Have you ever been detained as a child? I was.

Have you ever been detained? I have, when I was a child. I spent a year and a half inside a facility for kids. I wasn’t ripped from my mother’s arms; they bullied her to sign the petition. It was as traumatic as you might think for a 12-year-old. It unequivocally wrecked me for years afterwards, with much therapy and growing up to get past it.  

I was an angry child. My dad leaving us left a mark and it made me so mad. I acted up and got in trouble all the time. School was a joke for me. I quit it. It started in the 5th grade.It was so slow and pointless and crowded. I finished the book early and quit going back towards the end of the year. The fifth grade was basically the last full year of school for me. 

Have you ever been detained as a child? I was.

In the 6th grade, my idiot 5th grade teacher moved to the 6th and it started all over again. I went to half the year, almost to the day. In 7th grade I changed schools but the curriculum was just as slow and there was no accelerated program available near me. I went to 3 days: first day, midterms and finals. I passed with very good scores, better than most.

Over the summer, the school took out a petition with the court to have me incarcerated for truancy as an "incorrigible." My poor mom, at the end of her rope and smothered with their promises for me, signed the petition. We had an advocate and we went to court. I lost and they separated me from my mother right then and there. Through the court and out the back door. My mom drove home alone. (As a side note, the very same judge performed the marriage ceremony to my first wife. He was so glad to see I turned out ok; he felt totally justified for his heinous act of terrorizing a child and his mother.)

Small sized handcuffs, a white van, a long ride with only 2 stops: one to drop off all the kids of color at a really shitty juvenile hall and one to pee. The rest of us white kids went to a different place. No fences, no walls, run by monks and funded by the government and the local Catholic church. I’m a jew. I had really long hair and though I was a shitty kid, I never hurt anybody that I know of and only knocked over one old lady for her purse. (She was fine. She haunts me. I’m so ashamed of that.)

Yet here I was incarcerated, not for stealing cars or dealing drugs or killing my parents, like some of the other kids. I was in for not going to school and keeping my grades above average. I was in because the school system in my town sucked and they had no idea what to do with those above or below the mean.

We arrived and were shown the temporary room where we would stay for a week until assigned to a cottage. We entered a room that had a pool table in the middle, some small tables and chairs and five double-chainlink cells. Mine had a window that opened an inch, a cot, an end table with a roll of toilet paper on it and a bucket for overnight bathroom use. I was terrified. It was a slow-motion nightmare.

We were marched down to the cafeteria for dinner after everyone was seated and 5 of us walked the gauntlet down the center aisle of the rows of tables and kids. They were all hollering and catcalling us and I, with the long hair, got blown many, many kisses. It was terrifying. It seemed to be a surreal movie of my life playing out in real time.

My poor mother was double traumatized. Racked with guilt and the separation, she was worse off than me. It was terrifying to see her like that. My brother and sister too; though we had it a little rough, we did love each other. The instant separation of my family changed all of us. After I got home we were re-traumatized as I integrated back into family that, for a long time, ran just fine without me.

Those first nights in that kennel were awful. They were meant to be. That was how they gained control. By the end of the seven days you were ready for anything; any kind of treatment that was better than that. Lying there, listening to the other kids crying into their pillows, all of us absolutely scared out of our minds with the unknown of what was to come once we entered the genpop. Isolated, we could only sit and stare at each other and shoot pool on that old table for a couple of hours each day. We didn’t even get out for school as they hadn’t placed us yet. For our meals we always arrived last and were always marched all the way down the center aisle and it seemed the kids were amped to hurl insults and trash talk at us. Almost as if it was encouraged, not one of the prefects objected or chastised them.

They took your shoes and provided these smooth-bottom anti-runner work boots, no traction on a smooth floor so you had to sort of shuffle down the aisle, as there were no laces yet and they were a half-size too big. They didn’t want to issue more than one pair, I guess. I grew nearly a foot that year and ended up, after several pair, with a pair that were a half-size too small. (4 or 5 pairs of shoes, bitches! I gotcha on that one.)

Have you ever been detained as a child? I was.

It was terrifying. I never missed my Mom more, until now that she’s gone.
I, like I do today, just need her to hold me and sing that song again. Tell me that even though I was wrong and being punished, she loved me and that everything will be ok. That’s what Moms do. It aint easy to do the hard thing. She did it and it crushed her. She suffered an actual nervous breakdown while I was in there. She stole a ConEd truck in Manhattan and was trying to get home. She was hospitalized for months and in therapy for years. I wasn’t the only cause, but her guilt and the separation were major players. She recovered eventually, as did I, and if you only knew my mom... the image of her in a huge bobtail truck calmly driving up the Boston Post Road smoking a Pall-Mall is priceless. They could visit once a month and we got occasional weekends home for holidays if we were extra-special good. While she was hospitalized I had little or no contact with the outside world and I wasn’t extra-special good and missed a few holidays.

So you sat in your cage for a week and then were assigned a cottage where you would do the rest of your time. I got lucky, I guess. The school, funded by the church, was amazing. I learned so much there! Real-life things like how to type (72wpm 89% accurate on the final), how to do electrical work and wire a panel, I earned an apprentice upholsterer's certificate and eventually took college-level math classes that have served me my entire life.

