Monday, September 03, 2007

Mikulastik: At TYC, "peer pressure" looks a lot like old TDCJ "building tender" system

This guest column is the latest in a series commissioned for Grits to provide a more diverse range of views, to assess problems at the troubled youth agency and to identify possible solutions.

Anthony Mikulastik is a former TYC employee who was fired for a 35 year old burglary conviction. He worked for TYC more than 11 years, 2 as a correctional officer and 9 as a case worker III. Before coming to TYC, he was a Chaplain for the Bell County Sheriff’s Department and the Temple Police Department for about 10 years. See Anthony's prior Grits guest column, and also recent columns by Dr. Bill Bush and former TYC assistant general counsel Howard Hickman.

* * *
For many years, "Building Tenders" enforced the rules in TDCJ. They enjoyed a special relationship with the Warden as long as they kept the prison running smoothly.

The Texas Youth Commission uses a system that amounts to unofficial Building Tenders. If one of the youth violates a rule then the entire dorm or class room is held responsible. “Peer Pressure” is supposed to correct negative behavior of a wayward TYC youth. Such peer pressure was usually administered when TYC staff were intentionally distracted by a couple of youth and the Unofficial Building Tenders took care of business.

When I worked at the agency, it always was problematic for me to discipline the entire group of TYC youth for the negative behavior of one or two youth even thought it was TYC Policy. I felt it was extremely counterproductive and did more harm than good. An entire dorm could be put on restriction due to a limited number of bad actors. I saw the policy giving power to the disruptive youth to inflict suffering on the other youth who were trying to follow the TYC program.

Peer pressure may work in some settings but not the way it was implemented at Texas youth prisons. TYC did not have a group of well adjusted youth who possess the best social skills. One of the major problems faced by TYC currently and in the past is the mix of youth in TYC. There are young children with mental problems, there are children who have been abused sexually, there are children who have been raised by good families, there are children who have been raised by criminals, there are children who have been raised by addicts, there are children who have raised themselves, and there are children who are crack babies housed in TYC.

Some of these populations can coexist but not all of these populations can be treated in the same location and program. It will never work regardless how much money is poured into the problem.

Treatment modalities for each type of youth in TYC must be part of the long range plan for TYC if the current mix of youth continues to be sent there. Housing the many different types of youth in TYC is counterproductive and a disservice to the youth sent to TYC for proper treatment and rehabilitation. The current lack of any real program or long range plan is a travesty.

The Governor appointed people who appear not to be up to the job to get TYC on track and we have seen no positive results to date. Ed Owens doesn’t see an end to conservatorship for TYC and says that is up to the Governor. Owens, Ms. Pope, and Jay Kimbrough were appointed to get the job done and tell the Governor when things were right at TYC. Now it seems they don’t know what the job is, nor when it might be completed. At least Kimbrough had enough political savvy to know when it was time to leave town.

TYC desperately needs someone in charge who has modern management skills. They need to have a solid background in juvenile treatment and rehabilitation. TYC needs more funding from the Texas Legislature to do the needed job correctly. Doing things on the cheap got TYC where it is today! To accomplish the lofty goals the politicians pontificated about during the past session, money needs to be appropriated at a level that will properly capitalize the project, or else failure is doomed to follow.

The track record of contract care speaks for itself. Contract care has never been a good answer to problems Texas Government should step up and handle itself. How could anyone think an at profit company paying minimum wages and no benefits could attract better staff that would be capable of doing a better job?

I see the solution to the current TYC problem as being much easier that it may appear. You need only start with a good foundation. If you build on shifting sand you can only expect a collapse. The right foundation is good solid people with the right skills running and working at TYC. Get rid of the politically appointed administration and replace them with professionals in the proper fields. You don’t hire a truck driver to fly an airplane unless you want it to crash!

- Anthony Mikulastik


Anonymous said...

Does this mean the entire Senate should resign because of the actions of Senator Craig?

Anonymous said...

No disrespect to Mr. Mikulastic but he has a very limited and myopic view of TYC (often sees things as black and white or his way or the wrong way which is why many TYC officials to their chagrin tuned him out.) I commend his efforts to bring the WTSS allegations to light but Mr. Mikulastic was at best a mediocre caseworker who often had a weak rapport with his students and a tenuous relationship with his fellow staff.

So called "peer pressure" works well when it was facilitated in an appropriate manner, i.e behavior group, huddle ups etc.., Not administered by "unofficial building tenders;” this is neglect at best and to characterize that students “regularly” assaulted out of behavioral problems insulting to many of the fine staff and csws who worked at Marlin.

There were dorms with excellent staff and csws that were able to maintain low levels of security referrals, through mentoring and modeling appropriate and expected behavior. This often required hard work and cooperation on the part of the staff and the csws who worked hard to ensure students maintain appropriate levels of behavior, regardless of their backgrounds. Dorms consequences should only be administered when “students as a whole” fail to confront appropriately students on the dorm who are acting out. While building and maintaining an appropriate and positive dorm culture was at times difficult due to the revolving door at Marlin it was possible and was accomplished.

