Distancing: The long and winding road.
When I was a kid, I was remanded to the custody of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Division of Youth Services. Twice. Once when I was being held for court, ( with ten kids in the family, bail was not an option ) and the second time for offenses some considered “kid stuff.” Obviously, the judge saw things a bit differently.
We were mostly under 17 and knew how the system worked. Probation for all first offenses, no matter what. Unless it was murder or you were over 17. In those days, our heroes were James Cagney and the Bowery Boys, so a stint in “juvy” was considered a rite of passage. I didn’t know too many of my contemporaries who didn’t become wards of the state at some point.
When you’re a juvenile you have no rights, of course, and you aren’t fully formed so you couldn’t defend yourself even if you were foolish enough to try. I cried myself to sleep the first week, listening to the sickening thud of fists on flesh at night, administered by the “sirs.” It was called “getting jacked up.”
Some of these state paid bullies even went on to hold public office. Of particular note, Don Allard, second string quarterback for what would later become the Boston Patriots and some gorilla from Watertown, O’Hanian, who studied under the Marquis de Sade. Hope they’re taking a dirt nap.
The Youth Service Board was a turnstile for bad behavior. On July, 23, 1963, I took that ride after sentencing in a Volkswagon bus heading for Roslindale. Canterbury Road to be exact. If this had happened 3 months later, when I was 17, we’d be having a different conversation. I shudder to think.
After my stay in detention the previous spring, I was horrified at my prospects going forward. All sentences were indefinite. You were “surrendered,” not “sent.” They could keep you until you reached 21, if they had a mind to.
I was there when Kennedy was killed and I was still there when the Beatles landed. During my stay, I met a couple of kids who were up for murder. No contest. They did it beyond a reasonable doubt. They even admitted to it. One kid killed his sister by accident and the other offed his mother while she slept, he was my cell mate, of all things. This is all public record.
On these higher crimes these kids were held for an inordinate period of time before their cases came up. I thought that would be hellish, but if you had a good lawyer with a good track record you knew what he was doing: distancing.
All humans have the built in capacity to take even the most horrible experiences and mitigate them. Put them in your rear view mirror and fog it, so to speak. If we didn’t, I’m thinking we’d all be reduced to blithering idiots.
The distancing strategy works in so many high profile cases. On the victim, the perpetrator and hopefully for them, the jury. The severity fades over time. People forget and recollection diminishes. Lawyers play off of that.
In those days, if you didn’t have a nervous stomach, you weren’t awake yet. Good riddance.
As you can imagine, I am more than happy to put some distance between today and my younger years, but they were critical, life changing experiences that have had an invaluable effect on my later life. Like, when I went off to war.