked up in county jails, detention centers and what have been identified then, as reform colleges.Perhaps the most attention-grabbing part of the job was that about every two weeks I might drive the roller-coaster roads of the state to interview the kids locked up in the various establishments from the West Virginia Industrial College for Boys in Pruntytown to the West Virginia Industrial Faculty for Ladies in Salem and the Leckie Youth Heart, located way down within the coalfields of McDowell County.
The names “Industrial College” and “Reform Faculty” were vestiges of the early 20th century reform movement. Previous to that age of enlightenment, teenagers who broke the regulation were handled identical to adults. They were 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 motion, delinquency came to be thought of extra as a social downside having its roots in poverty, discrimination and household disintegration.
I may quote the great flip-of-the century social reformer Jane Adams, however I believe the Jets present the most eloquent explanation: “Dear Kindly Sgt. Krupke, you gotta perceive, it’s 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.” Fairly than punish delinquents in prisons, the pondering went, they should be despatched to varsities to be ‘reformed,’ made extra ‘industrious.’
By the time I had arrived at the West Virginia Industrial Faculty for Boys (originally named the West Virginia Reform School) – the facility I visited most steadily – in 1980, the lofty aim of rehabilitation had way back given solution to punishment, harsh punishment. The following from a West Virginia Supreme Court docket opinion is an outline 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 each day without speaking… ‘Bench time’ was a punishment that required the inmate to take a seat in a specified location with arms crossed for several hours every day and for a number of days without speaking 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 fingers and knees to clean a flooring with a tooth brush until the boy’s knees bled, had been common.
The establishment was based upon a behavioral modification therapy model the place children moved from degree 1 by means of level 4 (the release level). But for those who screwed up you have been sent down to Stage Zero. Each boy was assigned a special color shirt depending on his stage and in the center of each shirt was the West Virginia seal along 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 unfold all through the campus – until after all they committed a serious infraction – like speaking back to a CO or stealing meals, then they would be despatched to Degree Zero and a tiny windowless cell.
I began my job in April 1980 and that November, I obtained an invite to have Thanksgiving dinner on 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 needed to indicate her the real West Virginia. What better way, than to ask 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 would not necessarily be a prudent alternative. But 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 can be perfect.
We arrived on the mess hall in the late afternoon and took our seats at an extended table alongside the Warden, his wife, the assistant Warden and a priest. My mom after all sat next to the priest. All along the wall, guarding each exit was a stern-confronted C.O. (corrections officer). The boys silently filed into the hall (that was a rule – they had to walk in single file and weren’t 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 after all. Each boy stood in whole silence till all of them had been within the hall and when the phrase was given, they sat down stone island navy cargo shorts at the same time – still in silence.
As she appeared up and down the rows my mom whispered to me that they looked really skinny and sickly. She was expecting brawny, robust looking thugs however all she noticed were scrawny pimply-confronted youngsters with clean expressions. Before the boys sat down, we all rose and the priest gave the benediction. Even in reform faculty, you could have to offer thanks. As we sat down, the room was crammed with a terrific flourish of plastic forks clapping in opposition to the onerous 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 opposite day to ask what she recalled about that Thanksgiving meal. Two things jumped out – the mashed potatoes had a slightly green tinge to them despite the fact that they had been 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 cut it with the facet of a fork. My mother and the priest engaged in polite chit-chat, however for probably the most half she appeared shell-shocked. For her, the sea of lonely, younger 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 a different Thanksgiving dinner. I’m pretty positive it had to do with the fact that over the following three years I was always filing lawsuits towards the establishment as well as every different reform college, forestry camp, detention heart and jail within the state that violated a teenager’s rights. As a result of the these efforts and people of different juvenile rights attorneys, the West Virginia Industrial College for Boys ultimately was closed down in 1983.