Marlin’s problems were not due to resocialization or its program but with poor implementation of that program, lowering staff ratios, loss of experienced staff, changes in admin, and the constant flip/flopping of policies and interpretation by Central Office.

Unfortunately, Mr. Mikulastic often had a habit of over-generalizing, finding excuses and complaining rather than proposing viable solutions, much as this article illustrates.

Anonymous said...

One problem Miklastik (and others have) is an assumption that TYC facilities are clones of each other. Having worked at MOAU and at another facility, the differences can be extraordidnary. Kids coming into TYC at MOAU are, as M describes, more likely to use peer pressure as a power trip. When they get out to a regular facility, assuming it is being run correctly (rash assumption, I know), they may come in contact with prosocial peers actually working to get out. The idea of group consequences stems from real life: of younger brother plays with matches & your cd's getting lost when the fire consumes the house; when 4 or 5 kids steal 30 cars over a year for joy rides, then burn them to avoid leaving any evidence & comprehensive car insurance goes up for that region. Again, if done properly, more advanced students "check" or confront their peers for the negative behavior, just like you hope they would their younger brother and the matches. The group consequences should only occur if the group fails to confront or bring out the negative behavior (i.e. showing Phase 3 leadership skills). When it is being done right (apparently a rare occurance across the system), staff is aware and knows their students, knows the leaders, knows the power seekers etc. and work as a team with each other, supervisors and the original concept of Primary Service Worker who was tasked with knowing everything about the student. When it was done right, it worked remarkably well, with Giddings Capital and Sex Offender programs being prime examples backed up by very low recidivism rates. When we can't recruit quantities of good staff, current staff gets exhausted, lazy or discouraged and leadership does not exist, such programs quickly deteriorate even in the locations that were having good success. Add to it no treatment program, consequences for even making reference to Resocial*******, and spraying kids for non-compliance (speaking of group consequences in the dorm), all that was not working at MOAU transfers to the field, with none of what was just starting to work right, such as at least minimal compliance with rules and the beginnings of life stories.
With TDCJjr in charge, M appears to be right about the direction we will go unless somebody, DoJ for example, gets involved quickly. By the way, it might be interesting to see which facilities Madden, Hinojosa, Whitmire et al had been to... come to think of it, which ones have TDCJjr, D'Pope, Owens, Humphrey et al have been to... before deciding what needed to be changed system wide.

Anonymous said...

1:00 says : ah 12:33, great minds etc.

Anonymous said...

What AM fails to realize is that we couldn't leave one staff back with the trouble maker while the rest of the group moved on to recreation, school, etc. In the best of all world, it'd be nice if we could just keep that trouble maker back and ignore his attention seeking behavior while the rest of the group moved on, but we're not, and won't be, staffed that way anytime soon. And I agree with the previous posters, it is a phase 3-4 kids responsibility to check that behavior. It's part of developing that leadership within. It's the old PPC model (positive peer culture).

Anonymous said...

Two comments get my agreement:

Current management practices are very old fashioned and make the situation worse.

These problems cannot be fixed "on the cheap".

So, now what!!!!

Anonymous said...


In the 1960s, TYC developed its own version of the "building tenders." They were called "office boys" and they functioned almost exactly the same way, as deputies to the adult staff. My sense is that it built on the use of boy inmates as "company cadets" when Gatesville operated according to a military drill system in the 1910s and 20s.

By the 1960s, both TDC and TYC used deputized inmates in what was called the "control system", which was pioneered by none other than TDC's own "Walking George" Beto.

The system maintained a certain kind of order but nurtured many abuses, which came out in court in the 1970s in Morales (TYC) and the much better known Ruiz v Estelle case (TDC)... both presided over by Judge Justice.

"Office boys" cornered Morales attorney Steve Bercu in a Mountain View bathroom one day. They also administered beatings and intimidated inmates from speaking out.

Having said all that, I'm not sure the peer pressure mechanism you describe here is a precise analogue to these earlier systems. It may be similar but seems to have potentially positive uses. Wasn't this profiled in John Hubner's book "Last Chance in Texas," about the Giddings violent offender rehab program?

It's entirely possible that a new version of the "office boy" system could develop due to high inmate-staff ratios. This was one reason for it in the 1960s, when overcrowding was a major problem.

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

There ain’t no (double negative) "office boy" practice in TYC that I am aware of occurring now.

That falls in line with that old saying "Safety is everyone’s responsibility," which basically meant, youth restraining other youth. Not acceptable. Never will be...

I'd love to know where that's happening if it is...

Anonymous said...

