SOURCE: Richard Johnson

December 06, 2006 13:53 ET

America's Throw-Away Children

Like Reform Schools of Yesteryear, Today's "Boot Camps" Reflect a Culture Where "Anything Goes" in Dealing With Children Labeled "Incorrigible"

TAMPA, FL -- (MARKET WIRE) -- December 6, 2006 --They make the headlines when something goes terribly wrong: A child dies at the hands of guards administering "tough love." A child collapses from dehydration during an outing of "character building." "For the most part, these are children -- predominantly boys -- who have not been convicted of crimes serious enough to warrant imprisonment," says author Richard B. Johnson, who shares his personal story in the new release "Abominable Firebug: A Memoir." Because no one likes the idea of sending children to prison, there is a level of "treatment" for children that fly in the face of what most people would consider basic human rights. "These are America's throw-away children, consigned by families or courts to facilities that purport to offer alternatives to 'straighten out' children who seem to be in a downward spiral, from first-time offenders to incorrigible truants."

While this new breed of facilities for dealing with troubled children has been making news, the underlying philosophy is an old one. Johnson is one of the few who has come forward to share his story in hopes to shed light on the crisis. Accused of arson as a child and imprisoned without trial at the notorious Roslindale juvenile detention center in Massachusetts, he subsequently spent years at the nation's first reform school, the Lyman School for Boys, in the 1950s. While the institution became infamous for hatching Albert DeSalvo, an adolescent inmate who "graduated" to become the Boston Strangler, Johnson tells unflinchingly of not only the many weaknesses of that institution, but also of the rare opportunities and occasional mentors that allowed him to become, in later life, an accomplished engineer, pilot and inventor.

Throughout the 20th century, there were various vogues for dealing with "incorrigible" children, including forced labor camps and reform schools. Over time, horror stories surfaced that attracted the attention of reformers, creating a public outcry that shut them down. "What has never been resolved, however, are the underlying issues: a willingness to ignore the rights of the children in order to protect society from potential miscreants," says Johnson.

"Abominable Firebug: A Memoir" is available at www.amazon.com, www.borders.com, & www.bn.com. Learn more about Richard Johnson at www.abominablefirebug.com.

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