What It’s Like To Be a TYC Parent

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This e-mail was written to me by a person I know who has been the parent of a boy in a Texas Youth Commission facility. This person works in the Capitol and is known to many of the readers of this blog. I asked the correspondent for permission to publish the letter and received it. I have complied with the author’s request that anonymity be preserved by replacing identifying information with generalizations.

My son spent most of his adolescence in [two TYC facilities in Central Texas]. The second is considered the “better” TYC facility, in that it has a program that results in a low recidivism rate (though the numbers are skewed on it due to the fact that most kids don’t actually finish the program). That being said, it was a very bad place. At one point, the boys kept noticing that their laundry smelled bad. They complained for several months and eventually organized formally and put the complaint in writing. Finally, the administration caught an employee (on surveillance camera) climbing atop the washers and urinating in the washers. Apparently for “fun.” The employee was suspended with pay and returned to the unit thereafter. My son was placed in solitary for a LONG time right after that for “acting out”– though it was said to be completely unrelated to his complaint. This is one of dozens of instances I could tell you about, but what really bugs me is that [the legislator in whose district this facility] never would do a thing about any of this stuff. An open records request of the relevant Senators, state reps and Governor’s office would be very telling, I’d bet. Parents have virtually no voice with the staff there, and we all knew that if we complained, our kids could get messed around with, either sexually or simply getting beaten up or demoted to a lower behavior level. I corresponded mostly with my own senator. He was good because one of his staff members had a kid in the system and told me how to behave (don’t rock the boat or you’ll make it worse for him).In the end, my son spent from age 14 to almost 21 in the system. He finally got out after a female prison guard became sexually involved with him (though I guess they’d call it harrassment because of his age). She was indicted for it–this happened earlier this year.(He got out and committed a carjacking within a month and is now looking at 20 years in adult prison.)The kids in there are probably catching some real hell over this–the guards take everything out on them. The parents who may be considering a lawsuit would do well to consider the impact it could have in terms of retaliation.

This is a heartbreaking story, and yet I wonder if I had received this note from someone I didn’t know, whether I would have read it and have been moved by it, as I was with this. Journalists receive letters like this all the time. I get them from inmates at TDCJ. They contain stories about abuse by guards, abuse by inmates, withholding of medication, and I have never done anything about any of them–just set them aside with a twinge of guilt. Why? Because the percentages that it will amount to anything–that the story is true, that the story can be gotten at all–is very small; the most likely outcome is a lot of work with nothing to show for it. I suspect that the politicians who got letters like this did the same thing. They think, Oh, these are bad kids, lawbreakers, gang members, they make up stuff to tell their parents in the hope that their parents can get them out of there. Or they think, Even it it’s true, I can’t do anything about this. And yet, the author of this letter is probably right, that every member of the Legislature gets these letters. The governor’s office got these letters. The lieutenant governor’s office got these letters. People knew. And nobody did anything.

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