Bill Bush is incorrect when he writes that the TDC building tender program was pioneered by Dr. George J. Beto. Dr. Beto inherited this practice and continued to use it during the ten years he served as Director. As Dr. John J. DiIulio, Jr., points out in Governing Prisons, Dr. Beto maintained strict control over the building tender program and, as a result, limited abuses. Unfortunately, his successor, Jim Estelle, was unable to maintain control over the program and this led to abuses. Assuming a similar program is being developed in the Texas Youth Commission, and I hope that is not the case, it will prove to be a disaster, because the agency does not have personnel in leadership positions that can successfully manage such a scheme.

Anonymous said...

12:33, you say that AM was a "mediocre caseworker" and discredit him because of his people skills.

Even if he was the sorriest TYC caseworker in the world, does that make his comments any less true?

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, AM is incorrect about the use of consequences for an entire group of kids for the wrongdoing of one or two. This was never something that came out of CO. As a CO administrator, this was one issue that we tried to address repeatedly. Several facilities were cited when this practice was discovered. The agency did use Huddle-ups and Behavior groups to try and influence the behavior of wrong-doers but to impose a consequence to everyone on a dorm was NEVER in the program. Please look at the written program, the training curriculm and talk with the folks doing the re%$#... training to confirm this.

Much like the game of telephone, instructions and programs frequently changed at individual institutions. It is very difficult to maintain programmatic consistency in a large agency that spans so many miles. This is compounded by the staff shortages and the difficulty in recruiting qualified professional staff.

I agree with other posters that the view from Marlin is very limited and is not representative of the all of the institutions. Marlin's scope was limited to orienting youth to the agency and to completing the assessment, not to fully implementing the programs.

I do not know AM personnally, but his take on this is a good example of the challenges that face the agency in terms of implementation of any policies and programs. There needs to be good training and good ongoing supervision to ensure that things are implemented correctly.

Unknown said...

It would seem that using pressure and encouragement from prosocial peers could be very positive, if it were adequately supervised by trained professionals. Of course, that is a very big "if." Adequate supervision from trained professionals would have prevented a lot of the agency's other problems, too.

The youth we work with have talked a lot about the peer pressure system. One young man reports being "building tender" -- he describes it as "running the dorm" -- who ordered hits on other youth at staff request and participated in the smuggling of contraband into the campus.

Another boy's story would almost be funny if the situation weren't so serious. He is a shy, awkward kid from a pretty sheltered background who keeps to himself as much as possible. He's at the bottom of the pecking order in his unit, and very scared. Staff have attempted repeatedly to mold him into a "building tender" -- possibly because he is a phase 3 with good behavior and/or because he is physically bigger than many of the boys in his dorm. He is really not capable of filling this role. He is afraid that peers will physcially assault him if he corrects their behavior. As a matter of fact, he has been attacked a few times, and reports that nearby staff did not break up the fight until he had sustained serious injuries. He does not fight back because he doesn't want his stay extended. He wants to go home. Still, as noted in his assessment reviews, staff expect him to call "huddle ups" on his peers and write him up if he doesn't do it, which could potentially extend his stay in TYC for months.

Anonymous said...

Critical observer is absolutely correct that I misspoke about Beto's role. I should have used "perfected" instead of "pioneered"... esp since I too was thinking of Dilulio's work when I wrote it.

The problem with such a system, as Dilulio suggested, is that it depends heavily on forceful, hands-on leadership at the top.

My recollection is that Beto garnered his nickname, "Walking George," because of his frequent visits to prison facilities.

Dilulio writes as a critic of the Ruiz case and its consequences. In his book "No Escape" he contrasts prison violence in the 1980s with the control era which he portrays as a kind of "golden age" by comparison.

Honestly, I haven't done enough research into the adult system to really comment further. But I'm not sure such a system, even at its best, is appropriate for juveniles. It was definitely a disaster for TYC in the 1960s and early 70s.

I would think any such program in TYC now would have to be very carefully designed and monitored.

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

I am always amazed at the people that have not worked in the adult prison system defining the building tender system.

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

The first item on the agenda should be to hire sufficient, QUALIFIED staff. Good luck. TDCJ has not come close to hiring/making a dent in the 3000 or more Correctional Officer shortage.

I understand the JCO's are not a part of the Peace Officer/Correctional Officer Supplemental Retirement System. I wish I had a suggestion on reducing the shortage.

