Last Chance in Texas: The Redemption of Criminal Youth

4.18 avg rating
( 393 ratings by Goodreads )
 
9780375759987: Last Chance in Texas: The Redemption of Criminal Youth
View all copies of this ISBN edition:
 
 

A powerful, bracing and deeply spiritual look at intensely, troubled youth, Last Chance in Texas gives a stirring account of the way one remarkable prison rehabilitates its inmates.

While reporting on the juvenile court system, journalist John Hubner kept hearing about a facility in Texas that ran the most aggressive–and one of the most successful–treatment programs for violent young offenders in America. How was it possible, he wondered, that a state like Texas, famed for its hardcore attitude toward crime and punishment, could be leading the way in the rehabilitation of violent and troubled youth?

Now Hubner shares the surprising answers he found over months of unprecedented access to the Giddings State School, home to “the worst of the worst”: four hundred teenage lawbreakers convicted of crimes ranging from aggravated assault to murder. Hubner follows two of these youths–a boy and a girl–through harrowing group therapy sessions in which they, along with their fellow inmates, recount their crimes and the abuse they suffered as children. The key moment comes when the young offenders reenact these soul-shattering moments with other group members in cathartic outpourings of suffering and anger that lead, incredibly, to genuine remorse and the beginnings of true empathy . . . the first steps on the long road to redemption.

Cutting through the political platitudes surrounding the controversial issue of juvenile justice, Hubner lays bare the complex ties between abuse and violence. By turns wrenching and uplifting, Last Chance in Texas tells a profoundly moving story about the children who grow up to inflict on others the violence that they themselves have suffered. It is a story of horror and heartbreak, yet ultimately full of hope.
From the Hardcover edition.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

John Hubner is a former staff writer at the Boston Phoenix. He was also a magazine writer and investigative reporter for many years at the San Jose Mercury News, where he is now the regional editor. He lives with his wife and two children in Santa Cruz.
From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1.

“LOOKING LIKE PSYCHOPATHS”

“Tell us what you know about Capital Offenders,” Kelley asks the group.

Up until this moment, the boys’ reactions have been as uniform as their haircuts and clothing. Heads nodded when a yes was required, went sideways when the answer was no. Now, the masks are coming off. The youth with one eye breaks into a slow grin. A boy with peaked features and startling blue eyes in the second row waves his hand in the air. He looks up, surprised to see it there.

“Life Stories, miss. We’ll be telling our Life Stories,” says a small, somber black youth with large eyes. He inflects the words “Life Stories” in a way that makes it plain they are uppercase. Those two words are al- ways capitalized in the TYC resocialization dialect these young men have learned to speak.

“You can’t leave anything out! You go over it and over it until it’s all out there in the open,’’ adds a youth with a solid-gold front tooth, the symbol of a successful drug dealer.

“You can’t be fronting. No way can you front your way through,” declares a powerfully built young man in the first row. He is wearing granny glasses and could pass for a scholar-athlete if his forearms and biceps weren’t so heavily gang-tattooed.

“You can’t front empathy,” agrees a slight, boyish Korean-American. “If it ain’t real, you got to get real. You can’t be hiding behind no thinking errors.”

“Life stories.” “Empathy.” “Thinking errors.” It turns out that human behavior and the programs designed to alter it are inextricably tied to language. The fact that the national debate over delinquency issues rarely, if ever, reaches a level where language is explored is one reason why the more lofty the setting—a mahogany-paneled legislative hearing room in a state capital; a Senate subcommittee room with chandeliers and marble floors in Washington, D.C.—the more ersatz the debate. Frontline treatment specialists in Giddings take little heed of congressional hearings such as “Is Treating Juvenile Offenders Cost-Effective?” The people who actually do the work tend to view splashy hearings as little more than a platform for grandstanding politicians, one-issue zealots, and academics pushing a thesis. On the front lines, that question has been settled: treatment works.

