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"If one of your kids were kept in such circumstances, you'd be up there with rifles."
April 17, 2009 12:34 PM   Subscribe

For Their Own Good. "They were screwed-up kids, sent to the reform school in Marianna for smoking, fighting, stealing cars or worse. The Florida School for Boys -- that'd straighten them out." A well-written and heartbreaking feature from the St Pete Times. Includes an extensive list of supporting news links (going back to 1932) and a gallery of portraits by Edmund D. Fountain.
posted by grabbingsand (37 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Reminds me of the judicial scandal in Pennsylvania that just came to light where judges were being paid by youth detention centers for each boy they sent over.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:14 PM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wait, you mean corporal punishment doesn't work?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:18 PM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


OK, I was only able to read the first half of the article before I had to close the tab. It's well written; it's just extremely heart-breaking.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:34 PM on April 17, 2009


Jesus fuck. Sometimes I almost wish there was a Hell, just for people like Troy Tidwell, the one-armed man.
posted by dersins at 2:06 PM on April 17, 2009


What the fuck, humanity? I just don't know what to even think about that kind of systemic cruelty, for 100 fucking years. What. The. Fuck. Humanity? I'm going to go home early and hug my son, as I'm about to cry.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:08 PM on April 17, 2009


Tidwell’s granddaughter, Tiffany Pippin, says her family doubts the stories. They know a man who danced the fox-trot on Friday nights, who took his grandchildren fishing, who flirted with the ladies behind the perfume counter at the mall in Dothan, Ala. They know a man who always dressed sharp before he left the house and sat quiet in the First Baptist Church on Sunday mornings. “He’s a good man,” says Pippin, 29. “He loved his wife. He never beat his children.”
No, he just beat other people's children.
posted by dersins at 2:12 PM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of the judicial scandal in Pennsylvania that just came to light where judges were being paid by youth detention centers for each boy they sent over.

Read all about the industry that sprang up around Troubled Kids, and the politics that fan the flames, in Help At Any Cost. I have no great love for teenagers, but this book made me angry.
posted by Rykey at 2:13 PM on April 17, 2009


I don't think I'm the same after reading that. I have no problem with using coarse language to express my horror and disgust, but I finding that none of the options does this justice.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:31 PM on April 17, 2009


Is this Sparta?
posted by srboisvert at 2:43 PM on April 17, 2009


"We were children. We were still kids. We had the spark of life that could've been channeled into something decent." (from the photo gallery)

Fucking heartbreaking.

What's worse is that I suspect the FSB was hardly unique. Some parents voluntarily send their kids to places like that and call it "tough love."
posted by Afroblanco at 3:10 PM on April 17, 2009


Ten years later, in 1978, Jack Levine was teaching delinquent kids at a short-term residential center in Tallahassee when he heard about the Dozier school. The kids said it was a bad place.

One Sunday afternoon in November, Levine drove up to the entry gate and showed Health and Rehabilitative Services credentials. He found a lockup facility at the back of the campus. He could see a long hallway lined with metal doors. It was dark and reeked of body odor and urine.

Are there kids in here?

Yeah, said the guard.

I want to meet one. How about this cell?

There were top and bottom slip locks and bolts. One lock wouldn't budge. The man went back to his desk, grabbed a book — the Holy Bible — and whacked the lock.

Inside on a concrete slab, not a mattress, Levine saw a very thin, small, frightened boy with a shaved head and pajama bottoms, no shirt.

How long have you been in here? Levine asked.

The boy shrugged.

He's been here for a while, the guard said.

The guard told Levine the boy was locked up for his own protection. Theon. The boy said the older boys were sodomizing him with a broom handle.

Why is his head shaved? Levine asked.

The boy has been pulling his hair out, the guard said.

Is he getting any help?

We just pass the food in.



Jesus. 1978-- not 1918. And not Victorian England, or a third world nation.


I don't know which is worse-- this anecdote, or the one about the kid who was eager to leave his family to enroll there because he imagined there'd be music lessons and outdoor games.