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

I can’t believe those people in CO didn’t know nothing of the use of Dorm Restrictions to generate peer pressure in TYC. The dorm 6 had to fill out paper work and get it approved by the Supt. and the PA. I saw our 6 get the paper work off the TYC computer in Austin so CO knew all about it. There were written rules on how long the kids could be held on Dorm Restriction and how it could be extended. TYC kids could be on Dorm Restriction for 3 days. They went to special recreation where they got the exercise treatment. They would come back to the dorm all dirt and muddy so you could tell they had been worked real hard. The school teachers were made to come to the dorm so we got the school money for the kids. We got in big trouble if the school money got messed up. The dorm psychologist was supposed to be on the dorm during Dorm Restriction but I hardly ever saw one cause they were to busy. Another restriction the kids were put on was toilet paper restriction. This was supposed to make the kids behave if they didn’t get enough paper wipe themselves. Some of the kids started to stink. Finally some of the bigger kids would get the bad kids in line so they could get off restriction. Mr. M is telling the truth! He didn’t have any people skills when it came to putting up with BS and it made a bunch of people mad at him. He did all he could to see the little boys were not put on dorm restriction and he didn’t go for the toilet paper restriction. He said the little boys were to limited to get any thing good from being put on any restriction. He told me one time the little boys have been abuse enough and I am not going to add to it. All you who talk bad about Mr. M are just trying to cover you own self cause you didn’t do nothing to bring out the bad things happening.

Anonymous said...

Anon@ 9:22 a.m. I took offense to your comment about facility locations being one of the causes of the programmatic inconsistencies in TYC from one location to another. The locations are not the reason for staff shortages or the lack of finding qualified personnel for the jobs. It is the pay and the nature of the beast itself; not everyone is cut out to work with juveniles or youth! The programmatic inconsistencies existed because the superintendents were allowed to do as they pleased at each location.

You stated you were an administrator in CO; I will refer to you as such. If you as the CO, had been monitoring all facilities on a regular and consistent basis, the agency would not be in the critical “crisis” we now face. If you had made unannounced visits on a regular basis, sought the input of the rank & file (and believed them) you could have nipped it in the bud and we would have survived without the scandals and threats of facility closures. Instead you chose to believe the facility superintendents who told you what they wanted you wanted to hear!! I won’t lump them all into the same category but the corrupt ones out numbered the good ones. Those that came to work and actually cared about the facility, the youth and the employees were odd men/women out.

Instead of CO of ensuring facility administrators were doing their jobs, enforcing policy, procedures, laws and ensuring youth were being taken care of; you planned romper room activities for them. You had “Superintendent Meetings” in various places where they romped and played for days at a time and accomplished nothing at the expense of tax dollars. You commanded their appearance so you did not have to visit these gosh awful locations and meet the hired help. The ones you assume can’t read, write or venture an independent thought. We have better work ethics and honesty than you will ever have in your lifetime.

Let me commend you CO for hiring them big highly qualified city college grads! Like the 2 sexual predators, one of which you promoted to acting superintendent while under investigation, so the rumor goes, and the superintendent that washed his hands of what went on. The one that you promoted to director of juvenile corrections! I’m sure he serves as an excellent role model for you city folks. The gov’s cuz (rumor has it) was already there. Ready to help cover up things real good for ‘em! Gosh darn, them big cities have lots of people that are experienced at hiding/covering up secrets, is that what you all call team playing, out here we call it gang banging. The cuz though, eventually, got caught and got canned. I could mention others but these seem to be the ones that made us all proud and what we are today, a model for all juvenile correction agencies. I will take the location I’m at any day. The folks here are ignorant, unqualified and stupid enough to instill values in their families like good work ethics, responsibility, dependability, honesty, integrity and the fear of God, the kind of folks you are blaming for your sins!
Excuse if I misunderstood what you meant and could you be so kind as to put out some kind of policy manual so I won’t make the same mistake again? I appreciate you,

"Anon Cause I Wanna Keep My Job"
or Goober.

Anonymous said...

Toilet Paper Restriction!!! This method of behavior modification stinks! This is just over the top. What dumb a** came up with this idea? Having children with sociopathic tendencies enforcing rules doesn’t sound like a good idea either. Peer pressure can work in some situations, but in a correctional setting, I doubt it. The “punish all of them and let Peer Pressure bring the misbehavers in line” is TYC staff forcing TYC youth to do their job. The staff shortages at TYC no doubt contributed to the use of TYC children to act as staff for the purpose of enforcing rules. There is no way for TYC leaders to spin this to make it look better. The denial of basic toiletry supplies is no less than child abuse in my opinion and when done by a state agency it is absolutely criminal. Saying we didn’t know tells the public you were not doing your job CO. Looks like there were many CO administrators busy doing something else when they should have been doing their administrative duties.

Anonymous said...

Trying to use any kind of positive peer pressure at the orientation facility would be, by definition, counterproductive at best, and abusive at worst. It only works with very close supervision and where there is an actual positive atmosphere. I have seen it work in TYC, but TYC dropped PPC precisely because it was prone to abuse. Old Salty

Anonymous said...

Old Salty

Dropping PPC in my humble opinion was one of the reasons why resocialization was not as successful as it could have been (another is that the workbooks truly pieces of crap!.) Many new staff (during the years of TYC expansion) did not understand that establishing a safe peer culture was tantamount to providing effective treatment. Too many staff would get into power struggles with the youth instead of facilitating constructive group confrontation and communication. (Me Staff...You must listen! control is an illusion!)

