Friday, September 07, 2007

Why can't the caged bird sing?

Why wouldn't girls (and I presume boys, too) incarcerated at the Texas Youth Commission be allowed to sing?

So much information came out so quickly about TYC this spring it was hard to process it all, but this afternoon I was looking back at the "Blueprint for Girls" published May 22 by the national ACLU Women's Rights Project at the request of then-conservator Jay Kimbrough and found this grim paragraph (p. 8):
Rather than being necessary to the mission of TYC, overly harsh rules, harshly enforced, actually interfere with girls’ rehabilitation. For example, girls are allowed limited time for journal writing and other forms of expression, are rarely exposed to art or music, and are not allowed to sing, activities that for many represent important strategies for coping with pain and anger. Severe limits on girls’ social interaction, such as being prohibited from speaking to or even looking at one another during the fifteen minutes they are allotted for meals, blocks the development of necessary social skills. Girls’ ability to care for their hygiene, a basic ingredient of improved self-esteem, is frustrated by the three-minute time limit on showers imposed at some facilities. The right to shower is sometimes even denied altogether as a form of punishment.
Since that was written, all TYC youth have been gender segregated, so I wonder what changes to these routines, if any, have been made since this report and its recommendations were released? Does this paragraph reflect how TYC youth are currently treated? Perhaps TYC field staff can answer these questions:
  • Is it really true they aren't allowed to sing?
  • Do kids at TYC facilities have regular (or any) access to musical instruments or arts materials?
  • Is it true that youth are "prohibited from speaking to or even looking at one another during the fifteen minutes they are allotted for meals"?
Are these things still going on at TYC, and if so, can anybody explain why?

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

This quote struck me as interesting: "blocks the development of necessary social skills".
I for one am FOR the open bay areas. I have worked in many facilities - some individual rooms and some 'open bay'.
What problem I have with open bay dorms is that so many times I ask the youth "how many hours do you spend in your room?"
They come back and say "sometimes 6 hours a day. To me, that is just staff not doing their jobs. Its MUCH easier to just let them be in their rooms - no fighting, no cussing at staff, etc.
So much for "blocks the development of necessary social skills".

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the problem is with the individual rooms NOT the open bay.
Sorry for the confusion.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well, kids also need privacy and a place to retreat, and they don't get that in the open bay setting. The open bay dorms have more violence and more staff injuries, so I think I disagree with you on that one, amigo.

Anonymous said...

Much of this really depends on the design of the open bay dorm versus individual rooms. In general housing more than 16 kids in an open bay dorm begins to be somewhat chaotic. It amazes me that anyone every thought housing up to 40 youth in an open bay dorm at Hamilton State School was a good idea. It was quickly reduced to 32 but even that was dangerous.

In general individual rooms are better because they can give youth a place to cool off away from the rest of the dorm in lieu of security. However, kids should not spending all day in their rooms just for staff convenience.

Dorms should be designed with adequate space and visibility. I prefer the layout of Dorms at Brownwood State School (not the old reception center).

Anonymous said...

I was extremely frustrated when I first read the report on girls because there is not a similar report that discusses boys' development and needs. I worked at John Shero for a while and was dumbstruck by how little access the boys had to anything that would stimulate their minds and develop their social abilities.

We can state that our mission is to rehabilitate; however, our actions speak louder than our words. We create facilities that are painted gunmetal gray, with dim florescent lighting, no pictures on the walls, no access to the library (even though we had a great one) and limited access to music. We create programs that measure a youth's progress by his ability to assimilate exactly to our clearly defined, though inconsistently applied, standards.

The Beat-Them-Over-The-Head method of rehabilitation is silly.

Geothe said something like: Treat people how you want them to be and you help them become who they can be. I believe in this model of rehabilitation.

The Good Citizens of Texas, however, apparently do not, because our actions continue to ask for harsher, more punitive treatment of all Texans, not just criminals.

I've said this before in other posts: The Good Citizens of Texas will decide how your juveniles are treated when they vote for people who espouse a more sensitive and sophisticated approach to the problem...or continue to vote for people who think and act in absolute, black-and-white, all-or-nothing ways.

steve said...

gritsforbreakfast asked:

(Q) Is it really true they aren't allowed to sing?