It is one thing to say that about programs in a state institution. Taxpayers are picking up the bills, and the outcomes, no matter how scientifically they are evaluated, remain suspect because state institutions collect their own data and measure their own results. It is quite another when the marketplace says that intense treatment changes the trajectory of troubled teenagers’ lives. The best evidence of that is the “emotional-growth boarding schools” that have sprung up west of the Rockies in the last twenty years at a rate that rivals the growth of traditional prep schools in New England in the nineteenth century. These schools cater to teenagers who are so deeply into drugs and self-destructive behavior, their parents are terrified they will not live to turn twenty. The tuition at CEDU, the oldest of the emotional-growth, or “therapeutic,” boarding schools (founded in 1967 in Palm Springs, California), is well over $100,000 a year. If the cost is astounding, so are the results. Families that can afford a six-figure annual tuition would not keep enrolling their children in CEDU if they did not see tremendous changes.

CEDU is at one end of the socioeconomic spectrum, Giddings is at the other. And yet the programs they operate are very similar. In both places, teenagers begin by memorizing a language they will eventually internalize. In both schools, the students come close to running the programs themselves.

The information the boys are practically shouting at Kelley did not come only from a manual or a lecture. Much of it came from their peers. They know so much about what is going to happen because after the eighteen boys were selected from the main Giddings population, they were transferred to Cottages 5-A and 5-B, where they moved in with a dozen students who had recently completed Capital Offenders. No introduction presented by a staff member, no matter how eloquent, carries the weight of a COG veteran who says, “Listen up, this is what they gonna have you do.’’

The eighteen boys in this room have spent the last two to four years immersed in the resocialization program that structures life in the State School. Resocialization is a rethinking of the oldest concept in juvenile justice—rehabilitation—and in some ways, the word is poorly chosen. It assumes that some early socialization occurred in the lives of these boys, and for a majority, that did not happen.

An average, functioning family acts as a crucible where children are socialized, i.e., civilized, meaning they learn to relate to others through the relationships they form with parents and siblings. Most of the boys in this room come from families where the adults were drunk, high, street criminals, or in prison. In their families, “socialization” too often meant getting together to shoot hard drugs.

Giddings is not an attempt to re-create the family. That never works, in institutions, group homes, or foster homes. Kids instinctively rebel—This is bullshit! You’re not my real dad! Instead, Giddings is a gigantic bell jar where 390 young offenders are under intense observation sixteen hours a day. Over the past few years, these boys have spent countless hours in one kind of a group or another, acquiring skills that were not ingrained in their families of origin.

“Thinking errors” are at the heart of this process. Along with clothing, one of the first things a youth receives upon arriving in a TYC institution is Changing Course: A Student Workbook for Resocialization. As soon as he gets his layout down, he is told to turn to Chapter Three and memorize the list of nine thinking errors. They are: deceiving, downplaying, avoiding, blaming, making excuses, jumping to conclusions, acting helpless, overreacting, and feeling special. All of us employ these techniques at one time or another. These kids have used them in a way that has harmed others, and will allow them to keep on harming others, if their thought processes are not confronted and altered.

“Thinking errors are used to justify criminal behavior,” says Linda Reyes. “The error is in the justification, not in the fact. A youth can state true facts: I was sexually abused. Therefore, I sexually abused my sister. The thinking error is not in the facts. It is in the justification based on the facts.”

Do all newly incarcerated young felons hate memorizing thinking errors? They certainly do. Do they do it by rote, as if they were memorizing words in a foreign language? Of course. Learning a new language is like picking up a tool chest. The real work is learning to use those tools— sitting in a group and stopping a peer in midsentence with, “Hold on, right there. You just used a thinking error. Can you name it?” and then helping him see he is “avoiding” or “downplaying.” This is an arduous practice, akin to a young musician learning the scales. It goes on and on and on, day after day. Walk into any cottage after dinner and the boys are likely to be sitting in a circle, conducting a behavior group. Typically, a boy has erupted in anger at a juvenile corrections officer—“Jay-Ko” in the Giddings vernacular—who ordered him to clean up his “PA,” or personal area, a small clothes closet that sits at the foot of every bed. Instead of referring the boy to the security unit for being disobedient, the Jay-Ko called a behavior group. The group may spend hours in the circle, trying to help the boy understand why he got angry, and how anger feeds into his offense cycle.