I also was disappointed that SJS fell out of favor because I truly believe that when taught and used properly it was a good concrete way of teaching staff how to approach and work with different types of youth in TYC. It was a poor assessment device as a whole but it was good instructional tool.

Also, to those concerned about "toilet paper restriction" this is not and never was a condoned form of punishment and it was considered abusive. Staff have sometimes limited the amount of toilet paper to reasonable amounts (borderline practice at best) because some students could use a whole role in a "sitting" or students would purposely stuff too much toilet paper down the toilet and cause a back flow! Occasionally, staff would take upon themselves to ration toilet paper.

Example, as an administrator on duty I came to a dorm where staff were refusing to give a student toilet paper because he got up out of bed without permission and used the toilet (dorm had early bed time due to behavior problems). I instructed the staff that while I understood their frustration with the student that refusing to give the student toilet paper was not only hygenically unacceptable it was a violation of the students rights. Better option would be to provide a huddle up (due process) and possible consequence or because it was after hours refer him to security for counseling(due process), after he had cleaned himself up.

Staff were frustrated and got involved in a powerstruggle. Student 1 Staff O. They were well meaning and did learn from the incident.

Control is an illusion!

Anonymous said...

Let us not forget to care and pray for the kids in TYC's custody tonight. Let's be gentle and humble and walk softly. To be continued...

Anonymous said...

“Also, to those concerned about "toilet paper restriction" this is not and never was a condoned form of punishment and it was considered abusive.” 15 squares of toilet when the dorm was miss behaving not because they stopped up the plumbing. It seems all of the old TYC administrators didn’t know what was going on the way they tell the story. It was always the dorm staff where were doing wrong! The TYC administration always blames the staff when something comes out. I guess we will need a couple hundred hours of training after a few more staff gets fired for following orders from above. I am tired of the leadership at TYC screwing up and blaming the staff and saying they didn’t know what we were doing and the staff is bunch dumb asses that need more training.

Anonymous said...

7:48 am

Sounds like you have a lot of unresolved anger to work out.

I have yet to work with any administration that condoned toilet paper restriction. I have seen administrators ask midlevel managemnet PA's and VI's monitor toilet paper for the resons I cited.

Often due to trickle down effect or in some case poor judgment this would get misinterpeted.

And I can only speak of my experience at 4 plus units as a YAS/JCO, CSW, and PA.

TYC has always suffered from poor and inaccurate communication.

Anonymous said...

7:48 am

Sounds like you have a lot of unresolved anger to work out.

I have yet to work with any administration that condoned toilet paper restriction. I have seen administrators ask midlevel managemnet PA's and VI's monitor toilet paper for the resons I cited.

Often due to trickle down effect or in some case poor judgment this would get misinterpeted.

And I can only speak of my experience at 4 plus units as a YAS/JCO, CSW, and PA.

TYC has always suffered from poor and inaccurate communication.

Anonymous said...

Control is an illusion????
If you believe that I can understand why TYC is in trouble; the staff does not believe they are in control. You cannot operate a custodial facility without control!

Anonymous said...

Yes control is an lillusion. No one has control over my actions except me. Even if you put a gun to my head I have a choice.

Same goes for students. Students choose to behave or they don't. Hopefully, it is in their best interests to choose to do so. Staff who get into a power struggle with a youth has already lost control. It is more about motivation and providing an environment where youth feel safe to change.

Control is an illusion, after all most youth greatly outnumber staff on campuses.

Anonymous said...

This is a very accurate presentation of the way things were at TYC for along time.

Don Brantley a long term employee of TYC, and a highly trained treatment Specialist, was also fired in this purge. When he ran Corsicana it was not a "youth prison", it was a treatment facility for youth with problems and the problematic behaviors were targeted, not the group dynamic.

Dr. Brantley would have been in a good place to move up into higher echelons of TYC had he not been responsible for promoting Lemuel "Chip" Harrison into a position of higher authority.

I have never met mr. Mikulastik, but I have met some of the people who were dragged down with Chip Harrison, and some of those people were good people whose only sin was to not fire Chip sooner. Actually after a couple of meetings with Mr. Harrison, 03 - 12:33's observations about Mr. Mikulastic do not surprise me. People always hire subordinates who are smarter than they are, but not too much, because they might outshine the boss.

There are many highly qualified experts in the field, both at TYC and at sister agencies in other states who could make a major difference, if given a chance. Since Gov. Goodhair and the Lege have no intention of improving things, they brought in pseudocompetents from TDCJ to totally muck things up.

Anonymous said...

To: 10:24 and Old Salty; I think you both have noted the problem and solutions; PPC is not likely to work in an orientation/assessment facility primarily due to the absence of positive peers (not to mention the absence of positive relationships with staff); if nutured by staff, it works can work well in the regular facilities, especially as a strong part of R********** or similar program. Consider, as a teenager or adult, when did you last ask your mommy what was cool to wear, music to listen to, what book to read or who to date?


