My unforgettable experience as a guest of the state
By Carlos
June 25, 2005

The L.A. Times put out an ugly story in 2000 about a Gladiator School labeled "Harder Time: California Youth Authority Shifts from Rehab To Brutality." I thought that was good work and about time the world knew about what really goes on behind the walls. Good job!

However, I wanted to share my own personal experience, a more realistic account of Gym T.D. (temporary detention) in Paso Robles, California - "Wine Country," as they call it. I served in the Youth Authority in '93-'97, mostly in Paso Robles.

Gym TD wasn't 8 times in 3 years like the Times story claimed -- not while I was there. It was more like 1-2 times a month, 3-10 days straight, where it became routine. This is hard to write about, so bear with me as I take you down Memory Lane for a visit to "the Gym."

Once we (the wards) were rounded up and cuffed tightly with our arms behind our backs, we were marched onto the cold, hard, wooden floor. They laid us next to each other in rows on the floor in our t-shirts and boxers, nothing else. Once we were neatly situated, the guards ("goons," as we called them) pretty much left us for dead. If you've never been cuffed it might be hard for you to realistically imagine the strain on your wrists. Cops usually test their strength by squeezing the cuffs so that your wrist bones feel like they're being crushed, leaving bruises, especially if you're a kid. Sometimes your hands go numb from loss of circulation. That's just the beginning.

Next, your shoulders begin to tighten up in about an hour. After that is when the real excruciating pain begins. After 6 hours or so, it turns to numbness. I don't know if it's the shoulders, or the brain that looses feeling. Can you imagine lying on your stomach, arms cuffed tightly behind you? After so long, you become one with the floor. I've even seen some guys that I thought were the toughest, baddest, homeboys and brothers around just lying there sobbing, sometimes in a puddle of their own urine because the goons wouldn't let us up to use the restroom. After a while you get used to the smell. Imagine the guy next to you urinates and you have to try to scoot yourself away from the advancing puddle. You have to move quick.

If a you couldn't handle the pain and misery, or you got caught talking to your neighbor, the goons had a whole colorful array of different torture tactics they could impose on you. One of them was, called "The Helmet". They would spray the inside of a football helmet with pepper spray, and slip it onto a kids head, real firm and snug, and forced him onto his knees on the hard wood floor. How's that for rehabilitation? Now the kids reddened face is soaked by his own tears and running nose, and sometimes vomit. It's a real degrading dangerous situation to put a juvenile through, especially in front of his peers. This is what the state is squeezing so much money out of their budget for, to "reform" these youngsters in this manner. After all that, if the kid could not be silent and obedient, the goons would then stand him up, walk him to the brick wall, force him to lean forward at a slant, forming a triangle between him, the floor, and the wall. Sometimes with the helmet, sometimes without it so his forehead touches the wall, supporting his body weight for as long as the goons wanted.

There's a wide strip of steel where the wall touches the floor. That's where the goons would put someone on his knees for a while to switch up their entertainment.

Randomly, the goons would select a kid and take him on "The Walkabout" which is where the kid was walked around the whole gym with the goon twisting his arm to the limit behind him putting him through hell. This lasted until the goon got tired or bored and felt like sitting back down.

It wasn't rare to get startled by the horrific yelling from some kid being tortured in the shower area by the goons. Keep in mind these goons were often over 6 feet tall. After days and days of this, you lose touch with reality. Pain was the lesson being learned here, as God is my witness.

We felt like dying prey lying there, while the goons were hungry buzzards watching us die with their mouths salivating, looking, watching, waiting to dive in for the kill. Man, did they love their job. They loved every evil minute of it.

I consider myself lucky that I could handle it, and that I never complained of pain, and that I didn't have to endure those cruel off-the-wall activities like some kids did. But, I guess that was because I laid there feeling lower than a cold, hungry, unwanted stray dog. I felt no one in the world was here to care for me when I needed it most. If these "counselors" were authorized by the "golden" state of California and even the United States to put us through this anguish, I said, "screw it". I was a complete zero. I gave up all hope, all want and all need. I felt like just a body with half a mind and no soul, basically, a robot.

The only time the cuffs were released from your wrists was once a day on our main head call (restroom break). Other than that for sandwiches we were able to wear the cuffs in front to eat our meal, then back on our stomachs when time was up.

Nighttime was a real treat. We did have thin twin mattresses next to us for those lucky enough to get to lay on one for the whole night. If there were not enough, the goons would play games to see which ward got to have it. For a short while in the night they allowed us to get into "open casket" position. That's on our backs, with the cuffs in front. We couldn't wait for that moment. That was a huge relief on our shoulders and arms. That was like gold to the Spaniard. It was the only thing that cured our heart of ailment.

Sleeping was another story. We were awakened every half hour just to make sure we never ever got a good rest. They stomped us awake, and let me tell you, those big boots with hard special soles didn't feel good at all on your side, or chest, while sleeping.

I recall I had a hard time for a while getting up with the cuffs behind me. I was the only one, the straggler. They asked if I wanted help, and I made the mistake of honestly replying, "yes sir." Then they would grab my already throbbing wrists by way of the handcuffs, and yank my body up off the floor. Man, did it hurt. But until I got the knack of getting myself up, I had no choice.

Some people caught pneumonia in the winter because they would keep the gym doors open most the time. In your boxers, imagine the gust of winter breeze.

Talk about losing your mind.

I survived, and in 1997 I was paroled from that hellhole. I was institutionalized. It took me a good while to adjust to the "outs," but I eventually did, and in 2000 I finished my parole. They say the return rate is 75%. I was one of the lucky ones. I survived, no thanks to Youth Authority. And no thanks to the goons who were waiting and watching us day and night for any excuse to do their stuff .

During my four years as a guest of the state, I met four people who were an exception to the rule. They made a difference in my life and I want to give them credit here. There was Tom Ogren, my landscaping instructor and friend who, till this day, had a major positive impact on the lives of many wards at Paso. He didn't restrict his teachings to just landscaping. There was Cougar Mike, the youth counselor, who felt like a favorite uncle to us youngsters. There was Sherry Rodriguez who has always been there for me. She's a blessing. And there was Henry Schumm who respected my aspirations and believed in me.

Today, I'm a licensed professional. I'd rather not specify what field because I don't want to put myself on the spot for various reasons. But, I'll tell you this: I serve the community, I wear a suit, and I look good. And I'm getting married in July to the woman of my dreams.

To close my story, I want to tell you one thing and I want you to remember it. I know now that the goon squad of the California Youth Authority inflicted the worst kind of child abuse there is. There was no benefit from it, just harm and misery. I never ever dropped one tear while I was there, but now as I write this, I am. I feel I'm entitled.


Footprints in the Sand

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed
he was walking along the beach with the LORD.

Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.
For each scene he noticed two sets of
footprints in the sand: one belonging
to him, and the other to the LORD.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him,
he looked back at the footprints in the sand.

He noticed that many times along the path of
his life there was only one set of footprints.

He also noticed that it happened at the very
lowest and saddest times in his life.

This really bothered him and he
questioned the LORD about it:

"LORD, you said that once I decided to follow
you, you'd walk with me all the way.
But I have noticed that during the most
troublesome times in my life,
there is only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why when
I needed you most you would leave me."

The LORD replied:

"My son, my precious child,
I love you and I would never leave you.
During your times of trial and suffering,
when you see only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you."

written by Mary Stevenson


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