Daniel Harris interviews three inmates who say their experiences in abusive group homes made them the criminals they are today.
David Wayne Besom was 9-years old when he was sent to the Culver Youth Home in Midland, Texas.
Besom tells me that all the children were there as a result of felonies. He doesn’t speak of his own crime, but tells me about his friends, “Robert accidentally shot someone while playing with a gun,” and “Jacob set his parent’s house on fire because he was mad about getting punished, but he didn’t mean to kill his baby sister.”
Abuse at the home was a daily event. When I asked Outlaw if he thought being locked in a padded room for three weeks at a time had made him more capable of violence, he answered, “No, but it made me hate authority figures.”
That made sense to me, given the amount of violence he had committed in prison.
Besom is now 55 and has been in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) for 37 flat years. He entered prison with 3 separate 15-year sentences. Today, he has 110 years worth of multiple-stacked sentences — for violent acts he committed while incarcerated. That’s a lot of violence.
Besom seems to have spent a lot of his time locked in leather restraints and a straitjacket. Besom tells me, “I fought back every time they whipped my ass and I wish I had sense enough to stop.”
Outlaw was 9 years old when he and his 4-year old brother were sent to the infamous Pythian Home in Texas. (Pythian takes kids starting at age three.) He remained there for four years.
His visual description of Pythian Home was of a four-story-tall castle, but his story comes straight from the dungeons.
Texas Pythian Home housed all ages together. David Reynolds, a 19-year old, lived across the hall. One night, David Reynolds entered Outlaw’s room. Outlaw believed Reynolds was going to rape his baby brother.
When Reynolds realized Outlaw was awake, he grabbed him by the throat, turned his face into the pillow to smother his cries and raped him, instead.
After Reynolds left Outlaw’s room, Outlaw went in search of an adult for help. Peggy Hutton, the administrator of Pythian, was filling in for Outlaw’s dorm parents, Michael and Debbie Pratt. When Outlaw told Ms. Hutton what had just happened, he says she just laughed and told him that no one had entered or left his room.
Years later, Outlaw tells of others making allegations against David Reynolds, accusing him of raping children for years. To Outlaw’s knowledge, he was never charged or tried for any crimes.
At Pythian there was a black teenage girl, about 15, named Kiesho Black. According to Outlaw, he saw her raped by two male dorm parents.
What does it do to a young boy, a victim of rape himself, when he has to watch helplessly while his dorm parents, figures of authority, rape a young girl? Who could he tell? When he reported his own rape, Ms. Hutton, the Pythian administrator, didn’t care enough to even investigate. Outlaw was returned to his father’s home because he reported his rape and wouldn’t shut up about it. His first trip to prison was for stabbing his father in the chest when he was 19. Outlaw said, “I think I stabbed my father because he never believed I was raped.”
Outlaw has been in the Texas prison system four times and currently has served 3 years of his 35-year Aggravated Sentence.
As we sat and talked about Outlaw’s experiences, there was a scene on the television showing a man being tortured to death, “That’s what I’d like to do to every single one of them,” Outlaw seethed. I believed him, and I can’t really blame him for his sentiment.
Shadow spent 2 years in the E.C. Academy in Wisconsin, beginning in 1993, when he was 14 years old. Today, Shadow is a 35-year old white man serving 3-Aggravated Life Sentences and has been in TDCJ for 12 years. This is his second trip to prison.
Shadow tells us that the juvie home had a “Core Staff” that was supposed to respond to any disturbances. It was made up of “really big guys” that would slam the kids hard and then hold them down.
But he says, “Overall, punishments were more mental than physical.” Kids would be placed in the Crisis Intervention Room (CIR) or Crisis Intervention Unit (CIU). “They did some crazy mental stuff on us in those places.” That seems to be a child’s description of what he has never understood.
Shadow describes his experiences in E.C. Academy in excruciating detail. At the first sign of a disturbance he says, “You could hear ‘Core Staff’ slamming doors opened and closed, their heavy tread like thunder as their feet slapped against the floor, charging to the scene.” These huge men that Shadow describes as being over 300 pounds were trained to grab these little boys and spin them into a hold where the staffer had the child’s right wrist in his left hand and his left wrist in the staffer’s right hand with the child’s arms crossed over the child’s chest, elbows out, and then the staffer would slam the child face down on the floor with the staffer’s weight on the child’s back as they pulled the child’s arms tighter to force the air out of their lungs. Imagine that child’s panic as he struggled to breath, not knowing if this time he was to die, smothered beneath a weight he had no hope of moving.
There are more questions than answers about juvenile detention abuse and we may never know the whole story. What we do know is that all three of these men have spent their entire adult lives in prison. It’s impossible for me to believe that these facilities did not play a part in turning these children into young men capable of acts of violence.
Daniel Harris is serving 35 years in Texas for Attempted Capital Murder.
Daniel H. Harris #00622851
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