What If’s and My Real Life Lesson in Karma

2 02 2014

I guess tonight I have been sitting here what if-ing. I am not wallowing in self-pity. Some of my what-if’s are nostalgic, some are melancholy, and some are simply wonders of how my path may have changed had my circumstances been different. I am not under the assumption that this thinking is going to change anything in my life up until now. I am not a fan of such thinking for this very reason. I don’t let my mind venture into this area often. I even find myself what if-ing my path for the future and considering possible outcomes. I guess this is what keep us breathing and living life. Hope and possibilities.

I suppose this was brought on by some events that happened over the past few days. I was on Facebook talking to an old friend. I knew her when she was twelve. I think I was fifteen at the time. What we had in common was that we were both wards of the state. We met in juvenile prison. I spent three years inside those razor wires and was released into a halfway house that helped federal prisoners transition back to the real world upon their release. I went there a month before I turned eighteen. It was right around my birthday and they had to waive my age in order to send me there since I was not yet legally an adult. Anyways… My friend and I were talking about old times as we sometimes do. Old times in Plankinton, South Dakota where the prison was located. We started discussing where the others may be now and who we had heard from and who was still amiss. We have reconnected with some of the girls on Facebook. When she started spouting out names I realized that two of the girls were on my friend’s list, but I had not seen them post for a while. I went to their pages and guess what… They have passed away. Both Native American girls. One was twenty-seven. She was killed in a car wreck about a year ago. Another girl died too. Although I could find obituary information, I could not find anything relating to the cause of death. I considered messaging her family and friends on her page. I decided against it. I don’t want to reopen the wounds for them. I may inquire in the future if my curiosity will not rest, who knows.

I was shocked that this had happened. I didn’t know what to say or how to feel and the fact that two were gone made my heart very heavy. Two other girls we were in there with committed suicide upon their release in 2000. That’s a total of four lost. My friend and I discussed this for hours reminiscing the laughable memories and the bad ones. I started checking around to see what happened to the other girls. I even made a secret group on Facebook and invited everyone. I don’t want most of these girls as life long friends, but you don’t spend three years with these people and not ever wonder how they are doing. I figured this would be a good way to catch up. After doing a little digging, the stories I heard were sad. One girl had got on heroin, but is now clean so that’s good news. Another girl has six kids and is pregnant again. One of the girls I was close to started stripping, had a daughter, and got into a horrible car wreck. She won a 1.5 million dollar settlement which she smoked up within a couple years. Then she resorted to robbery and is now serving 45 years in prison. Another girl lost two of her kids, but seems to have gotten her life back together. Another one is on meth and in and out of prison. One went literally insane and last anyone heard was in an asylum somewhere in Colorado. There are only about three or four of us out of 40 or so that are doing any degree of decent. What was even more painful was the memories… The memories I realized this week that I had stuffed so deeply and trained myself not to think about that I almost forgot them. When my friend was telling me about incidents that happened, I hardly remembered them. It’s as if I wasn’t even there. Then I realized how little I allow myself to go back to that place. I am amazed that the human mind can make itself forget so much as a coping mechanism. Some things came back to me and some didn’t. I know for a fact she has a very vivid memory. She can recall in great detail. This is part of my life I tried so desperately to leave behind. I thought I had done that. I tried to do that. I don’t discuss it with anyone other than the girls that were there with me. No one else would understand. It seems taking the time to tell the story would be in vain because no one else would grasp the magnitude of what happened. However, I think this is my sort of therapy. I need to tell it. For myself.

The campus was called the State Training School. The place came under fire and government scrutiny in 1999, I believe. When the heat really started coming in they started releasing us. One of the facilities on the training school grounds was a juvenile prison which also housed an intake unit for girls waiting to go to Cottage B aka boot camp. This is the program I was intended to go to. But when I arrived at the prison my aggression and behavior kept me housed in the prison. I’ll fast forward many of the details. Sometime within that time frame a girl was forced to run in the boot camp, like all the girls were. This girl was severely overweight. She ended up dying of hypothermia due to the heat. She urinated on herself and was foaming at the mouth. Her internal temperature went as high as the thermometer would go which was 108 degrees. The staff on duty that day thought she was faking. They ridiculed her, made fun of her, and ignored her needs for medical attention while she lay their dying. They would later be charged with felony child abuse. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. That article can be found here: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2000/11/camp-fear.