The boys entering Capital Offenders are about to become archaeologists of the self, slowly and methodically sifting through their own lives. Each youth will spend two to three three-and-a-half-hour sessions telling his life story. At first glance, this does not seem daunting. Most of us, in one way or another, are telling one another our life stories all the time. But for these boys, the task is terrifying. They have soaked their systems in drugs and alcohol; shaved their heads and covered their bodies with tattoos; convinced themselves that they are hard, impossible to penetrate; surrendered their identity to a gang—all to hide themselves, from themselves.

When they were little, they were abused. They were defenseless; they were victims. As they got older, they vowed to be strong. Being strong meant inflicting pain. That is what the powerful figures in their lives did to them. Either/or, black or white, the preyed-upon and the predators. What is fascinating is, this “nature, red in tooth and claw” view of reality often butts up against an inner world that is pure fantasy.

The former drug dealer with the gold tooth? His mother was a crack cocaine addict who turned tricks on the corner. In fourth grade, he came out for recess and looked across the street to see his mother climbing into a van with a trick. “No boy should ever have to see his mother doing that,” he blurted out one afternoon in a behavior group.

The short Latino in the front row covered with gang tattoos from his ears to his fingernails? Like his father, he has committed a murder. His father was in prison serving a life sentence when his conviction was suddenly overturned on a technicality. A few days after he got out, he found that his wife had taken up with another man while he was behind bars and promptly burned the house down.

A ten-year-old can’t deal with a mother who is on the street, working as a prostitute. A twelve-year-old can’t handle a father who gets drunk night after night, beats him and his mother, and keeps threatening to burn the house down—again. Sometimes, the only defense is fantasy, and these fantasies are often as delicate as they are elaborate. For years, the Latino gangbanger convinced himself that his dangerous, drug-dealing father was really an undercover agent for the DEA. His dad had infiltrated a gang of Colombians, and as soon as the DEA took them down, his dad was going to abandon the act and use his retirement money to buy his family a home on a hillside in Mexico, overlooking the ocean.

That fantasy is all the boy has left after his father was stabbed to death outside a bar in San Marcos. He cannot imagine living without it, just as he cannot imagine climbing out of the gang shell he has encased himself in. But in Capital Offenders, he will have to face the truth about his father, and the mother who never protected him, and his half dozen criminal uncles. This will require a great leap of faith, for like every boy in this room, he grew up knowing he could trust no one, least of all the adults entrusted with his care.

One word is used more often than any other in Giddings: “empathy.” Everything that happens on campus, from the behavior groups to the football team, is designed to foster empathy. It is ironic that empathy is a word that connotes soft, feminine feelings in “The Free,” as the kids call the world outside the fence. Inside the fence, it describes a rigorous, demanding, life-and-death struggle.

“People tend to think that empathy leads to forgiveness, but forgiveness is too easy, way too easy,” says Linda Reyes. “Kids say, ‘I’m sorry for what I did, I forgive myself, I’m going to move past it.’ Empathy is far more difficult. Having empathy means taking responsibility. It means making a choice: the things a youth has done to others will never happen to someone else because of him. In a sense, empathy means being your own father, your own mother.”

The boys in this small, square room all ran. It is important to understand that. They stabbed or brutally beat someone, and took off running. They fired shots from a car into a house at the exact moment when every member of the family was home and then the driver floored it and the car fishtailed up the street. In a way, the prison system allows criminals to keep on running because it does not make them confront themselves. And when they come out, they are indeed angrier, meaner, and dumber than when they went in.

“In Giddings, they have to stop running,” says Dr. Corinne Alvarez-Sanders, Linda Reyes’s successor as the State School’s director of clinical services. “Developing empathy holds them accountable in a very agonizing way. What’s harder: being forced to look at yourself and what you did, or sitting in a cell day after day?”

Alvarez-Sanders is right. According to studies done by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 75 percent of youth eighteen and under who are sentenced to terms in state prisons are released before they reach age twenty-two. Ninety-three percent of the population that are sentenced to prison while still in their teens complete their minimum sentences before reaching age twenty-eight.

Since violent young offenders are going to get out, society has to answer several questions: Do we want to try to treat this population before they are released and move in next door? Or do we want to keep sending them back to The Free, hardened and without a future? Without empathy? The answer seems obvious. And yet Texas, which loves its law-and-order image, is one of very few states that has intense, systematic programs designed to alter the lives of violent young offenders.