The amount of human suffering and cruelty in the world--even just listed in the FPPs of the last couple days--is staggering. I can't click on many more of these right now.
posted by availablelight at 3:20 PM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was sent to a Residential Treatment Center when I was a teenager, and for all the stringent rules and isolation rooms and limited and monitored contact with the people you love, it was paradise compared to this place. Like the Betty Ford Clinic combined with Girl Scout Camp.

I was lucky. I got sent to one in the US.

I knew a boy who got sent to one in Mexico, and as horrible as his stories were, they were nothing like FSB. It sounds like hell on earth.
posted by Juliet Banana at 3:37 PM on April 17, 2009


Read all about the industry that sprang up around Troubled Kids, and the politics that fan the flames, in Help At Any Cost.

Help At Any Cost's author, maias had the lead story on time.com yesterday on the same subject.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:05 PM on April 17, 2009


Torturing children doesn't make them 'right'. And doesn't make a torturer into a saint. Stalin kissed his granddaughter.

May the days of 'tough love' ... and drug-regimes ... and other 'solutions' ... come to an end in the blinding realization that there's one thing that people who've never known love need.
posted by Twang at 4:18 PM on April 17, 2009


This story makes my heart ache.

Tangentially: The St. Pete Times is a great newspaper. It also does PolitiFact.com, a Snopes-like fact-checking site that monitors the errors, omissions, distortions, and outright lies that come out of politicians' mouths on a daily basis.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:48 PM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


BOP, I dig the Obameter, myself. It's easy to forget what was said during the campaign, so I look at that pretty often.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:54 PM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


For some reason today is graphic horror day here on Metafilter. I watch my son playing here on the rug in front of me and find I can't click the link. I know what's in there, and yet I don't want to know.

I see stories every day of children beaten, tortured, killed. For the life of me I can't understand how so much of the human race can inflict such terrible pain on children.
posted by anastasiav at 5:38 PM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


No words.
posted by nola at 5:44 PM on April 17, 2009


this brings to mind the killing of the young child sandra cantu by melissa hukaby, sunday school teacher and daughter of a proper christian family. there even seems to be a level of shock and surprise that someone with her christian values could be responsible for such a horrendous act. here's the challenge: next time you see another equally horrendous headline, think to yourself before reading it, was the offender a muslim, a hindu, a jew, an atheist or a christian? it doesn't take long to figure it out.
posted by kitchenrat at 6:05 PM on April 17, 2009


here's the challenge: next time you see another equally horrendous headline, think to yourself before reading it, was the offender a muslim, a hindu, a jew, an atheist or a christian? it doesn't take long to figure it out.

Huh?
posted by Nonce at 6:30 PM on April 17, 2009


here's the challenge: next time you see another equally horrendous headline, think to yourself before reading it, was the offender a muslim, a hindu, a jew, an atheist or a christian?

Here's another challenge - let's not.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:33 PM on April 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


it doesn't take long to figure it out.

That you have no concept of statistics?
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:09 PM on April 17, 2009


There are days I can hardly wait for the next earth-shattering asteroid strike.

Today is rapidly becoming one of them.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:11 PM on April 17, 2009


I wonder how much of the social ills we face have been caused by this sort of depraved abuse of our children.

A lot of it, is my guess. A whole lot of it.

I am ever so lucky to have been loved as a child. I must remember to thank my father for breaking the cycle of violence that haunted his childhood.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:39 PM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


There are days I can hardly wait for the next earth-shattering asteroid strike.

Today is rapidly becoming one of them.


Word. The HURR DURR LOLTEXAS thread had already brought my misanthropic side bubbling to the surface, and my exact first thoughts after finishing the article were "Comet. Smash." I vacillate between loving the world and the crazy-quilt of humanity with all my heart and utterly despairing for it. The idea of keeping my kids safe from sadists is all that gets me out of bed some days.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:57 PM on April 17, 2009


The worst part is, there are still places like this that operate. I've heard them advertise on occasion. You can always tell the truly evil ones, they're located outside the country.

