The night I broke into prison

April 30, 2011 at 9:33 pm (Uncategorized)

When I was a deputy superintendent at Training Institution Central Ohio (TICO), Trooper Don Whipple was our assigned Ohio Highway Patrol investigator. This meant he was called in whenever we had reason to believe a crime had been committed within the institution, whether by staff or inmates, day or night.

I had known Don for several years and had lobbied hard to keep him when OHP top brass decided to play musical chairs. What set him apart from the other investigators I knew was he actually enjoyed the institutional part of his job. Most of them would have preferred to do anything else than wade into the murky waters of a juvenile correctional facility, but Don relished it. (Later, he would become chief of security for the Department of Youth Services, a post he held until his unexpected death.)

Now, Don had been told by numerous youth that they were being physically abused by the staff. However, the youth were not regarded as good witnesses for many reasons including the fact they were adjudicated delinquents who were already on record as being untruthful.  What Don needed was a reliable witness – himself and someone else.

Don hatched a plan to break into TICO one night, sneak up to the windows, and see if he could catch any of the juvenile correctional officers behaving badly. However, he needed someone from institutional management to accompany him. Since the superintendent had a bad back and the other deputy was a woman, I got picked by default to join him in his caper.

On the chosen night, we met in the parking lot of the Timothy Moritz mental health facility next door, dressed in black clothing, ninja-fashion. Don had brought another trooper with him who was at least 6’ 6” tall. I think his name was Wheeler. Anyway, we went around to the rear gate where Whipple planned to cut off the padlock and chain. Fortunately, I had brought my keys with me so we did not have to damage state property. I was always concerned about reducing expenses.

Since it was still relatively early, many of the youth were just returning from recreation in the gym. They walked down a long, window-lined hallway and we were concerned they could see us if they happened to look, so we kept low and skittered along in the shadows, crouching down as much as possible.

When we reached the lowest part of the building, Wheeler boosted Don up onto the roof. Don then pulled me up behind him, and then we both struggled to haul up the lanky Wheeler. I could not have done it by myself, but Whipple was as strong as he was short. And he was very short for a trooper.

There were several television cameras mounted on the roof, anyone of which might broadcast our image to the switchboard operator who controlled access to the building via electronic latches on various doors and gates. We avoided the cameras as much as possible, but would have been caught had anyone bothered to look at the battery of TV monitors.

To make a long story short, we went around to the various living units (“cottages”) and spent time spying through the windows on the activities taking place within each one. However, after several hours of observation, we saw nothing incriminating. The juvenile correctional officers did not do anything they weren’t supposed to. And I was glad because we worked hard trying to ensure that TICO staff did the right thing. It didn’t always work, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

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A.R.T. for my sake

April 28, 2011 at 9:23 pm (Uncategorized)

When the Child Study Center closed in 1980, they moved the entire diagnostic unit (social workers, psychologists, and typing pool) to Terrace Cottage at Scioto Village where we continued to perform, more or less, the same function.  After a few years, they decided to disperse us to the wind and a plot was hatched to hide me out at the school, hoping nobody would notice I was there. And it actually worked for awhile.

I was now doing school psychology and had to quickly bring myself up to speed on learning disabilities and the like. I found there wasn’t really much of a diagnostic protocol in place, so I developed one. Meanwhile, I started co-leading therapy groups after work with Duane Johnson, a former Peace Corps volunteer who had worked with Albert Schweitzer in the Congo.

Not long after that, I met Dr. John Gibbs, an Ohio State professor who was a disciple of Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg, who was renowned for his theories on moral development. Dr. Gibbs wanted to use our groups to test out some of his ideas for what would eventually be known as Aggression Replacement Training (ART).

Essentially, he had a number of stories involving moral dilemmas which we would use as the basis for discussion in our therapy groups. However, I found them unsatisfactory because 1) the youth couldn’t relate to them and 2) the discussions were too open-ended. Therefore, I rewrote them to incorporate moral dilemmas which I knew from experience our delinquent teens were encountering and I also added a few discussion questions to each one.

Dr. Gibbs eagerly embraced my “environmentally valid” moral dilemmas (as he called them) and we began keeping track of the results from each group session. Unfortunately, someone at Central Office realized I was still employed at Scioto Village and decided I should start traveling around the state to do school psychological evaluations. Basically, I spent two days a week at Cuyahoga Hills, one day at Maumee Youth Center, and the other two days at Scioto Village and Riverview. Consequently, I could no longer devote anytime to the group work.