(A) My sources say they can. Can't verify for sure.

(Q) Do kids at TYC facilities have regular (or any) access to musical instruments or arts materials?

(A) There is an art class in at least one unit. No music or art in some others.

(Q) Is it true that youth are "prohibited from speaking to or even looking at one another during the fifteen minutes they are allotted for meals"?

(A) There are thirty-minute lunch periods at some units. They aren't allowed to talk to each other in the hallway as they are marched to lunch. Don't know if they can talk during lunch.

Anonymous said...

Steve & Grits:

It is my understanding that youth can sing if there is any programming that allows it (a class, a Christmas program, talent show, etc.). Some staff may be ok with youth singing during the day. But, can youth go off somewhere and sing their frustration and anger away, as many young women choose to do? Not to my knowledge.

Kids do not have regular access to musical equipment or art in TYC facilities. Art is a marvelous tool to rehabilitate youth! We need to make much better use of it.

No, youth are not allowed to talk or make too much eye contact with each other at meals. They must eat within an allotted amount of time (to consume their legally mandated number of calories) and are not allowed to speak or talk because 1) that interferes with shoveling the food down their stomachs, and 2) fights are likely to break out.

I absolutely agree with 4:52 about practicing what we preach about rehabilitation. Now, what kind of lifestyle does that eating routine prepare you for? Meals in restaurants with friends, family, or for business? Or prison?

Anonymous said...

If your speaking of all girls in one facility that is not true. Girls are still housed in Corsicana and boys are on campus also. They are however seperated in school from the boys.
Girls have programs and family days and they sing at these events.
Art is also offered in Corsicana for both boys and girls in school. Projects are done on the dorm for both sexes.
I have never heard of students having or being put in their private room for 6 hours a day. They stay in the day areas of the dorms until bed time. They have tv time on the dorms also.
Not talking during lunch, does reduce problems in the lunch rooms and they are timed to eat. They have so many kids to feed this seems to have to happen for all to have lunch, dinner, breakfast. We are forgetting that most units have at lest over a 100 kids to feed daily. Maybe its not the thing to do, but somethings just have to happen to serve all in a timely manner.
I think music classes would be wonderful for the kids to have and I am sure we have alot of talented kids and to have them interested in those types of programs.
We need football teams, and other activities for competition for these kids to become interested in and have fun. This might be a good tool for controlling behaviors, the right to play? Would like to see it go as far as education, like public school. You have to make the grade to play.
Uniforms for staff, I think says institution, jail. What I mean is that we need to dress for success at work.We all need to look and be professional instead of looking like a bunch of guards over the kids.We need to make a statement to kids we are leaders. Kids need better clothing, clothing that fits and they need to have to dress for success everyday also. Not in jeans that are to big and falling down and wore out clothes.
Program needs to make them earn the nice clothing another way to control behaviors. Kids like clothes and they want to look normal. No one has even thought about how they look and feel about themselves. This would help build their self esteem.

Anonymous said...

Singing and art at Corsicana? Isn't that the unit that houses youth with serious mental illness?

Responses so far indicate the availability of art and music is extremely sparse. Creating a bunch of automatons is not rehabilitation.

Sure being able to follow instructions is a useful skill but america has been built on creative innovative thinking. Our youth deserve more!

Sure it will take more JCO's, Educators, Physicatrists. IMHO it would be well worth the cost.

Anonymous said...

The theory is great; the reality is not.

Without sufficient staff and secure facilities any rehabilitaive program will fail.

Texas is very close to warehousing youthful offenders committed to TYC.

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

Yes, and we have homemaking classes where the kids cook, woodshop, welding and horticulure for boys and girls.Corsicana even has playground with swings and a indoor swiming pool.
We have alot of activties for the kids and family events that are put on by the dorms. I think we do our best to "raise" these kids.
We need some changes also, we are not the picture perfect campus but we try our best to teach these kids that there is a better world than being locked up.

I sing in the shower said...

I'd like to know the source who told the ACLU member that girls can't sing. That's trumped up bullshit. Hell they sing in that shower and on that toliet.

Art? Hell give a kid a pen in security and you'll see the art.

Anonymous said...

