Abominable Firebug, Reform School
“So how do they get away with this shit?” I asked my new friend.

He said, “So, you tell me—would you tell your mother?”

“No way. She’d say I was either weak, or a lying bastard. Once she thought I sold my body to get a shortwave radio.” I said.

“How about your old man?” was his next query.

“No way, I’d get killed.” I responded.

“How about the police?” was another query.

“You’re outta your mind! They’d laugh and probably beat me up,” I responded.

“Yep,” he said, “about the only thing you could do is, maybe tell a priest. Even that … hell, a lot of priests are ‘funny’ themselves; they’d say you should just say some Hail Mary’s and you’ll be okay.” He continued, “So somebody finds out that perverts can work here. Perverts have got pervert friends. Soon as there is an opening, their friend gets the job. Pretty soon, the whole place’s filled with perverts. That’s how it happens. It’s just like the cops. If you get your rocks off by beating up kids, you go to work as a cop. Same thing. There’s no way it’ll ever change because the cops always protect the cops.” After a moment he concluded, “Like nobody who wasn’t a preevert would wanta work here.”

I talked to another boy who had been sent up twice. They did not touch him the first time, but they got him the second night he was at the Center on his second trip. He said to me, “You can’t tell who they will take, but they always go in twos! It’s as if they wait until there’s a pair of them that has an eye on a pair of boys. That’s when it happens.” I did not tell him that I was alone when it happened to me.

Regardless of how it came about, there appeared to be an underlying principle of abuse at the Center. This principle was to make physical and sexual abuse so egregious that any such reported events would be unbelievable. Children sent to the Center were considered de facto liars anyway, so as long as the abuse was extreme, the Masters who perpetrated this abuse were unlikely to be caught and punished. As a child, I was careful not to tell anybody about this abuse, because I did not want to be thought of as a liar, or worse, if anyone believed me, somebody who did not defend his sexuality to the death, if necessary.

In 1646 the General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony had enacted a law where “a stubborn or rebellious son, of sufficient years and understanding,” would be brought before the magistrates in court and “such a son shall be put to death.” Stubborn child laws were also enacted in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.

Of course, such stubborn children were not put to death in the fifties… or were they? Mark Devlin’s account in his book, Stubborn Child, illustrates a slow death. At the age of fifty-six, Mark died, having been killed by the State of Massachusetts Juvenile Court System. As a small child, he spent time at the YSB Detention Center and the Lyman School for Boys. His crime was that he kept slightly out of reach of his alcoholic father, so he would not be beaten anymore.

Richard B. Johnson
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