The rest of it sucked. Sports in the heat and cold and rain, snow drifts up to your shoulders. You put a bunch of angry teens in full gear and competition and people get hurt. We called basketball “elbows.” Hey what time is elbow practice? There were fights and racial attacks nearly daily. I spent a little time in the infirmary and you got to see how many kids came in with black eyes and stab wounds. I played softball with a kid who killed his parents. Bats were weapons, swimming was a blood sport, and in hockey someone went through the ice every time we got on it.

Track was the best. I got to run cross-country and the trail ran the perimeter of the complex. Out in the woods in upstate NY, quiet and alone, I could run barefoot through the forest and pretend I was anywhere else.

It had its moments. Mostly, I think, because I changed and decided to roll with it and learn as much as I could since the school was so good. Some kids were worse on their release day than the day they came in. It was a choice you had to make. I kept my head down and did any side gig I could get to stay out of genpop activity. As a matter of fact, my first paying guitar gig was there. We played Jesus Christ Superstar covers on Sunday at church. I volunteered for the regular service and that gave me a rehearsal midweek. I didn’t take communion but that little jew boy did the jump-down-turn-around and sang his heart out on all the Jesus songs, just for the chance to play and get out of the mix for rehearsals. I became faux conversion-curious at one point, which offered a Bible study for two hours, one night a week. They figured it out after a bit and questioned if I was really serious and I just gave it up.

As soon as possible, they offered you cigarettes, and once they had you they used them to punish you. Everybody smoked. 8-year-olds smoked. Each cottage had a plan. Ours offered a 3-tier system: the A group got one every hour ‘til after dinner, then unlimited lightups ‘til last lightup; B group got one every hour and last lightup. C group got after meals, after school and last lightup. They could then take them away as punishment for whatever. The most common penalty was to lose a lightup, but often you’d lose a day or even a visit if you were a jerk. Your behavior and school grade determined your group. My grades were great but somehow I was always in the C group. To make it worse, I soon became "hiboy," the one with the least amount of time left. As hiboy you had to have a watch and ask the prefect for a lightup and then shout "Lightup!" so, all damn day, I was shouting Lightup waiting for one of my 5. I started smoking Camel non-filters there, as no one wanted to bum one. I bought an extra pack of Marlboros for the poker games and drugs.  To this day I have gotten away with smoking where you're not supposed to. Letting the smoke drift up the arm of one sleeve and exhaling into the other. They never questioned how, at 5 a day, I needed a new carton every time they came around.

I tried acid there for the first time on a field trip when the earth science teacher took us for a hike to see the monarchs breed. It was awesome! Speed, weed and downs were easy to get. Alcohol was impossible and the hooch was undrinkable. I was 12. I grew up kinda fast and started hanging around with the older kids in other cottages and that was just trouble for all concerned. I learned how to be a criminal whether I wanted to or not. Unfortunately, I have used those skills as well after my release, both for profit and just for fun.

Make no mistake about it. When I, who really did nothing wrong, was detained for a year and five months, twenty four days and twenty three and a half hours it was terrifying. It damaged me. It took a long time for all those things I learned there to offset the trauma. Others didn’t fare as well. The suicide and return rates were not in the brochure your Mom got when they told her, "We are taking him and it will be better and easier for everyone if you just sign right here." 

The word is Terrifying. That’s what it is. The word comes from the same Latin root as the word Terrorist. For it is the work of a terrorist that inflicts enough fear to be terrifying. That is who we are now. The United States of America is a terrorist. Traumatizing children, drugging them and losing them in the system, and the repercussions of this will ring in our ears for generations to come. I am ashamed of us. I am disappointed in us. I know what it feels like and it affects me even now, over 50 years later. I’m fine. I had it easy. I was white, smart and made good choices at critical moments.

One of the biggest take-aways came in the pocket of a hoody. A local church had donated hoodies for everyone. In each pocket, a slip of paper. On mine it said "Isaiah 58.8." I laughed and chucked it but it stuck in my head. What I found when I looked it up was the best description of true religion.

Let me enlighten you. There are lots of things in the Bible that even an unbeliever can use. Isaiah 58.8 is one of those. The key word is “then.”

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily, and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rearward.

Then? When? Let’s back up a little.
In Isaiah 58:1-5 he goes on about fake religion and the pomp and circumstance of public prayer and ceremony. Then, in verses 6 and 7, we get the real way religion is supposed to work.

V6: Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?  V7: Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?  V8: Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily, and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rearward.

See what I mean about the word Then?

First you need to:
loose the bands of wickedness,
undo the heavy burdens
let the oppressed go free
break every yoke
deal thy bread to the hungry
bring the poor that are cast out to thy house
when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him
and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh 


Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily, and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rearward.

Have you ever been detained as a child? I was.



You can’t do any of that from the pew. You have to leave the church and go out among the people and earn your title as a Child of God.

If you are an unbeliever, take these words to heart; it is a blueprint for how to live a life free of regret.

Trust me, being detained as a child is terrifying, with everlasting physiological and psychological trauma.

As a country we are better than that. Aren’t we?




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