The talent some of these kids have in ART is amazing! If only they could figure out that this talent with some formal training(some do not even need that)could make them a hell of a living in lots of areas in the workforce. People who paint murals make megga bucks,designs on cars and bikes,signs and so much more is out there for a truly good artist. Sad they don't get it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Responses so far indicate the availability of art and music is extremely sparse."

OTOH, all indications are every unit has plenty of pepper spray! :-/

"so much more is out there for a truly good artist. Sad they don't get it."

Hmmmm. Does anyone think there's a relation between the "extremely sparse" arts and music availability at TYC and the fact that the kids there don't respect and value their own artistic skills?

Anonymous said...

There are murals on the wall of the cafeteria at Mart I done by a student. I'd say that qualifies as art.

Anonymous said...

IMO, they don't realize what they can do with this talent in a positve way. They have never been told or taught that they have talent. No one has helped them explore all of the oppertuntities there really are for them even before they were locked up.
I think that is where TYC is failing these talented kids. I don't think it has to do with respect or value on their part, if they have never been praised and led down the road to success. All they know is tagging and art as a way of release for them. Job oppertunties has never been brought up on the home front for many of the kids. In some of these home situations earning money is only by working at a low paying job or by breaking the law. Remember I said SOME of the homes.
They don't know about graphic design jobs, mural paintings,and so forth. We just need to try and make them understand that they can use this talent in a positive way and earn a good living. There are alot of the kids who are college material if they would straighten out their lives and see where crime does not pay.
Maybe I am just a dreamer on this, but if we get one saved that is one more that will be a productive citizen in this world we live in.

Anonymous said...

One thing about tyc and how we deal with this population of law breaker that has stuck in my mind for a long time is this.

Do we want to make TYC a nice easy place to be for these kids? Don't we want to have rules that are enforced to the T, so that these kids never want to be locked up again.

Should we show them what "TDCJ" is really like if they continue the life of crime?

Some kids will tell you this is a day care and there is nothing to being in TYC.

Are we failing them by not being "tuff" on them so that they will NEVER want to return to a jail setting again?

Can we not be tuff and nuture at the same time for change in these kids?

If we make it an easy ride does that not say , do it again, it an't so bad being locked up if I get caught? I think this is the way most of these young kids think about TYC at this point. I know I have had many, many, kids with that attitude or making that statement about TYC.

If we are tuff on the kids, then some say that is abuse. Well isn't it abuse if we teach them that jail is OK?

Anonymous said...

The reason that the kids are not allowed to go off and sing and blow off steam is because.#1- they are in a structured schedule and no one is allowed to go off by themselves to blow off steam and #2-the CRAP they would want to sing and do constantly rap and sing is gang songs, violence insiting verses and start upheaval. I wish that some of these people that want all this crap would come on a dorm for a couple of hours...a couple of hours is all they could take. These kids are constantly banging on walls rhytms and rapping. If they are asked to be quite, it lasts for about 2 minutes..mostly because alot of these kids are ADHD that are NOT at Corsicana. Pity the poor girls...balony..I'm a mom, grandma, aunt and great aunt to girls, but I don't believe that the girls need different, less structured activity. They all need to know that life is rough out there and be taught that NO one will hand them a beautiful, artistic life in the real world.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If the schedule is "structured," i.e., completely under the control of the agency, why wouldn't there be time for the arts? I think that means TYC has made a decision to exclude the arts from the structure of the day. The goal is to prep them for the real world, not to turn TYC into a TDCJ prep school.

That said, at least I'm glad someone has the guts to confirm that singing is actually a forbidden activity and the report wasn't inaccurate.

As for what they would sing, or paint, etc., why do you care? If it were C&W (think Johnny Cash) instead of rap there would still be violence and sex in music, since there's violence and sex in life, for good or ill, and therefore, inevitably, in the arts.

Finally, I disagree strongly that the lesson the state needs taught to TYC girls is "life is rough out there and ... NO one will hand them a beautiful, artistic life in the real world." To read your views, TYC should just tell them they're worthless, to shut up and take orders, and figure that's all they need to know.

Well never worry. Clearly TYC is providing that lesson. You can take credit for creating a great system. Mission accomplished, I guess, huh?