If empathy has a special meaning inside the fence, so does the word “thug.” To the public, all 390 teenagers confined in Giddings State School are thugs—that is why they are there. But ask a veteran Jay-Ko, someone who has spent years working eight-hour shifts in the dorms, and she will search her memory before naming a kid who illustrates “the kind of young man prisons are built to hold,” a kid who is “heartless,” “cold-blooded,” or has “nothing inside but ashes.” Staff psychologists quote the DSM-IV-TR—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of the profession—on antisocial personality disorder, but in the end, their definition of “thug” is the same as that of the frontline staff: a true thug is someone who has no capacity for empathy; who will attack and hurt again and again, and regard each assault as a manifestation of how the world works.

“Fronting,” or faking empathy, looms large in Giddings, particularly in Capital Offenders. A youth who is smart enough to realize he has no feelings for others is also smart enough to realize an early release depends to a large extent on his ability to demonstrate empathy. If he can’t do that, he will try to front.

To get over, he will have to give a great performance, day after grueling day. The audience—his peers and his therapists—is as tough as the one in the workshops at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, where the great method actors learned their craft. They will be watching and wondering and probing to see if the emotions a boy expresses are genuine.

“A kid had better be ready to be authentic in Capital Offenders,” says Margie Soto, a veteran therapist. “He can try to front his way through, thinking, ‘Oh yeah, I can play along. I can make stuff up and give them what they want and it won’t touch me.’ He can try, but it catches up with him.

“He can’t hide from the group. Day in and day out, he is with the same people, in group and in the residence. The kids get to know what buttons to push, and when to push them. Day in and day out, he gets asked, ‘What’s going on? What’s happening?’ Pretty soon, that’ll trigger a response that’s real. The stories he’s made up, the lies he’s telling, the junk, the trash, the secrets, it will all come out.”

Since Giddings gets “the worst of the worst,” it seems logical to assume that a large perc...

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

Top Search Results from the AbeBooks Marketplace

1.

Hubner, John
ISBN 10: 0375759980 ISBN 13: 9780375759987
New Quantity Available: > 20
Seller:
Paperbackshop-US
(Wood Dale, IL, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description 2008. PAP. Condition: New. New Book. Shipped from US within 10 to 14 business days. Established seller since 2000. Seller Inventory # VR-9780375759987

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 8.87
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

2.

Hubner, John
ISBN 10: 0375759980 ISBN 13: 9780375759987
New Quantity Available: 9
Seller:
Pbshop
(Wood Dale, IL, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description 2008. PAP. Condition: New. New Book.Shipped from US within 10 to 14 business days. Established seller since 2000. Seller Inventory # IB-9780375759987

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 9.23
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

3.

HUBNER, JOHN
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN 10: 0375759980 ISBN 13: 9780375759987
New Quantity Available: > 20
Seller:
INDOO
(Avenel, NJ, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Penguin Random House. Condition: New. Brand New. Seller Inventory # 0375759980

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 9.88
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.60
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

4.

John Hubner
Published by Random House USA Inc, United States (2008)
ISBN 10: 0375759980 ISBN 13: 9780375759987
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
Book Depository International
(London, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Random House USA Inc, United States, 2008. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. A powerful, bracing and deeply spiritual look at intensely, troubled youth, Last Chance in Texas gives a stirring account of the way one remarkable prison rehabilitates its inmates. While reporting on the juvenile court system, journalist John Hubner kept hearing about a facility in Texas that ran the most aggressive-and one of the most successful-treatment programs for violent young offenders in America. How was it possible, he wondered, that a state like Texas, famed for its hardcore attitude toward crime and punishment, could be leading the way in the rehabilitation of violent and troubled youth? Now Hubner shares the surprising answers he found over months of unprecedented access to the Giddings State School, home to the worst of the worst four hundred teenage lawbreakers convicted of crimes ranging from aggravated assault to murder. Hubner follows two of these youths-a boy and a girl-through harrowing group therapy sessions in which they, along with their fellow inmates, recount their crimes and the abuse they suffered as children. The key moment comes when the young offenders reenact these soul-shattering moments with other group members in cathartic outpourings of suffering and anger that lead, incredibly, to genuine remorse and the beginnings of true empathy . . . the first steps on the long road to redemption. Cutting through the political platitudes surrounding the controversial issue of juvenile justice, Hubner lays bare the complex ties between abuse and violence. By turns wrenching and uplifting, Last Chance in Texas tells a profoundly moving story about the children who grow up to inflict on others the violence that they themselves have suffered. It is a story of horror and heartbreak, yet ultimately full of hope. From the Hardcover edition. Seller Inventory # AAS9780375759987

