by Frank Manning
Some 13 years ago I had been volunteering at the reform school here in Washington State for about two years. I had come to understand why the counselors were “so harsh” and quick to discipline any misbehavior, no matter how trivial (in my eyes). They had gotten used to my abrasive New York personality and confrontational style. My crazy Brooklyn Italian “mafioso” persona and my strong Brooklyn accent made an impression on the kids, most of whom were chronic juvenile delinquents from small towns and cities across the state. Ferndale to Longview, Hoquiam to Spokane, a totally alien environment for this recent transplant from Noo Yawk. But broken kids are the same no matter where they are from. Very needy, very scared, often burnt out from too much “glass” (smokeable shards of crystal meth). Craving adult attention and affection—and not unwilling to act out in disagreeable, sometimes violent, ways to get it. And when Frank talked, they actually listened.
So it came to pass that almost-15-year-old David came into my life. He was a nasty little street punk from Spokane, and was doing 15 to 36 weeks for a purse snatching. Grabbed a woman’s purse in a supermarket parking lot, but several men chased him out, roughed him up, and held him for the police. His father lived somewhere else, mom was more interested in her boyfriend. After an argument with the boyfriend that almost ended in a physical fight, David waited for them to begin having sex and then took his mom’s pickup truck. He was high on meth, and he wound up driving the truck into a ravine. As the truck tumbled down the hill his arm went through the windshield, and the glass gouged a chunk out of his forearm. First responders had to cut him out of the wreckage.
David was not too impressionable. He was, after all, a neglected street kid from a nasty part of Washington’s second largest city. I’ve been there. Many strip clubs along the avenue. Great environment in which to grow up. David used drugs and girls to numb his pain and sense of abandonment. What I saw as a “nasty” demeanor was actually the outer shield of a hurting and scared boy. He was released after 30 weeks, deemed “rehabilitated.” I fully expected to see him back.
About six months after David’s release, Erica, 15, came to our unit for drug treatment. She was also from Spokane and had the same last name as David. So I asked if she knew him. They were first cousins! He was actually staying out of trouble, but she got caught for a residential burglary. She was a sweet little angel for her 18 weeks with us. But there was a callousness there too. You could sense a hardened shell. I was sure her life was going to continue on the darkside.
So what brings up David and Erica after all these years?
I just found out that they have been in adult prison. They are both 28. She is in her third year of a 5-year sentence for possession of methamphetamine. He just completed the first year of a long sentence for several carjackings and a police chase in a vehicle. It really bothered me to see that. They had messed up all the chances they were given. Or maybe their environment was just too corrosive for them; I don’t know. Just disappointed. I don’t blame myself or the staff at the reform school. They did, and continue to do, a splendid, relatively gentle job of trying to repair the damage someone inflicted on these kids. Damn it, they are not born that way. Some really horrible excuses for human beings made them this way! Makes me so friggin pazzo!
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