"You need to get both hands on the wheel," Genger Galloway urges her son, as he steers her mini-van down a side road near Crockett, Texas.
She shakes her head from side to side. "I need a Xanax is what I need."
At 19 years old, Joseph Galloway seems too old for driving lessons. But Joseph's teenage years have been tumultuous ones.
Arrested at 15 for inappropriate sexual contact with a sibling, he expected to spend nine months in one of the 13 secure facilities or nine halfway houses run by the Texas Youth Commission (TYC); instead, he remained incarcerated for four years.
During that period, he claims that guards deliberately placed him in a cell with a larger boy who raped him and encouraged gang members to break his jaw. He also said he was molested by a female staff member.
As his mother protested — interviewing 150 parents of other TYC inmates and petitioning legislators for changes in the system — Joseph said he was singled out.
The TYC's official spokesman tends to agree with her.
"We have no confidence that these extensions have been used uniformly," said Jim Hurley, the agency's interim communications director. "We have suspicions that some of these may have been done to punish kids."
Now, in the wake of a scandal that has rocked the state of Texas, 1,100 extensions are being reviewed. On April 5, Joseph became one of 473 inmates released amid pressure from the Texas state legislature and Gov. Rick Perry.
During his first week home, Joseph savored his new freedom, catching catfish and perch at a nearby lake, even participating in an Easter egg hunt.
"My first day out, I almost ate a whole cheesecake," he said. "I ate some Fruity Pebbles. I ate some real Mexican food. I got sick, but it was worth it."
He added: "I thought I still had to ask permission to use the restroom."
While law-and-order advocates fear a rush of young criminals streaming back into society, Genger focuses on the psychological wounds sustained by one-time juvenile offenders forced to endure beatings and rapes.
"There are kids right now who got themselves locked up in a house, locked up in a closet, locked up in a garage, scared to speak."
Meanwhile, the fates of all 4,000 TYC inmates — ranging in age from 10 to 21 — are being re-evaluated.
Over the last month, the seven-member TYC board was abolished and replaced by a troubleshooting conservator. Top officials were ordered to resign and reapply for their jobs. Superintendents at two facilities were arrested and every employee and volunteer ordered to submit to background and fingerprint checks.
Two former administrators at the remote West Texas State School in Piyote were indicted on Tuesday on multiple sex abuse charges. Ex-assistant superintendent Ray Brookins and one-time principal John Paul Hernandez, both 41, are accused of molesting six youths, ages 16 to 19. Both maintain their innocence.
"Pedophiles get themselves into the system and abuse kids," contends Randall Chance, a former Texas inspector general and a TYC employee for 21 years. "And the system allows it. There's a dynasty of covering up."
He said that, in the past, administrators accused of inappropriate behavior with inmates were transferred to other TYC facilities with little or no repercussions.
"We need to get a culture change at this agency," said Hurley, recently transferred to the TYC from the Texas Department of Insurance. "We need to get to the bottom and start rebuilding."
For Stanley Mitchell, a former supervisor at the TYC's Crockett State School, the changes are long overdue.
"I cried when I left the TYC" in 2002, he said. "We had obligations to treat these people humanely. These kids have been sentenced. They're at the bottom of the totem pole. It's more or less our job to be their parents."
Instead, he said, the agency "was run to bring fear to the kids and bring fear to the staff."
At Crockett, he contends, the mood was set by a clique of high-level supervisors known as "The Untouchables."
"You couldn't touch them," he said. "If they liked you, you could basically get away with anything. If you reported abuse, you were gone."
Standing outside the fence winding around the collection of neatly arranged buildings at the Crockett State School, another former supervisor, Robert Thomson, steps behind Mitchell and slings an arm around his chin.
But Brian Gatliff, an officer at the John Shero State Juvenile Correctional Facility in San Saba, argued that these types of incidents should be placed in the proper context.
"Technically, the method we're taught to use to restrain the youth is very safe," he said. "And when we can use it, it's very practical. But rarely does it happen the way you're trained. A person has to be standing still and let you put the restraint on him for it to work.
"You know, these kids — well, we call them kids, but these are young men. Some of them are 21 years old. And they're very strong, stronger than us in some cases."
To prove his point, Gatliff removes a Xeroxed photo of himself, apparently bruised after an encounter with an inmate. "This youth came into my office, got me from behind before I ever saw him and almost choked me into unconsciousness. It was very scary," he said.
"That's what we're dealing with day to day. The assaults on staff are much more frequent than any alleged abuse on kids."
Still, Gatliff recoils at the stories of sexual molestation behind the barred windows, such as the claim about a supervisor who allegedly lived with a teenager on-campus at one of the facilities.
"If those things happened," Gatliff said, "then, they're terrible, and they should be dealt with. I'm sure they will be."
Former inmate Robert Sossaman, 22, shared similar expectations.
"Our kids are in there for breaking the law," said Sossaman, incarcerated at age 12 on a sex charge. "So we need staff who can teach them to uphold it."
Yet, he admitted that while incarcerated at the now-defunct J.W. Hamilton Jr. State School in Bryan he had sex with a female staffer. A male officer "offered to perform oral sex on me for contraband. You know, 'I'll bring you cigarettes if you let me do this,'" Sossaman said.
Neither Mitchell nor Thomson, the former supervisors, claims to have ever heard about sex between staffers and inmates at the Crockett State School. But because of understaffing, they say, more vulnerable children were preyed upon by older youth.
"I remember this little kid," Thomson began. "He was about 10. He hadn't been here very long. He looked just like a little baby. The older kids would take him down and get him in the bathroom and rape him.
"When you have one staff person watching 24 kids, you can't see everything. And it got to where they were just molesting him like every single day — until they shipped him off to another state school."
When other such incidents occurred, critics say, documents were falsified or destroyed. As a result, outside investigators are probing 2,000 complaints — hundreds involving sexual abuse — received via a newly installed hotline.
"We're supposed to be role models for these kids," said Mitchell, now a case manager for a state agency assisting the mentally disabled. "And I went in trying to do everything right. But when you try to treat these kids right, and then it seems like wrong is right, you just get upset."
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