I suppose the only real solution is legal remedies and lawsuits, but really, I'd be all for it if we could somehow arrange for commandos to go in.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:37 AM on April 18, 2009


.
posted by Kalthare at 1:32 AM on April 18, 2009


five fresh fish, on the asteroid strike:
Remember, such a strike would kill the kids too.
posted by JHarris at 3:19 AM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


here's the challenge: next time you see another equally horrendous headline, think to yourself before reading it, was the offender a muslim, a hindu, a jew, an atheist or a christian? it doesn't take long to figure it out.

Just about as long as it takes to check Wikipedia for the religious demographics of the area the crime occured in, in fact

Don't get me wrong, I think it's pretty obvious that certain types of religion, which tend towards authoritarianism and self-convinced righteousness, can encourage brutality towards those lower on the social hierarchy and in your care (women, children). But that is not a solely Christian failing, and non-religious ideologies can travel hand-in-hand with this kind of thinking as well.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:36 AM on April 18, 2009


You know, this got me to thinking - what kind of fucked up, devious mind would you have to have in order to actually function in an environment like FSB? I mean, on the one hand, you have the kids who are the obvious victims -- the ones who get beaten within inches of their lives, sodomized with broomsticks, stuck in solitary for weeks on end. But what about the "winners?" The ones at the top of the heap? The ones who are brutal and manipulative enough to not only escape the beatings, but actually thrive in that environment?

Places like FSB must be veritable training grounds for future psychopaths.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:33 AM on April 18, 2009


And that isn't to say that the kids would be psychopaths going into the situation. It's just that the "coping skills" one would need to learn could probably turn even the most wholesome child into a psychopath.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:36 AM on April 18, 2009


I have tried for a long time to get someone to do an outcome study following kids who have been in these known-to-be hideously abusive places. From my research covering "tough love" programs, I have a strong anecdotal impression of excesses of both suicide and homicide rates.

For example, Straight Inc., which was also based in Florida has at least two known former participants on death row. Given that the kids in Straight Inc. were middle class, mainly white, mostly pot-smoking and drinking teens, that seems remarkable. Someone has a list of dozens of suicides of former Straight and Straight-descendant-program kids.

For virtually all of the programs I've written about in my book and articles on this stuff, I've heard reports of multiple suicides afterwards. Given that some of the kids were sent to these places for being depressed, however, without a comparably depressed/ "troubled teen" sample who was untreated or treated differently, it's hard to know.

I have personally spoken with dozens of participants who frequently report symptoms congruent with PTSD and panic attacks and agoraphobia afterwards-- and they are explicitly trained in an ideology which suggests that hurting others helps them, being kind is "enabling" and being weak or being a "victim" is the worst thing you can be.

So, yeah, they do seem to promote antisocial and even potentially psychopathic behavior-- but it would really be good to have some hard data on it. It would be great if someone studied all the remaining White House boys because it seems likely that you could get a decently random sample, you could possibly get their pre-admission records and compare to kids charged with similar crimes at the time and not sent there.

FSB is clearly one of the worst cases-- but the one advantage the boys had there over some of these other kids is that they were not told that what was being done to them was "therapy" or "help." They knew it was punishment -- so they didn't have to go through the breach of trust with their families for choosing this kind of "help" and ignoring their complaints and they don't the barrriers to seeking therapy or other mental health treatment that comes from having been abused in the name of it.
posted by Maias at 3:57 PM on April 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the painful education grabbingsand. Among the many disturbing aspects to this story is that unwitting United States citizens gave their taxpayer dollars towards torturing children, their own children of their own nation, for a 100 years.

For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence by Alice Miller.

Among the ashes of this terrible history are the gems of courage, strength and hope in Roger Dean Kiser's writing. What an awesome human being to have been able to survive that emotionally well enough to then want to protect children, to tell the true story, to work on healing and become a children's rights' activist in spite of being poor and disabled. What a beautiful gift.