Right after the girl died we rioted in the prisons. The girls and boys prison on campus had a riot that lasted hours. Staff wouldn’t enter the room. We broke everything we could and many of the girls engaged in severe self-mutilation. Their was fighting and blood all over from the girls that had mutilated themselves. Sadly, these are some of the same girls that committed suicide in 2000. They ended up calling in staff from the adult prisons to handle it. The riots lasted almost 24 hours. Then they came in with tactical gear and handcuffed and shackled every one of us to our beds.

That’s when the state legislators, representatives, and other government officials started coming down and touring through the facility. One day in the middle of a behavior they brought them through the day room. We were told to tuck our shirts in, use line norms, and be on our best behavior. Me at 15? Fat chance. When they came through I asked them if they wanted to know what really went on in there? One guy stepped forward and said yes. He was a state representative. I spent four hours telling him about how we were maced, stuck in isolation for weeks at a time with no psychiatric care (which should have happened, especially for those on suicide watch), and the facility used illegal restraining procedures. Sometimes we would be forced to do PT in shackles until our ankles bled. Even with the bleeding and the sores they wouldn’t take them off causing deep gashes in our ankles. Our group members (other inmates) were expected to hold us accountable as part of a positive peer culture setting. This often resulted in several of the girls taking cheap shots at one girl when she got out of hand. When we were restrained and refused to change into suicide garments male guards cut our clothes off with scissors. We would be four pointed for up to 18 hours at a time. Four pointing refers to a restraint procedure in which a 6 foot by 3 foot raised rectangular slab of concrete is poured and metal hooks come out of the side. The officers can handcuff your hands to these hooks, located by the inmate’s head. They also run a pair of shackles through a hook at the bottom. We were denied food and use of the bathroom. We were denied access to our family and friends. Our phone calls, letters, and visits were peer monitored meaning you had to have a visit with two other inmates present. If you said anything against the facility or the way they treated you, your visit/phone call/letter was ended or intercepted and you were told that you were victim stancing i.e. making yourself a victim. Most of us were also given psychotropic medication without our parents consent. There were many other issues that came out as well.

It wasn’t long before I got a phone call from the Governor of South Dakota. He asked what happened when they cut my clothes off. I told him and he blamed me. He basically told me I got what I deserved. He also threatened to fire the staff that allowed the representative access to us if they ever did it again. He passed down orders that no legal representatives or advocates were to be allowed access to us. It was therefore denied when they tried to interrogate us. After a period of time they came and started investigating. We told them our stories. The media got involved. I was interviewed by a child’s law center out of Washington, D.C. We took depositions. We sued them in a class action suit and won. A summary of that can be found here: http://www.ylc.org/our-work/archive/past-litigation/christina-a-v-bloomberg/ and here: http://www.leagle.com/decision/20011261167FSupp2d1094_11156.xml/CHRISTINA%20A.%20EX%20REL.%20JENNIFER%20A.%20v.%20BLOOMBERG. They had to change procedures and would be under ongoing investigation to make sure they remained compliant. The training school ended up getting shut down and was bought out by a private outfit and later reopened. By then, most of the inmates there had been released. It was ironic how quickly we all were released after the shit came down, especially since we had been there for years. We were then contacted by another attorney to sue in a private settlement. We won that too.

Bill Janklow, the then Governor of South Dakota who had also served his state in the House of Representatives, was a huge proponent of military style programs for juvenile delinquents. What was more ironic was that some of us were there for very petty charges. I was not there for anything criminal. I was there because I was designated as a Child in Need of Supervision or what they called a CHINS order. This basically meant I had no parental supervision and was running wild and unruly. A few years later I got my satisfaction. In an ironic twist, the boot camp proponent was driving drunk and killed a biker. He was convicted of second degree manslaughter. He served 100 days in jail and his political career came to an end. Janklow was no stranger to trouble though. While serving in the legal field on a reservation he was accused of raping a 15 year old Native American girl. The tribe barred him from practicing law on the reservation after that. Janklow died in January of 2012 of brain cancer.

