david and erica

David's Home.

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.

DavidSo 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.

Looks Like EricaAbout 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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5 Responses to “david and erica”

  1. 1 matt
    August 2, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    You do good work, Frank, and you obviously put your heart into those kids, but this is kind of like the situation Dan spoke of only a few weeks back. You and the system can do everything in your powers for them, but they still have to go back to the often dysfunctional home-life, still back to the same school peer pressures, or back to the same neighborhood troubles, and that should not reflect badly on those who’ve done their best by them.

  2. 2 Willow54
    August 3, 2016 at 4:40 am

    As a non-US citizen it is easy for me to complain about the treatment of juveniles in your criminal justice system, but I always force myself to view the situation in the context of millions of American voters who democratically elect the politicians who draft and enact these laws. I have, therefore, to conclude that, in the spirit of democracy, they agree by and large with them. So, it isn’t the laws themselves that I am frustrated with, but the huge difference in the way that America treats its juveniles compared to other countries, my own in particular.

    Why is that? Are Americans more vengeful by default? Is it that they just don’t know any other way? Is there no public appetite to make any change to the laws? Would an example help to focus people’s minds on the issue? Perhaps an insight into the UK’s most notorious murder case of the late 20th century, which involved minors, may help.

    In the mid 1990’s two 10 year old boys from Liverpool, England abducted and murdered a 2 year old toddler. They subjected him to physical torture and sexual molestation before bludgeoning him to death, further mutilating his body and leaving him at the side of a railroad track. The case generated huge public outrage. Their every subsequent court appearance had to be accompanied by a riot squad to prevent the boys from being attacked. There were, surprisingly, even calls for the death penalty to be re-instated specially for this case. (Britain hasn’t executed anyone since 1965, and no minors since the 19th century).

    In the event, both of them were handed indeterminate sentences due to their young ages but neither saw the inside of a prison cell. This is a common outcome for very young children within the British legal system. Both were committed to secure children’s homes where they experienced relatively comfortable surroundings, they were educated and graduated high school and where they were given intensive rehabilitative therapy. They were subsequently released on parole at age 18 and given new identities to protect their personal safety. One even relocated to a friendly country and since he has never been heard from again, we must assume he is thriving in his new non-UK home. The other one who remained in the UK was sent to live in another city away from Liverpool and he had to cut off all contact with his family to avoid journalists who tried to pursue them after their release. Unfortunately his life path has not been so smooth since coming out of custody. He has had two spells in prison since then, once for a parole violation, and one further for child pornography possession. In keeping with the spirit of their sentencing, which was effectively the juvenile equivalent of an adult life sentence, both will now remain ‘on license’ for the rest of their lives, and could be recalled at any time to prison for a parole violation.

    Although this outcome is common for minors in Britain, the result has still exercised public opinion. It has been widely criticised that the boys lost their liberty for less than 8 years before they were allowed to rejoin society and this only further highlights the difference between our justice systems. If the same crime had been committed by these two boys in the US, they would have been tried as adults and would most likely be spending the rest of their natural lives behind prison bars. It’s not for me to make judgements about this, however; I don’t have all the answers, and it’s clear there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the treatment of juveniles within the justice system. I’m sure we could learn lessons from both countries way of doing things.

    The one thing that is clear. Horrendous crimes involving minors are becoming sadly more common all over the world. It’s doubtful whether a common approach to this issue by legal authorities in multiple countries would be at all possible, but it’s surely time that every country at least acknowledged the difference in the juvenile psyche that affects their ability to make good choices, particularly during the vital teenage years that shape their adult character. Perhaps if all the world’s countries could at least do that, we would be halfway towards realising a better way forward in the legal minefield that currently is juvenile justice.

    • 3 Frank Manning
      August 3, 2016 at 1:04 pm

      Willow, thank you for your insights and observations. Yes, I remember the James Bulger case. And the public reactions to it. I always admire how you Brits implement juvenile justice in a much more humane and rational way.

      Just before I started at the reform school we had a case here in Washington that involved an 11 yo boy who was part of a group of six who murdered a man one hot summer night “because there was nothing better to do.” The 18 and 19 yo leaders of the pack were tried in adult court and received sentences of 20+ years. The four minors were all adjudicated as juveniles. The 11 yo was given the sentence we call “juvie life”–confinement in a juvenile facility until you turn 21. I first met him when he was 12, and spoke with him a few times. He was in the maximum security unit at first, because of his murder conviction, but through good behavior and attitude earned his way into general population. Just before he turned 16 they transferred him to our Youth Camp, another unfenced non-prisonlike facility in the middle of a large forest in the extreme SE of the state. I have never heard anything about him afterward, so I think it worked here too. Meanwhile in what I consider the more backward states, like Florida and Indiana, 11 and 12 year olds are tried as adutls and put in adult prisons. Then that scandal in Australia, which shows we Yanks are not unique in how we sometimes treat our youngest inmates. [see here tomorrow for that]

      • 4 Willow54
        August 5, 2016 at 4:31 am

        Thanks for your interest in my comments Frank. It is undoubtedly the system I am mad at. It has turned children into commodities to be consumed in the interests of making money. Combining the prison-for-profit mentality with the practice of having so many elected officials within the justice system who have voters to please, in my humble opinion, is the recipe that has resulted in the shambles that now exists in the US. Unless there is public appetite for change, and sadly I think too many Americans actually agree with the way things work now, I don’t see anything meaningful happening in juvenile justice any time soon.

  3. 5 You know who
    August 5, 2016 at 1:07 am

    Nice one franky. I’d be more into your comments on the racism and that but this is good stuff too. Down with the Islams. #alllivesmatter

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