His work, the Bully.

His writing is unadorned, powerful, direct and meaningful.

It is easy to see the story of the White House Boys as a polarity of Good-Bad. Victims-Abusers. I think it's important to also understand that the abusers were all victims at one time too. That's how abusers are created, a combination of genetics and nature via nurture.

abusers act out their own pain onto others as a release of what is bottled up in them. Their abusing others is an attempt at pain relief. My interest is not only observing how horrible the abusers are and empathizing with the terrible the pain of the victims. It is also to examine, know and encourage finding ways *out of the cycle* of abuser/victim/abuser/victim/abuser down the generations.

If a child is badly parented in the first 6 years of life they stand a chance of developing an Axis II Cluster B personality disorder, which lasts for life. The first 6 years of a human being's life, their early childhood, makes all the difference for their entire life.

Somehow the art of loving parenting needs to be valued, really valued, in society. And more, how important it is to create a loving family which can sustain a long term relationship as a supportive, caring environment for the evolving of each child. I don't think parenting is valued in America, where what is prized is being in the spotlight or being a rebel. It would seem that some new way of thinking about bringing up kids needs to be created. The old system didn't work and the fruit of that not working is all the wars, the abuses heaped one person on another through the generations.

The internet is a place for truth telling, so these monstrous places and the monster abusers can be outed for the torture of children, child abuse colonies they are. At least now there is a movement of Children's Rights and talking about having been abused as a child is no longer the taboo it once was. Truth telling is a way to heal and from there enough caring generated to put a focus on healthier parenting.


*gets off the Loving Parenting is the Future of the World soapbox
posted by nickyskye at 4:36 PM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


It would be great if someone studied all the remaining White House boys…

For just a moment there, what with the previous few sentences mentioning sociopathic behaviours, I thought you meant Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:52 PM on April 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Reading this, I am utterly amazed that such a thing could be allowed to not only exist, but to continue. I am also a bit mystified. Not that I disbelieve, no, not at all. I am mystified by my own good fortune.

I have spent time in various juvenile facilities, in various states. I have never ever witnessed or heard other than rumours from the past, of physical abuse of juveniles in such facilities. Most of the time I spent in such places was in Michigan. Of the two places, no violence upon the inmates by employees ever occurred, save possibly in attempt to bring someone under control.

I also spent brief amounts of time in facilities in Austin, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; and Riverside, California. The briefest was in Arizona. Surprisingly, given the reputation of Texas, these days, Austin was the most relaxed of them all. Not even the inmates were making trouble amongst themselves. Curiously, it was the most permissive of them all, too. We weren't even locked in our own rooms at night, contrary to ever other facility. And we were allowed to smoke cigarettes.

But the point I'm making is this: It isn't impossible to conduct such facilities without abuse. In fact, I don't even think it's especially difficult.

And yet, back in Michigan, it happened at one point that a new person was hired as what we called a 'supervisor' (to supervise the boys). It took no time at all for all us boys to figure out this guy wasn't like the others. He was a nasty mean person. Not physically, although I always figured he would be, if the thought he could get away with it. But verbally, he was as totally disrespectful of the boys as he could be. Gratuitously mean, in little and belittling ways. Like insisting on calling the kid named Goddard, "Goddamn" (the only specific I can recall). Individual little acts of meanness that didn't matter except in aggregate.

But his boss was not a stranger to us, and it wasn't long before we were all telling what was happening. Even in this well-run facility (Genesee County), the response was simply to dismiss what we boys had to say. Somehow, the fact that this was the only employee about whom we had any complaint, meant nothing. I could easily imagine that, after I was gone, this nut may eventually have escalated his cruelty.
posted by Goofyy at 5:14 AM on April 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


For example, Straight Inc., which was also based in Florida has at least two known former participants on death row. Given that the kids in Straight Inc. were middle class, mainly white, mostly pot-smoking and drinking teens, that seems remarkable. Someone has a list of dozens of suicides of former Straight and Straight-descendant-program kids.