The state representative that was a key player in starting the whole movement was found guilty of raping and molesting his foster daughters a few years later. He was sentenced to prison. He also tried to copyright his name so no one could use it and denounce his American citizenship. That article can be found here: http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/former-rep-ted-klaudt-seeks-to-renounce-citizenship-reverse-rape/article_79dbc26a-94c1-11df-a00a-001cc4c002e0.html. It stunned me how one man could be one’s savior and turn around and act in such an evil manner. The whole thing still blows my mind.

At 31 years old I still haven’t come to terms with it. I have considered writing a book about it for different reasons, one being an advocate for juvenile civil rights while incarcerated. I will admit the task seems intimidating. I also worry about the repercussions it may have on my personal life. It also made me wonder… The two girls that ended up committing suicide… Was it suicide? Was foul play maybe involved? I have no evidence to base this on. It just didn’t sit right with me. I often wonder if Plankinton ruined those girls or if they would have ended up in prison regardless. It’s sad to me because even though we were juveniles, we were still children. I can see some of them still… Young and beautiful. Some of them were so beautiful they looked like Native American dolls. Still laughing and giggling through all the bullshit. We never were given release dates. Even if we had them most of us didn’t care because we had no one to go home to. The state wouldn’t let us go back to our alcoholic, abusive families. Yay, we get to go to foster care or another placement. At least we knew the other inmates where we were. We had formed a bond. All we were in the end were scared little girls who overcompensated by showing how scared we weren’t. I know it has affected all of us in a way that we will never be able to explain to an outsider. It changed us. To be honest, I am kind of a train wreck. Given my circumstances I have done fairly well as opposed to my counterparts. If anyone is reading this take on thing from this… These places do not teach your child a lesson. They do not help. In facilities such as these around the country, children are abused by those in positions of authority. Be sure you know what you are getting into when you decide to commit your child to the state. Be prepared to deal with the consequences.

Tonight my heart goes out to the girls that took their lives, the ones that passed within the past year, and their families who are still trying to recover from the pain. I really hoped more of the girls would make it. Part of the problem is that some of them never left South Dakota or never got off the reservation. I am hopeful for the girls that are still with us. I hope they find their path and peace in life. It’s not at the bottom of a bottle, a needle, a crack pipe, or a one night stand. At the end of the day though I can hope for the best but ultimately have to worry about me and my family here. I feel this all happened to me for a greater purpose. I just don’t know what or how I am supposed to channel it. Perhaps there’s a certain amount of healing that will come with figuring that out. I suspect I suffer from some degree of PTSD. This is especially true within the past few days. It was really bad after I was first released. I felt I had gotten better but nope. I had just stuffed it down and tried to forget it.

This is one of my more honest and raw posts… Probably the most honest I will ever get. I put forth a good deal of time and effort writing it so please feel free to leave your thoughts and any feedback you may have. Perhaps that will help too. It’s the little gratification I can get for pecking away at this keyboard. If you choose to be an asshole for some reason I think my skin is thick enough to deal with that too. I would prefer you didn’t however. 🙂


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2 responses

6 02 2014
Steve

I’ve been reading your blog for a long time now, and I must say this was a well written post of great substance. And making it through all that is testament to how strong of a young woman you are. I wish you well in your life and I hope you get what you desire.

23 03 2014
Donna

I was also at the Plankinton State Training School after I was deemed a child in need of supervision or CHINS. You are right when you say how people just couldn’t imagine….they just can’t fathom what it was like. I’ve told my story and encountered the same as you have described. But reading your story just now I could see it all like it was yesterday. I too had pushed those memories to the back of my mind to forget them. It is sad about what happened to so many of the girls that were in there with you. I lost contact with everyone I knew from there, but I always wondered how they were doing. I was released before the Gina came.

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