In The System

It’s 5:00 pm, Tuesday, July, 23, 1963. This morning I was surrendered to the custody of the Division of Youth Services, State of Massachusetts, by the dishonorable Judge Robert DeMarco. He was a crook.

My head is newly shaven, I have a fat lip, black eye and the familiar smell of dried blood is clogging up my snot locker. I am sore all over from the drubbing my father gave me out of sight of onlookers at the Somerville Court House. I have had better days.

There are about 15 of us newly committed kids on this particular day in the recreation hall and we’re all sizing each other up. I smell a mix of chlorine and rotten meatloaf. The setting sun is trying desperately to get past the filthy smudges on the wire braced windows to light up the room.

I was here earlier in the year in the detention section because I couldn’t afford bail on another charge. I swore I would never be back. I was back.

We hear a gym whistle go off down the hall but no one knows what to make of it. We would shortly. Then, we hear sneakers, lots of them, sounding like a chopper landing in the distance. Boom! They were on us like stink on shit. Six big men wearing t-shirts, khakis and white sneakers. The routine was, punch you in the face, pick you up by your neck, head butt you, drop you and move on.

I hope one of them, Mr. Chandler, the expert at this technique, died of blunt force trauma.

Oh my God, what the hell is this? This was way overkill. I had arrived pre-crippled already thanks to my father. “Hey, I’m good over here.”

What it was, was a welcome to the system and to let you know who the boss was. Three years later, I would receive a similar welcome by drill sergeants at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, as a newly minted draftee. But that was nowhere near as brutal as this.

I cried myself to sleep for weeks as my tough guy veneer started wearing off.

Here is a description of the place from the book: Abominable Firebug, written by Richard B. Johnson,

“The large room was called the “dayroom” because that was where the inmates spent their days. The sleeping quarters consisted of a small concrete room containing two iron bed-frames embedded in concrete. These had been fashioned out of welded angle-iron and steel plate. A thin mattress with no inner-springs was placed on this frame. Each boy was given a single blanket, no sheets, and no pillow. Although designed for two boys, these rooms often contained more than two, with the extra boys sleeping on the floor.

The entrance to the room was guarded by a thick oaken door with an industrial strength observation window containing embedded wire mesh. It had a lock that required a massive key which the “sirs” often used as torture devices as well. Each room also had a *window to the outside that consisted of an iron frame with embedded mesh glass. The windows would only open a small distance so escape was impossible. Toilet facilities were not provided in the rooms, so boys who needed to urinate, would try to aim their stream out the partially-opened window which was shoulder high.

Passerby may observe the rusty urine stains on the outside walls formed from the corners of the windows. If the “sirs” would unlock the doors, boys could be escorted to the toilet facilities. *Unfortunately, in the nighttime, the “sirs” were usually otherwise occupied.”

*Editor’s note: He fails to mention the smell in these rooms in the midday sun and the fate of any kid foolish enough to bang on the door to use the toilet in the middle of the night. Terrifying.

I was there for almost four months as they compiled a home report on me to use as sentencing guidelines for my next phase of incarceration. As luck would have it, I copped a spot at the State Police Barracks in Middleboro, Mass. Easy time I thought, but life had other plans.

On October 4, 1963, my parole officer, Robert Fitzgerald, took me to the now defunct, Robert Hall Men’s Clothing Store, to shine me up for my upcoming formal introduction to Captain George Luciano, who rolled right out of central casting.

This is where I met State Trooper Marvin Pratt, who took the worst kind of liking to me. This guy would teach my stomach to bleed. He attempted things on me that would make the front pages today. He never got me.

Later in life, I heard he got himself surrounded by his fellow troopers while in a motel with a 9 year old boy. Hope he’s with Mr. Chandler today. But that’s another story.


Please note: I welcome comments that are offensive, illogical or off-topic from readers in all states of consciousness.

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