I totally agree with Mr. Mikulastik. Using peer pressure to correct problem behavior only creates a hostile environment. It not only generates hatred, it sparks violence and breeds negativity. Just ask the phase 3 & 4 youth how they like the idea of will NOT get a positive answer from them. Why? Because NO ONE likes a snitch-- especially one whose freedom depends on continually having to do it. What does it REALLY teach them, and how could it possibly have anything to do with a positive outcome?

IMO, phase 3 and 4's should be contained in a totally different environment; one that allows them to thrive by being recognized for good behavior, not one that expects them to turn into a snitch when they reach a higher phase! Lower phase youth should be required to view the positive, high phase atmostphere from a close distance...this might give them a reason to improve their own behavior. Perhaps if they witness how good behavior is rewarded, and how polite, respectful people are treated, they'll want to follow suit. Instead, we have high phase youth who are constantly reprimanded for not correcting their peers and they LOATHE doing it...JUST ASK THEM!!!!

Why not at least TRY separating the good from the bad, and increase JCO staff to student ratios where they are truly needed...with the kids who need the most correcting.
Doesn't it make sense to reward a positive with a positive instead of a negative? It does to me. Surely TYC youth would have a much better chance of getting some real help in life if we stopped blaming them for the bad behavior of their peers.

KUDOS to you Mr. Mikulastik!!!!

Anonymous said...

3:52 p.m. I find it amazing that this Harrison person was allowed to cause so much damage in TYC. I am not a TYC employee but it seems like his name has been mentioned in several other topics on this blog. Why was he promoted by Mr. Brantley to a higher position? Most jobs I have had promote on the basis of qualifications, job performance reviews and ability to lead. Does not TYC not have any of these tools available? Just a curious george!! Maybe this why they are in such a bad light. It sounds like he was promoted based on someone's personal criteria for promotion. Just a curious george..not meaning any harm.

Anonymous said...

Old Faithful,

You give the same old rhetoric that I would hear from staff.

"Using peer pressure to correct problem behavior only creates a hostile environment. It not only generates hatred, it sparks violence and breeds negativity."


Positive Peer Culture does work and can work very well. I have seen it and accomplished it.

Two things:

First, teens, all teens, listen more to each other than those is positions of authority. Positive peer culture uses and shapes this concept to encourage youth to communicate/and some times confront with each other through use of group and huddle ups. One potential problem is that most staff lose sight of the "positive" aspect and many of these groups only focus on "negative." Who wants to hear negative all the time and who wouldn't tune that out! Staff need to take the lead (instead of always being the heavy and negative, setting a bad tone)and encourage the positive as well and confront the negative (my formula was find 4 positives to every negative).

Two: Positive Peer Culture removes the staff from being the heavy and puts the responsibility on the whole group (FYI, Dorm Restrictions were a retraining for staff not for students). We see it every day, kids are conforming to the culture on their dorm, only in a negative fashion. However, instead of conforming to positive values they conform to negative values and choices often because they don't feel safe to change and revert to survival behavior.

Staff continually play the "system" or "authority" role which inherently puts any teen at odds with an adult. Instead, Positive Peer Culture uses the students (even ones faking it to make it) to confront, affirm, encourage, and conform positive behavior out of the youth. Teens to tend to conform to their peers, positive peer culture uses this phenomenon to shape the dorm culture as directed by staff. Staff always set the tone, whether they realize or not.

Many staff don't believe the system can work so they don't try. Often they are very jaded or burnt out. They are often a reflection of their supervisors who can only micromanage and speak negatively about staff. Shit rolls down hill! A positive (not polyanna) and honest management could and would go a long way in TYC.

I will concede one point though. Once a culture is lost it is very difficult to regain control. It can be done, I have been "involuntarily " moved to other dorms in order to do so, but it takes the coordinated efforts of all the dorm staff involved and 3-4 times the level of work it would have taken if it was done right in the first place.

Positive Peer Culture does work when done correctly and but all staff have to buy into and sell the program. A dorm is only as strong as the weakest staff member! Unfortunately, the past and current administration has or had run off all the "true believers" who knew how to facilitate such a program.

My two cents.


10:15...So, how long have YOU been with the agency? It sounds like you have the answers, and I am sure you've witnessed many intances of success with the current system; however, the real "BULLSH*T", as you like to call it, is finding consistent, positive staff to call the shots. This is not going to happen because people are just different. We are never going to pour them out of a generalized TYC mold, so to speak.

The truth is, kids who refuse to behave do NEED a stricter environment than the ones who are behaving well and trying to work the program. PERIOD.

