Abominable Firebug, Reform School
The Lyman School was where several well-known criminals had been incarcerated, Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler, probably being the most famous. This reform school, the nation’s oldest, opened in 1848 and closed in 1971.
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Johnson brings us through the events leading to his arrest as a juvenile delinquent, his hearing before a juvenile court judge (where nobody was even allowed to speak) his induction into, and lengthy incarceration without a trial at the horrific Roslindale detention center, as well as the day-to-day activities at the Lyman School for Boys. If you’d like to know what it was really like in the ‘fifties, growing up in a reform school, you should read this book. Many residents of the Lyman School for Boys were dropouts from broken homes and failed institutions. They had not actually done anything wrong. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a notorious history of a failed juvenile justice system and abuse of children in its custody. Johnson writes a clear account of this history. He is not the first Lyman School resident to write about his encounter with the corrupt Massachusetts juvenile justice system. Mark D. Devlin wrote Stubborn Child, ISBN 0-6891-1476-1, a memoir detailing his life at the hands of juvenile, and later adult, correctional authorities.

Johnson devotes most of an entire chapter to the Lyman School for Boys and the daily activities at that school. He discusses the various rewards for acceptable behavior and the punishments for unacceptable behavior. He tells about his involvement in the various work details, the secondary school, and the trades. He tells about the good times as well as the bad. During the later part of his stay at Lyman School, the “State Reform School at Westborough,” Johnson became an “honor student” and attended Westborough High School.

After “graduating” from Reform School, Johnson became a resident of Boston’s Charles Hayden Goodwill Inn and attended High School in Roslindale where he competed in the Boston Science Fair. Johnson’s initial Science Fair project was taken by a federal judge, apparently considered a “national security” risk. With a new project and only two remaining weeks to prepare, Johnson advanced to compete in the Massachusetts state Science Fair held in Westborough at the same High School Johnson attended while a resident of the Reform School.
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Johnson writes about his circuitous route to success. It should give hope to those who are encountering hard times. To achieve success from such a background, the author used no special skills except an optimism that allowed him to accept help from those who could help, and reject the influence of those who might cause him to feel sorry for himself. This book is all about taking advantage of opportunity, even if it seldom presents itself, and rejecting adversity as something that happened yesterday, never to be an excuse for not reaching beyond the horizon today and tomorrow.

Johnson eventually graduated from college and moved on to a successful career. His story will uplift, encourage, and educate anyone who works with troubled children or has experienced a difficult childhood. Johnson is an accomplished engineer, commercial pilot, inventor, and musician.
“Dick is an inspiration. Through capturing his experiences on paper for all to read, he breathes new hope into the desperate lives of disaffected youth … as professional caregivers, we owe it to all these children to share the knowledge we gain from Dick’s book. Read this book and share it with others. Open peoples’ eyes to the harsh realities of those children locked and tossed away, and share their worth and potential.”

Dr. Mary A. Clisbee, Executive Director, Merrimack Special Education Collaborative, Massachusetts.
1. Wikipedia article about the book
2. Wikipedia article about the Stetson Home for Boys
3. Wikipedia article about the Lyman School for Boys

Abominable Firebug Abominable Firebug
Abominable Firebug Abominable Firebug
Abominable Firebug Abominable Firebug