I've never actually discussed this with anyone, but reading the name of this organization brought it all back for me. I think in light of all that's been discussed in this thread, it's especially important to consider how these groups appeal to a parent's sense of hopelessness to lure children inside. I hope that what I share here might somehow prevent other parents from falling into the same trap.

I had a relative who was sent to Straight Inc., the Virginia facility. This relative of mine, by the age of 15, was sneaking out of the house, partying, getting wasted, and failing school. Her parents took her to councilling, they had the police pick her up, they grounded her, all to no avail. And then they heard about Toughlove from another parent.

So the parents started going to these Toughlove meetings. It wasn't long before pamphlets for Straight Inc. were passed on to them. They read about how the group was founded on the principles of the 12 Step program, that there aren't set terms of stay - a child has to earn their way out, or turn 18 - that there was a very low rate of relapse among those kids who "graduated". It wasn't cheap, but the parents felt they had no other option. And so, very early one morning, they woke the child, bundled her into the car, and drove her down to the Virginia facility of Straight Inc., signing her over to their care.

Now, Straight is not your typical rehab. There actually are no dormitory facilities. Instead, children sleep in the homes of other parents, usually with a few other kids not related to the Straight parents. Locks and alarms are put on the doors and windows of the room where they sleep. But that's not what I'm trying to bring up here. I'd like to tell you all a little about how Straight worked.

Straight had a great deal of emphasis on rules and discipline. Make-up and jewelry were forbidden, as were clothes with writing on them, singing, whistling, humming, tapping your feet or fingers (called "rocking out"), referencing music in any way apart from the songs you were allowed to sing, or disobedience to those who were your seniors. Because Straight had a "five phase" system - you worked your way from one phase to the next, earning greater privileges such as being able to read a newspaper or talk to your parents on the telephone for a few minutes, by abiding the rules set down for you and, more importantly, reporting those who broke them.

Your superiors were not medical professionals, but other children. Those who had managed to follow the whims of their superiors and report on other children enough to gain authority were the ones who held authority over others. There were adults supervising, yes, but the Virginia facility had two medical professionals - a psychologist and a nurse - both of whom were dedicated to the Straight philosophy.

Families were required to take an active part in the program, and not just by housing other peoples' children in their homes - these parents also had to follow the Straight rules when in the presence of other Straight children. As a relative, I was obliged to attend meetings twice a week and submit a "moral inventory" to kids my age or younger. These moral inventories were confessions of our violations of Straight thinking, and our goals in how we could be straighter. It was at these meetings that I witnessed a 17-year-old boy yell at an 8-year-old boy for having poor handwriting, despite the fact that the younger boy was mildly retarded.

In the end, it took 2 years for my relative to graduate from the Straight program. She relapsed within a few months, and continued to have substance abuse problems until she voluntarily began to go to 12-step meetings. She attends these meetings to this day.

It wasn't for years afterwards that we learned about the physical and sexual abuse that took place at Straight Inc. The system itself, with its lack of objective supervision, its Lord of the Flies structure of prisoners ruling other prisoners, its soul-crushing isolation from the outside world and inordinately pointless discipline led towards abuse. Many of these kids were troubled before they went in, and were in desperate need of help. Help isn't something that Straight provided. Straight crushed young spirits through physical and sexual abuse, year after year, operating with praise from Nancy Reagan during the 80s anti-drug hysteria.

I would ask that any parent here who has a troubled child think twice before sending your child away to a facility. Read all you can. Talk to the parents of children who have been there long before. Listen to your gut instinct when something doesn't seem right to you, and pull them out at the first sign of anything suspicious. It could save the life of your child.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:29 PM on April 19, 2009 [19 favorites]


Possibly already covered, but also relevant.

I saw a google video about tranquility bay before it closed this year; it seems to exemplify many of the practices discussed in this thread.
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 12:45 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


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