As for your statement about kids listening to their peers more than anyone else...FINE put a couple of strong youth leaders on the low phase dorm who are willing to take on the responsibility of helping direct their peers. There are many youth who could benefit a great deal from a leadership role at TYC. Put your 1 to 6 ratio on a negative dorm, add a couple of youth leaders and a larger number of caseworkers and psychologists...who knows what COULD happen?

The fact that you keep hearing the "same old rhetoric" from other staff could be a strong indicator that it could work. How will we know if we never try it? In my ten years with TYC, I've never seen a single attempt to separate compliant youth from non-compliant youth in this manner. Maybe you have, and if so, I'd really like to hear about it and why it did not work.

Anonymous said...

What I found objectional was your implication that use of peer pressure creates a hostile environment. My experience has been that staff who make such statements create more problems than they resolve. Why work for an agency if you don't believe in it's programs.

I started with the agency when JCO's were still Youth Activity Supervisors and title more representitive of the actual job description. Corrections Officer seems to imply something more punitive. The change in title was an attempt to get staff pay more on par with Adult Corrections not a change in duties.

Back to your suggestion. In fact, I have often desired a way to reinforce positive peer pressure by culling out the repeat troublemakers... for positive peers sake and to encourage the treatment process.

The problem is how you go about doing this, establishing criteria that prevents abitrary removal of students. How do you deal with special need students.

It would be great to take chronic problem makers and place them in an AMP unit like setting especially if it would benefit those willing to work the program. However, the presumption is that they are "youth" and such isolation can be a violation of their right to equal treatment.

I am not a lawyer but I do know that such a program would have to have strict procedures and oversight and ensure "due process." I doubt it would ever happen because it might be viewed as creating more problems "legally" than it would solve.

Maybe Howard Hickman would care to comment on the legal feasibility of such a plan.

Yes I have seen problem students moved from dorms. Unfortunately, such attempts have been sneaky ways for superintendents to get rid of their problem kids and dump them on another facility.

Example, Freeman and Crockett in 2002. I was amazed at how many ED students classified with High Level Emotional Disturbed were suddenly determined to be medium and low and no longer suitable for the program and thus transferred to other schools. Many wound up in Mart (via Corsicana) and tore up the culture at the facility. Honestly, I don't think the facility has recovered from it yet. The fact is Freeman was allowed to do so because his buddy Chester Clay wanted him to look good. The campus was out of control and unfortunately ED kids tend not to react well when staff in attempt to control youth use physical abuse to control them (I should also note that Freeman systematically terminated his experienced and older staff and hired young guns or people who would by into his meglomaniac autocratic style. So, he got rid of the trouble making ED kids by shipping them to facilities ill equipped to handle them. But Crockett became "safer" LOL.

I could also tell you about the 10 or so kids dumped on Hamilton (97/98) from Giddings with the promise that if they finished the Heavy Equipment Program. When it didn't happen, those 10 kids became the the leaders of each major gang established at the facility (Aryan Circle, Treces, Black/Gangster Disciples). The systematically tore the campus up.

It is a bad but common practice but I digress.

My point simply is that "positive" peer pressure/culture can and has worked.

My two cents


4:29...I can't argue with experience, but it never hurts to suggest solutions, and that was my only intent.

You obviously go back much further in TYC's history than I do because your comments reflect a rather in depth insight of the agency and how it deals with youth.

I still believe that if something is broken (like say...TYC), you should fix it, and that has not happened yet. I'm beginning to wonder if it CAN be fixed at this point. You were right when you said they have taken away too many people with the experience and knowledge we need. We sure could use their help right now.

God, I love this website. I learn more about TYC here than anywhere else! Thanks for sharing your two cents.

Anonymous said...

What was said about Freeman dumping older, experienced staff and brining in young guns is absolutely correct. However, the "dumping" of ED kids is a bit too simplistic. Basically, there are many more kids with ED needs than there are beds to serve them. The MHTP staffs at Crockett and Corsicana need to evaluate which kids would be best served with the limited resources available. We know that personality disorders are not treatable in MHTP. Therefore, kids whose primary diagnosis is a personality disorder, do more harm to the treatment program, often preventing other youth who desparately need the services from benefitting. Remember also, Freeman did not control the reassignment of youth who were dropped from MHTP. Since Crockett also had 5 General population dorms, kids dropped from MHTP were often just reassigned to General Population at Crockett.

Anonymous said...

I might add that the hardest youth to handle in any situation are those diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Most therapists avoid these like the plague, since there really is no effective therapy for them. Put a Borderline Personality kid on a dorm with Schizophrenic and high Bi-polar kids, and you are going to have tremendous trouble. The treatable kids are not going to get any treatment because the Borderline is going to get all the attention.

Of course Borderlines are so high-maintenance that no one wants them in any program.

Anonymous said...

If you want an example of Borderlines in action, go on over to the McFadden postings and read their work. Old Salty

Anonymous said...

Old Salty,

Now don't forget your histrionic and antisocial personalities. McFadden appears to heve them in spades!

