Monday, August 20, 2007

Reform School

Pop-cultural representations of reform school children started in the ‘50s. There were Reform School Girl, So Young So Bad, So Evil So Young, Riot in Juvenile Prison, Kitten with a Whip, and Bad Boys –just to name a few. These films were designed to entice the viewers while exploiting the Juvenile Corrections system. They did. The writers had no clue, and certainly didn’t communicate anything bordering upon truth to the eager viewers.

Reform Schools of the fifties were not nice places, but that’s about all many boys had to call home. In the Northeast, the Lyman School for Boys was the nation’s first reform school. Its campus comprised about 1,000 acres of land on a hill in Westborough, Massachusetts. About 500 acres was prime farmland, some donated, like the Flagg Farm, and some acquired when the original training school was rebuilt at its last site on Power Hill.

Throughout its 150-year history, the Lyman School experimented with new methods of handling problem boys. It was nearly-always a work in progress until; in 1971 it was closed by Jerome Miller, the new Director of the Youth Service Board. He became somewhat of a self-promoting folk hero and published a book, Last One Over the Wall, purported to describe his involvement with this institution's closing. This book is mostly fiction, glorifying him and denigrating those who worked so tirelessly trying to overcome the effects of Massachusetts horrific Juvenile Courts and detention centers.

I write about the famous Lyman School for Boys in my book, Abominable Firebug. I tell about the good, the bad, and everything in between. I try to tell the whole story from the perspective of someone who was actually there. There was another book written by a Lyman School inmate, Stubborn Child, by Mark D. Devlin. This book is troublesome, because it shows that Mark was given many of the same opportunities as me, but he remains stubborn until his death in 2005.

Often young people, who have gotten into trouble with the law, are advised by priests, ministers, teachers, social workers, or other well-meaning individuals about starting a new life and building a great future when they leave their present place of confinement. These words often fall upon deaf ears because the person trying to do the mentoring has little or no experience with the anguish the troubled person is undergoing.

Rev. F. Robert “Bob” Brown was a chaplain in the nation’s first reform school, the Lyman School for Boys in Westborough, Massachusetts. He was one of my many mentors who helped me overcome the early childhood trauma of being incarcerated under the Juvenile Court laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the ‘50s. He advised me to write a book about my youthful experiences at the Roslindale Detention Center and the Lyman School, so I did. It is titled Abominable Firebug and you can read about it or even purchase a copy from my website at To sum it up, children are highly resilient. Given the opportunity, they can change their entire lifestyle overnight! Have faith; there is a future for “America’s throwaway children.” I know; I was one.

1 comment:

Trapellar said...

You are incredibly brave.