Many years later, I was contacted by a publisher who asked permission to reprint a few of my moral dilemmas in a book by Dr. Gibbs et al entitled Aggression Replacement Training: A Comprehensive Intervention for Aggressive Youth. On one hand, I was amazed that so much research had been done using my little stories. On the other, I was a tad disappointed that I wasn’t given credit for the format they continued to use.  However, by then I was no longer working in psychology.

Footnote: James E. Rogers, director of the Ohio Department of Youth Services during this time, was later sent to prison on a number of corruption charges. One of the things he was notorious for was having “phantom” employees on the payroll. While I was spending two days a week in Cleveland doing psychological evaluations, I was told there were actually 15 psychologists on the institution’s payroll, but nobody ever saw them.

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The Ignoble Experiment

April 25, 2011 at 9:59 pm (Uncategorized)

For reasons I could never fathom, someone decided during the early ‘eighties to make Scioto Village (formerly Girls Industrial School) a coed institution. I suppose it was just an extension of the movement to “normalize” the day-to-day living experiences of the delinquent youth who were committed to us for “rehabilitation.” However, throwing these particular teenage boys and girls together in an open campus setting was just tempting fate. It was also testing the staff’s ability to adequately monitor their extracurricular activities.

Needless to say, this misguided experiment failed dismally. On one occasion, deputy superintendent Duane Johnson and I had to break up an amorous couple who had sneaked off to a room in an abandoned cottage. On another, I had to separate a boy and a girl who were trying to harm one another with a chair leg and a scissors respectively. (And, no, we did not receive hazardous duty pay.)

It was a highly volatile, hormone-fueled environment, populated by teenagers who were already prone towards acting out. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was relieved when the order came down to ship the males off to another institution. The boys, though, didn’t see it that way. When word leaked out that they were scheduled to be bused to Indian River or somewhere the next day, they went on a rampage. They completely tore up their cottage (either Sherwood or Woodbine, I don’t remember which), terrorizing the night staff who couldn’t do anything but take cover.

The morning after, I walked through the empty cottage, stepping gingerly over the piles of debris. There wasn’t a single piece of glass that remained intact. What they could break they had and what they couldn’t they had vandalized. Although a full-scale riot had taken place, the media never caught word of it. I’m not sure how they managed to keep it quiet, but some administrations seemed to be better at it than others. There was always the fear that if youth at another facility heard about a riot, they would stage their own in sympathy.

One of the unexpected consequences of placing boys at Scioto Village was that one in particular got to visit his birthplace. He had been born in the institutional hospital years before when his pregnant mother was committed to GIS as a teenager.

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How do you spell EEG?

April 24, 2011 at 7:45 pm (Uncategorized)

Sometime in the late ‘eighties while I had administrative responsibility for the clinic at Buckeye Youth Center, I was notified by one of my staff that we needed to purchase a new battery for the EEG machine.

At that time (and for many years previously), it was customary to order an electroencephalograph of many a delinquent youth who passed through our doors. This was a recording of electrical activity along the scalp resulting from the firing of neurons in the brain. Irregular EEGs were associated with epilepsy, tumors, and other neurological problems.

The EEG machine was located in a standard examination room, except for the fact that there was copper screen covering the windows, light fixtures, and other possible sources of stray electrical transmissions. The machine itself had an array of dials, meters, and switches. The battery was located in a cabinet beneath it.

The “subject” of an EEG examination would have electrodes fastened to his or her head with a conductive paste or gel. Then over the course of thirty minutes or so, all of his/her “brain waves” would be recorded on a scrolling piece of paper with a stylist (much like an old-fashioned seismograph). A doctor would read the report, determine whether it was normal or abnormal, and place it in the youth’s file.

The purpose of the battery, I believe, was to amplify the electrical signals since they otherwise would be far too weak to detect. So I did not hesitate to instruct my staff member to contact the manufacturer of the machine about obtaining a new one. What I did not expect was a faxed letter back from them almost immediately, notifying us that 1) the device had been recalled sometime in the late ‘sixties, 2) it had a serious electrical problem, and 3) we were lucky we hadn’t injured anyone over the intervening years.

When I brought this issue to the attention of our central office, they made the decision to forego any further EEG examinations rather than purchasing a new machine. To be honest, I can’t remember ever making use of any of the thousands of EEG tests that were administered over the years. I suspect they were done more out of habit than anything else.

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