Have to say though, kids under the 18 should not be diagnosed as a rule with personality disorders. Having diagnosed Foster Care girls I have seen too many previous dx of Borderline with girls who were really suffering from prolonged adjustment issues. Once a stable environment was established the borderline traits simple faded away!

Anonymous said...

Sure my statement was too simplistic but it is still a fact that Crockett dumped many of their problem students on other facilities (not an uncommon and poor practice.)

One of the ways this was facilitated was by lowering the need for services of students with emotional disturbance. Someone in authority facilited this for Freeman.

I also strongly question the ethics of the Ph.D.'s and Master Level Psychologists who were signed off on this. Rehab Services at Crockett and Placement Coordination were duplicitious in the action.

In other words, High ED kids who were significant behavioral problems were suddenly re-evaluated and sent elsewhere...

This was done to help Freeman and to get Crockett under control.

Note: Freeman was the one who made very public claim that he could do whathever he wanted because he was tight with Chester Clay. So it is not a stretch to assume that Clay was the one pulling strings!

my two cents

Anonymous said...


Many of the students dumped at other facilities did not have Axis II dx.

I might buy that kids with Anti-social personality d/o might be better off in a regular program but not Borderline.

Corsicana and Crockett staff "were" (note: I smile with tounge planted firmly in cheek while writting this) supposed to be trained to work with problem youth. I would also question any clinician dx any youth with Borderline Personality D/O under the age of 18.

my two cents

Anonymous said...

My 2 cents: To say that Freeman was unethical is an understatement, however, you leveled some pretty strong charges against the mental health professionals at Crockett. If you feel you have a case, file with the State Licencing board. Otherwise, you are sounding more and more like that disfunctional bunch at McFadden.

Anonymous said...

5:57 pm Please do not lump me in with that group.

I not sure the Rehab folks at Crockett were given much of a choice especially given the climate and circumstances at Crockett.

My ire is far more focused at those who protected Freeman than those who suffered under him. I still feel strongly that there were some ethically questionable decisions made but nothing that could not be rationalized.

My belief is overall that most of the Psychologists as a whole are Crockett are solid professionals.
With the exception of one Master Psych. turned PA who was caught on security threatening, slapping and chocking a youth on camera. But then she was part of Freeman's crew.

Also, one thing that sets me apart from the group at McFadden is that the allegations were investigated and they were confirmed. I just became jaded and upset at how the issue was handled afterwards. I also believe what happened at Crockett set the stage for what happened at WTSS. Funny how both Chester Clay and Lydia Banard (took over for Marie Murdock) were at the center of both cover ups!

I will admit to having some strong and passionate feelings about the subject that at times may cloud my judgment...but I do try to stay open minded.

My two cents.

Anonymous said...

2 cents, the woman you are referring to left the psychology department shortly after Freeman arrived. She has been a PA ever since. Please do not lump her with the psychologists who were working very hard to make the MHTP work. When a fractious kid is sent to either Crockett or Corsicana, it is often the result of psychology dept being pressured to give a qualifying diagnosis. I have seen that happen at several schools. There have been a lot of very questionable referrals to both Corsicana and Crockett. The point is that the MHTP cannot be a dumping ground for fractious kids. They have to take and treat the kids who (a) need the treatment and (b) are amenable to treatment. There are not enough specialized treatment beds in the agency to treat all the kids who need it - that includes all the specialized treatment programs. Amenability for treatment is a big factor on whether a kid is accepted into any of the specialized treatment programs.

Freeman was the creation of Chester Clay. Before Chester arrived at Corsicana, Freeman had been stuck in the same job for over 10 years. He was considered a joke by most who knew him back then. Yeah, Chester protected him - especially when he was investigated about a year after he arrived in Crockett. Although many of the allegations against him were confirmed at that time, it was Marie Murdoch who was moved out, not him. Lydia was placed in charge of him because he complained that Marie was prejudiced against him. He later protected the person who slapped the kid. The Clay cabal had a "Team" concept - you play by our rules and we will try to keep you from getting caught. They tried their best to protect Brookings, and almost got away with it.

I say good riddance to Freeman, but please be careful about who you accuse of colluding with him. There were a couple of folks in Rehab Services who were very aware of Freeman, and they took a very close look at just about every recommendation that was made by the clinical staffing teams at Crockett. Additionally, there were some extremely independent-minded contract psychiatrists who had to approve every admission or removal from the MHTP.

Anonymous said...

Back to PPC. PPC, when administered by well-trained and well-supervised staff, within a culture of mutual respect, can, and does work. However, it requires a good deal of staff training and close supervision to prevent abuse. Needless to say, we have not had the luxury of either for a long time. Old Salty

Anonymous said...

I might add that the folks in Rehab services who had oversight of the MHTP programs at Crockett and Corsicana could not stand Don Freeman. They were not about to cowtow to either him or Chester Clay.