There are some books I don’t want to read. The latest is The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead, based on north Florida’s notorious Dozier reform school.
I don’t want to read it because the real school was used by teachers and coaches in my Tallahassee, Florida high school as the ultimate threat should we transgress too often, or just once if we were black. At the time, there weren’t any black people in our school, but the newspaper was filled with accounts of students from other schools who were shipped to Marianna 57 miles west of us.
Some people, you know which ones I mean, disappeared from our high school and were never seen again. Some were in jail. Some were in reform school and might never emerge. We never knew.
We didn’t know how bad the reform school in Marianna was until much later. There were always inuendos, ghost stories, and talk in the barbershop. But nothing much came of it until relatively recently. No matter where you live, you’ve probably read the stories of the so-called White House Boys who survived the beatings and the stories about the graves of those who didn’t.
I would like to say that I’m horrified. But so many things in this world have gotten so much worse than we ever imagined, that I’m starting to lose bits and pieces of my humanity and become hardened, somewhat jaded, and partially immune to such things. So far, I still have the capacity to be angry at those responsible.
So now I have a copy of The Nickel Boys. The first sentence in the prologue is “Even in death the boys were trouble.” I want to set the book down, but I can’t and I won’t.
“Last month, archaeologists identified the first of the fifty-five human bodies recently exhumed at Florida’s Dozier School for Boys—a now-shuttered juvenile prison where, for decades, guards abused children, sometimes to death, despite cyclical scandals and calls for reform spanning almost a hundred years. Dozier represents an atrocious extreme, but the failures of America’s juvenile justice system are widespread. Whether labeled ‘boot camps,’ ‘training schools,’ ‘reformatories,’ or other euphemisms, juvenile prisons have long harbored pervasive physical and sexual abuse. In one survey, twelve percent of incarcerated youth reported being sexually abused in the previous year—a figure that likely understates the problem.”
Since so-called juvenile delinquents from my north Florida high school were purportedly sent to this school, I reported on several books about “The White House Boys”in an earlier post. I found the interview with the author of Burning Down the House perceptive, compassionate and fascinating, and wanted to mention her book here for those who wonder about how we handle juvenile offenders, especially those charged with relatively minor misdeeds.
From the Interview: “I tried to come in with a reporter’s open mind. But I have known kids who’ve been in this system for decades, so I did come in believing, from my own experience, that prison was a consistently damaging intervention that tended to make things worse for kids rather than better.”
From the Publisher: When teenagers scuffle during a basketball game, they are typically benched. But when Will got into it on the court, he and his rival were sprayed in the face at close range by a chemical similar to Mace, denied a shower for twenty-four hours, and then locked in solitary confinement for a month.
One in three American children will be arrested by the time they are twenty-three, and many will spend time locked inside horrific detention centers that defy everything we know about how to rehabilitate young offenders. In a clear-eyed indictment of the juvenile justice system run amok, award-winning journalist Nell Bernstein shows that there is no right way to lock up a child. The very act of isolation denies delinquent children the thing that is most essential to their growth and rehabilitation: positive relationships with caring adults.
Bernstein introduces us to youth across the nation who have suffered violence and psychological torture at the hands of the state. She presents these youths all as fully realized people, not victims. As they describe in their own voices their fight to maintain their humanity and protect their individuality in environments that would deny both, these young people offer a hopeful alternative to the doomed effort to reform a system that should only be dismantled.
For those who know about The White House boys, and other young people sent to abusive camps and schools, the interview and the book are haunting. If only such things had been said 50 to 100 years ago.
WordPress claims—and I believe them—that Malcolm’s Round Table had 14,000 views of its 115 new posts this past year. Thanks for visiting.
A fair number of you were reading my post about an organization called “The White House Boys”, an ongoing story about alleged abuses at the now-closed Marianna, Florida Arthur G Dozier School for Boys. I grew up 90 miles away from that school in Tallahassee.
Obviously, I was aware of the school. I drove past it multiple times. Classmates at my high school always speculated about the people who ended up there. But abuses, that was all new to me until this year. I mentioned this school indirectly in “Cora’s Crossing,” my Kindle short story about the nearby (and purportedly haunted) Bellamy Bridge.
A lot of you have stopped by to read the book reviews both here and on Literary Aficionado. I saw in GalleyCat this morning that GoodReads users published 20,000,000 reviews on that site this past year. I can’t compete with that even though some of those reviews are mine! In 2012, I liked The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling, In Sunlight and In Shadow by Mark Helprin, Goatsong by Patricia Damery and The Storyteller’s Bracelet by Smoky Zeidel.
Many of you stopped by while searching for information about the hero’s journey. Since my reading and writing have been influenced by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, I write about the steps on the heropath frequently.
Coming in 2013
You’ll see more about the hero’s journey on this blog in 2013 as my publisher releases my series of novels called The Garden of Heaven Trilogy. Two of my 2012 short stories (“Moonlight and Ghosts” and “Cora’s Crossing”) are now available on Kindle, but there are more on the way. That means, you’ll also be seeing more posts about ghosts, swampy Florida settings, and stuff that happens on dark and stormy nights.
There will be more reviews, too, beginning in January with Paul Blaney’s Handover which is set in Hong Kong during the country’s transfer of power from British to Chinese rule. I had a chance to visit Hong Kong in the 1960s, so I was interested in the author’s perspective of the city as it was in 1997.
I’m waiting for the second installment in Maggie Stiefvater’s four-book series The Raven Boys and Diana Gabaldon’s Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (coming in the fall of 2013). Yes, we’ve had to wait a while for the eighth book in her Outlander series.
As a writer, I don’t like being rushed. As a reader, I’m always in a hurry for the next best thing. With a bit of luck, 2013 will be another great year for both reading and writing, and for sharing thoughts about our favorite books with each other.