Anonymous said...

If Johnny Cash was the CRAP of the day that might insight violence on the dorm..then no it doesn't need to be sung. My comments were more to say Girls shouldn't get any different treatment that the boys. I'm sure their victims didn't get any special treatment from the girls. Like I said...go spend an hour or two on the dorms and then make comments..Nobody knows until they've been there.

Anonymous said...

There is an old axiom that you cannot have treatment without control. The problem has been that with all the cuts that were made over the years by our friends in the legislature, TYC has been struggling just to have some semblance of control. When you cut money from the budget, while increasing the population of the kids served, what programs do you think are the first ones cut? We used to have art programs, we used to have glee clubs and we used to send youth off-campus to sing at rest homes for the old folks. We rarely do those things any more. Why? Because we do not have the resources. I remember in years past when legislators, especially Sen Whitmire complained about the cost per student at TYC as opposed to the cost per inmate at TDCJ. When Al Price was originally designed, it was supposed to have a swimming pool. Legislators raise hell about that and the pool was cancelled. Crockett used to have a pool, and it got filled in. Strangely enough, youth who went through Red Cross water safety training at Crockett had a much lower recidivism rate than those who had not. And they didn't all go out and get jobs as lifeguards. I think it was that intangible thing that comes with these kids having accomplished something that gives them the confidence that they might, just might be able to do something other than crime. One program that has continued in some places and has been very successful is the welding certification programs. Again, kids who pass their certification not only have excellent opportunities for employment, they have a sense of accomplishment. The same could happen with art and music. Old Salty

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@4:07, You'd be surprised what other people might know. Even some who don't have your job.

Also, TYC should be about rehabilitating youth. You seem to be about punishing them on behalf of the victims. I think that mindset is a big part of why TYC has high recidivism rates and does little to improve youth behavior - too many people there think it should be run like an adult prison, but that's a recipe for having youth re-offend as adults and remain a burden on the taxpayers. It's time for a new approach, if y'all only had the leaders to implement it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Salty, this is a sad commentary,

"We used to have art programs, we used to have glee clubs and we used to send youth off-campus to sing at rest homes for the old folks. We rarely do those things any more. Why? Because we do not have the resources."

That's also pathetic about filling in the pool when the Red Cross certification program generated demonstrable results. That's exactly the kind of counterproductive, punitive mentality I think TYC has to find some way to get past. best,

Anonymous said...

Grits @ 3:39: "As for what they would sing, or paint, etc., why do you care?" One reason we cared is that many TYC kids -- girls and boys -- are involved in gangs. Some of their "songs" and "art" is really communication with other gang members. We ran a contest at the facility I worked in to design a t-shirt to be used in a food drive, and the winning design contained a crown in the design (Latin Kings? I'm no gang expert), which ended up on the printed shirts. I never wore mine. Another contest we ran for the students was to design the cover of a folder for students' school work. Again, it was discovered that the "winner" had slipped in a gang symbol, so the design could not be used. No one ever fought over a Johnny Cash song, but the gang-involved students will fight over any perceived disrespect of their own gang.

Anonymous said...

Scott,
With regard to my earlier post, those punitive measures were demanded by the legislators. They were not generated from within TYC. Old Salty

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@9:08 - that's just an argument for having structured arts as part of the curriculum. The kids in the TYC glee clubs Salty mentioned weren't singing inappropriate songs. And art instruction could have them drawing models or all sorts of things besides gang signs.

Plus even if they "slip in" a gang sign (and I've heard a LOT of people from TYC and TDCJ obviously overinterpret what constitutes a gang sign as basically anything they've ever seen on a tattoo), the truth is there has been no harm done. Maybe it's a chance to talk to the kid about what they drew and why, a learning experience instead of only an opportunity for punishment.

Besides, if the kid wants to draw a Latin Kings crown, the image and idea are running through his head anyway, even if he says or draws nothing. Self expression gives a chance to see what the kid's thinking. Also, maybe exposing them to other cool images and stuff to draw in a structured setting might inspire some to think differently.

BTW, I've got a poster of Byzanine art on my office wall that depicts a crown - you don't think ...?

Anonymous said...

