kids’ prison

Housing Unit.

by Frank Manning

For some years now I have volunteered as a kind of mentor/grandfather figure for adjudicated juvenile delinquents who are serving their sentences at what is essentially a prison for kids. It is not like any prison you have ever seen before. There is no perimeter fence or wall. It’s in the middle of the woods, and a lake and a swamp do most of the job of keeping the kids in. Regular bear and cougar alerts also help in that sphere.

Dining Area - Day RoomThe residential units (above) are large cottages, spacious, airy, full of light. The locked rooms where the kids spend their nights and daytime downtime, are clustered at either end of the cottage, around two separate hallways, where the four boys in a “zone” share a bathroom/shower room that may be used by only one of them at a time. There are three meals a day, with plenty of decent nutritious food, and a surprising variety of snacks. The food service is regularly checked by both state and federal inspectors.

There is an accredited school, overseen by the neighboring school district, and the boys can earn a GED or a regular high school diploma. The boys can take part in a service dog training program. Oh, and they have an olympic-sized pool and lots of outdoor play space.

When I first started volunteering almost 15 years ago, most of the boys were doing time for drug offenses (possession, selling), sex offenses, stealing cars, burglaries, gun possession, assaults (many in school fights), and the like. Serious violent crimes, like School Roommurder/homicide, arson, aggravated assault, were rather rare. Over the years, as juvenile crime has declined and attitudes toward incarcerating juvenile offenders have switched from “let’s teach them a lesson” to “only the worst”, I’ve dealt with fewer and fewer nonviolent offenders. So now we mostly have only sex offenses, murder/manslaughter, aggravated assault, and violence or other crimes associated with gang membership. Yet the staff’s emphasis remains focused on rehabilitation, behavioral therapy, and treatment focused on future release back into society.

I have perhaps encountered my most difficult case, one that will definitely be of interest to Dan and the readers of this blog. He is a parricide, now 14 years old. Last year, after he had just turned 13, he shot his father in the head with a hunting rifle as the man was napping on the couch. The man had been beating him for years, sometimes with a 2×4, and had started to molest his little sisters. Seeing his baby sister bleeding and crying and his mother too terrified to say anything finally put him over the edge.

His case was heard in superior court, but he was adjudicated as a juvenile. His lawyer and the prosecutor agreed that because of the circumstances he would plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and serve five years in a juvenile facility. They wanted him to realize that killing someone in their sleep is not acceptable. He is lucky to be where he is now. It’s a nice location, the staff are young, sympathetic, and kind. There is no staff abuse or violence of any kind. In another year or two he will be moved to another facility, one for older boys. It is a lot more restrictive and prison-like, but for now he’s in what many of the kids call a locked summer camp. He will be free shortly after his 18th birthday. But for now the staff and I have to work on fixing at least a part of this broken kid. And that’s where we have a problem.

The boy’s treatment work requires him to write about his crime and his feelings about it: anger, guilt, remorse, hate, whatever. He has adamantly refused to do any of it, and has so far resisted all inducements and consequences. He has even had himself sent to “intensive management” (sort of like segregation, but with strong staff intervention) as a result of acting out violently in response to staff demands. He’s been diagnosed as ADHD and bipolar, and put on the usual medications for that. He still will not cooperate. He is so hyper that even when he’s locked in isolation and deprived of every distraction (to try to get him to yield) they have to let him bounce a rubber ball—or else he will hurt himself. He has got 14 years of hatred, anger, and resentment bottled up inside him. And he is still maintaining some very high walls, even with me.

Staff get paid to crack and break down those walls. I do not, but that is fine. To be honest, it is really exhausting trying to help someone who does not want it. But I’m a stubborn old bastard myself. He will come around, at least part way. We might not be able to fix this boy, but we can at least prevent him from being destroyed by his own demons.

Note that because of state confidentially laws I cannot name the boy or give his contact information to anyone. Only family and people designated by them and approved by the facility can write to him.


Tame Deer on grounds



Weather Report

80° Cloudy and Rain

(It hailed tonight and topped-off our water tank.)


4 Responses to “kids’ prison”

  1. 1 matt
    May 15, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    Great article, Frank. Washington seems to be well ahead of most states, in regards the treatment of juvenile offenders. Your volunteer work certainly sets an example for us all.

  2. 2 Elaine
    May 15, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    This is so sad. I hope this young man can find a purpose in his life and be rehabilitated.I pray to a higher power for him. GBY for all that you do for the broken youth. Wish there was more I can do to help

  3. 3 Bob
    May 15, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    I have told my students that WA is probably the best state in which to be a juvenile offender. But they still need to understand that if conditions are set for living at home, they had better be followed. I’m hoping that none of them will find out for themselves, but statistically it could be.

    • 4 Frank Manning
      May 17, 2016 at 11:57 pm

      I can’t argue with that, Bob. The typical term at our facility is 9 to 12 months. If a gun is involved in any way then it’s a year to 18 months. After a boy is released he is on juvenile probation for six months. About 20 percent of the boys in population are probabtion violators. They usually get 30 days for that. They have to wear yellow jail clothes, are more closely monitored, and get a harder time from staff. If one of “my boys” comes back he also has to face this crazy Italian from Brooklyn who doesn’t put up with his bull. One of them actually told his counselor he was more scared of me than of the security staff!

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