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 14.00
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

5.

Hubner, John
Published by Random House Trade Paperbacks (2008)
ISBN 10: 0375759980 ISBN 13: 9780375759987
New Paperback Quantity Available: 4
Seller:
Murray Media
(North Miami Beach, FL, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2008. Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # 0375759980

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 12.22
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 1.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

6.

Hubner, John
Published by Random House Trade 4/29/2008 (2008)
ISBN 10: 0375759980 ISBN 13: 9780375759987
New Paperback or Softback Quantity Available: 5
Seller:
BargainBookStores
(Grand Rapids, MI, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Random House Trade 4/29/2008, 2008. Paperback or Softback. Condition: New. Last Chance in Texas: The Redemption of Criminal Youth. Book. Seller Inventory # BBS-9780375759987

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 14.29
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

7.

John Hubner
Published by Random House USA Inc, United States (2008)
ISBN 10: 0375759980 ISBN 13: 9780375759987
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
The Book Depository
(London, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Random House USA Inc, United States, 2008. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. A powerful, bracing and deeply spiritual look at intensely, troubled youth, Last Chance in Texas gives a stirring account of the way one remarkable prison rehabilitates its inmates. While reporting on the juvenile court system, journalist John Hubner kept hearing about a facility in Texas that ran the most aggressive-and one of the most successful-treatment programs for violent young offenders in America. How was it possible, he wondered, that a state like Texas, famed for its hardcore attitude toward crime and punishment, could be leading the way in the rehabilitation of violent and troubled youth? Now Hubner shares the surprising answers he found over months of unprecedented access to the Giddings State School, home to the worst of the worst four hundred teenage lawbreakers convicted of crimes ranging from aggravated assault to murder. Hubner follows two of these youths-a boy and a girl-through harrowing group therapy sessions in which they, along with their fellow inmates, recount their crimes and the abuse they suffered as children. The key moment comes when the young offenders reenact these soul-shattering moments with other group members in cathartic outpourings of suffering and anger that lead, incredibly, to genuine remorse and the beginnings of true empathy . . . the first steps on the long road to redemption. Cutting through the political platitudes surrounding the controversial issue of juvenile justice, Hubner lays bare the complex ties between abuse and violence. By turns wrenching and uplifting, Last Chance in Texas tells a profoundly moving story about the children who grow up to inflict on others the violence that they themselves have suffered. It is a story of horror and heartbreak, yet ultimately full of hope. From the Hardcover edition. Seller Inventory # AAS9780375759987

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 14.47
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

8.

Hubner, John
Published by Random House Trade Paperbacks
ISBN 10: 0375759980 ISBN 13: 9780375759987
New PAPERBACK Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
BookShop4U
(PHILADELPHIA, PA, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Random House Trade Paperbacks. PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 0375759980. Seller Inventory # Z0375759980ZN

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 14.63
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

9.

Hubner, John
Published by Random House Trade Paperbacks
ISBN 10: 0375759980 ISBN 13: 9780375759987
New PAPERBACK Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
Bookhouse COM LLC
(Philadelphia, PA, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Random House Trade Paperbacks. PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 0375759980. Seller Inventory # Z0375759980ZN

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 14.63
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

10.

Hubner, John
Published by Random House Trade Paperbacks
ISBN 10: 0375759980 ISBN 13: 9780375759987
New PAPERBACK Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
Vital Products COM LLC
(Southampton, PA, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Random House Trade Paperbacks. PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 0375759980. Seller Inventory # Z0375759980ZN

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 14.63
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

There are more copies of this book

View all search results for this book