To Grits at 6:22 a.m. "Besides, if the kid wants to draw a Latin Kings crown, the image and idea are running through his head anyway, even if he says or draws nothing. Self expression gives a chance to see what the kid's thinking." Scott, you are smarter than that! You get it, I know you do.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I get it, but self expression is different from crime or violence. In fact, artistic expression can be an outlet for antisocial attitudes or dealing with a painful personal history that's psychologically healthy. By contrast, from what I can tell little about the TYC experience is psychologically healthy - it's just prison.

Not every TYC kid is a gang member by a long shot, and even gang members aren't throwaway kids. It's easy enough to set rules and make participation dependent on following them. But to not offer arts or music options at all or even let kids draw or sing for fear they'll sing or draw something gang related (or in the case of an earlier commenter, just "crap" you don't like) makes no sense at all.

Also, I've had TDCJ and TYC people try to tell me everything under the sun is a gang sign. One emailer a while back said a piece of graff I'd posted had a gang sign, and a quick Google found the same image was really a Mexican religious icon used in dozens of paintings going back nearly to the Spanish conquest. This is an overhyped problem. It's an excuse, not a reason.

Anonymous said...

Grits,
Used to work at San Saba a while back. There was a choir program, a basketball team which left the facility to play away games, a garden, and we had so much artwork by students on the dorm bulletin boards they looked like the front of some peoples fridge.

No talking during meals was based on the fact that there were over 100 students at a time (sometimes more if a dorm filed in to eat a little early and had to wait for a dorm to leave to have a place to eat)and with that many students in one room from different dorms it was a prime time and place to pass communication about things that would affect safety. Assaults, fights and yes, riots, in the dining hall were guaranteed to produce serious injuries. Steel waist-high pipe seperating the chow line from the tables, table and chairs which were attached to the floor and so closely crowded together that responding to an incident was like running an obstacle course just to get to the other side of the room. The fact that in the dining hall students had hard trays they would throw or use as a club made any violence in that location very dangerous.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion which doesn't count for much in TYC.

The first thing we have to fix is the unmet needs of the staff. Fix that get staff back on track with out the threat of closing facilities, loosing jobs, and beat down by all the overtime, where it is paid or comp time.

You can not fix kids if the staff is not fixed first. They are the leaders of these kids. They are the role models.

Once you fix the staff, then work on fixing the programs for the kids and all will come together like clock work.

Gang stuff, you have to stay on top of, no matter what kind of media it is put into. These kids most were born to a gang member family and those that were not, fell into their gangs for acceptance and someone to "care" about them. We all know that none of the acceptance and caring is what is really going on in gangs.

Mr.Henson you have wonderful ideas about taking the negative gang drawing and turning it into a positive and I believe it could work, but not in the enviroment these kids are in now. Its back to fixing the staff that work with these kids first. Right now everyone in TYC (I assume everyone who is not at the top of tyc)has unmet needs that needs to be met before they can succeed in turning kids around.

Anonymous said...

If choirs, basketball or anything else is not included in the school curiculum, there are no staff to do it. By running so short handed all the time, there are no extra staff to run Sally over to the gym to do a mural on the wall or wherever. You have to have extra staff to run kids to town to sing to the nursing home patients...MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. As long as Sen. Whitmire has doomed TYC to failure so that his contract cronies can eventually have all the kids, they will never appropriate enough money to adequately staff any facility.

Anonymous said...

8:26 - that is my point, exactly. Old Salty

Anonymous said...

We are funded in 08 to operate at 12:1, but I doubt we can hire all those people.

Emily said...

Mart I and II have some murals on the walls, as I recall, and there is some student artwork on display in the halls in Mart II. (Of course, the same display has been up for the last four or five months that I've been visiting...but somebody and some point did some art in Mart II.)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Actually, Emily, at one point at the end of the Clinton administration TYC got a six figure grant from USDOJ for art education, and produced some neat stuff.

Maybe they need to do some more grant writing, or maybe the Lege and admin just need to pony up.

Anonymous said...

Emily,
I posted this on an older thread - contact Steve Bercu for information on the Morales case. Steve runs the bookstore "Bookpeople," in Austin. He is the lawyer who brought the Morales case in the first place.