Friday, March 01, 2013

Which was worse? Prison or Group home for kids?

I'm doing some research for my next book and was talking to a friend of mine who recently got out of prison for something drug related. I've known him since he was ten or so and he was always an angry kid and was in and out of group homes for kids. Kid jails. Homes for wayward boys. I don't know what they're called. Here we called it "The boys ranch." I've talked to him about his time at prison and I have a feel for what his prison experience was like.  Today was the first time I ever asked him about his time at the boy's ranch.

"So, compared to Anamosa, one of Iowa's two maximum security prisons, which was worse? The boy's ranch or prison?"
Without hesitation, and emphatically he answered, "The boy's ranch. It was terrible. The other kids there were animals and the cops (He calls all guards and employees of prisons regardless of the age of their guests cops.) were more abusive and mean at the boy's ranch."
He talked about kids torturing & bullying each other behind the cops' backs and he talked about guards who would slam the kids to the floor or walls saying they were "restraining" them but they'd taunt them before and after with threats of violence against them the next time they need to be "restrained."

"Some of the kids needed it, but if they were having a bad day you were just as likely to be thrown against the wall because of something someone else did as not. Some of the kids would piss all over themselves so when they got tackled or taken down they would at least get pee on the cops because they couldn't do anything else. You can't fight back or it's worse for you."

We talked for almost an hour and he was willing to talk about it and didn't seem to be embellishing  His stories matched what I'd heard from an old employee of the place (Who I plan to interview as well later if he will.) At the end I asked him a question that was important to me now. Remember I knew him then, before he went to that place that sounded, by all accounts, like it should have a lot more cameras and be viewed off site by someone with some authority and no connection to the employees there.

"Thinking back to back then and how angry you were. Is there anything anyone could have done? Anything I could have done or your parents could have done that would have made a difference to you? Were you wanting something you weren't getting or... what could we as adults have done so you wouldn't have wound up there? Anything?"
"I was really angry all the time. I lashed out all the time. I honestly don't know if there was anything that would have helped or stopped me from going there. Maybe if I'd had more friends or something that I could talk to, but I wouldn't talk to them and I pushed my friends away all the time. I'd get mad at them and we wouldn't just fight and get back together. I'd go thermonuclear on them and burn the bridges. Then I'd blame them for it." 
"You're older now. You've gone through some anger management classes and I see sometimes on Facebook you go from being like we are right now, calm and laughing and in a good mood to really pissed at the world and lashing out again. If I see that should I call? Would you call me? What can we do to help? We know the pattern from before that this winds up with you in jail. I'm not saying if you go away it'd be my fault. You're responsible for how you react to things. I may make you mad, but what you do in reaction to that is on you. But is there anything I could do to help? Or should I just shut up, leave you alone and let you work through it?" 
"I've talked to Mom about going to get some more anger management classes. I'm still on her insurance so I should go while I can afford it. But you can't do anything. I don't really think calling's a good idea. I don't want to do something to mess up our friendship. You're the only person who has never let me down. You've always been there for me and if you can't do something you say it. You don't break your promises. That means a lot. I wouldn't want to mess that up. I mainly just need to get over it. Usually I go to sleep and it's better the next morning. You've done plenty for me. I couldn't ask for more from anybody." 
"Well, the last thing and I'll stop. You've been really good at calling me if you're at a place where you decide you're in danger of making bad decisions, like that apartment where when I dropped you off I said, 'This is a pretty druggy neighborhood. You sure you should be here?' and you called me at 2 in the morning that night asking for a ride. You are never bothering me when you make those calls. Honest. I won't tell you what you should or shouldn't do. You know that better than me and I'm not your mom. If I think it's a bad place I'll say it but I won't stop you. But I do want you to promise that if you're in one of those situations you'll call me. Don't think you're bugging me or that you're imposing. You're not."

He said he'd call. He really is a good kid and I wish only the best for him.

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