Longform

Out of Mind, Out of Sight

Page 5 of 8

Bailey says he's given the same pitch hundreds of times, but Moore is the first person to take action. She found an empty wing in the 250-bed psychiatric hospital, and within two years of her first tour Commissioners Court approved a $1.9 million contract with the psychiatric center. Since May, the juvenile offenders' wing has been full; 75 teens have received services. The average stay is 28 days, and the goal is to send kids straight home (if the court allows).

According to the National Mental Health Association, treatment programs reduce recidivism by 75 percent. Harris County Psychiatric Center plans to track teens for five years, hoping to see similar success rates. "If you believe that adolescents and teen-agers are still developing and not at a fixed point, then in theory this is the prime time to intervene," says Dr. Andrew Harper, director of child and adolescent services.

Along with music and recreation therapy, kids learn coping skills and anger management. Therapists try to teach offenders not to blame their actions entirely on their illnesses and to learn to make better choices.

"We try to expand the kids' ability to solve problems," Harper says. "No psychiatrist, no medicine is going to make you make the right decisions. We don't have the magic pill."

The ward is painted in bright blues and greens; inspirational, never-give-up quotations paper alternate walls. Kids wear their own clothes to maintain a sense of individuality and identity, says Linda Green, the nurse manager over child and adolescent services, and they can bring their own bed linen. Sleek, sculpted chairs and IKEA-type tables sit in the front room next to long black couches and a big-screen TV. The gold-colored game room has nonviolent video games, foosball, pingpong and an air hockey table.

"We didn't want to be the juvenile detention center south," Harper says.


"Derrick's" mother was addicted to crack before he was born. His father was in prison, and his mother was in and out of jail for possession, so Derrick spent his childhood being bounced around San Antonio projects. The 18-year-old says he has been arrested seven or eight times, started drinking when he was 6 and soon moved on to smoking weed dipped in embalming fluid and recreationally using Xanax and codeine.

"My aunt's boyfriend used to chill in the block and sling dope, and I used to chill with them," he says. He was 14 when he asked his "uncle" to teach him the business. "I seen all the jewelry and the cars," he says. "They had big pieces of chain and Rolexes--I wanted all that." His mother had her friends buy from him in exchange for free drugs for herself.

He was a member of 74 Hoover, a branch of the Crips gang, drove a blue 1981 Cutlass and wore three 1-carat diamond studs in each ear. He dropped out of school before he was 16. "I was too busy in the streets," Derrick says.

The first time he was arrested for possession he was sent home two hours later. A week after that he was arrested and again immediately released. The third time, he ran from the police, throwing 2.5 ounces of cocaine into the bushes so he was charged only with evading arrest.

Seeing a psychologist was a condition of his probation, but he never went. "I would just disappear," Derrick says.

After a dirty urine test, he was sent to Crockett and was diagnosed with conduct, mood and polysubstance disorders, depression, physical abuse as a child and bereavement for his recently murdered uncle. Now he's reading the second Harry Potter book, studying for his GED and on phase 3.9 of a four-level resocialization scale. He's thinking about becoming an auto mechanic so he can support his two infant sons.

An hour south of Dallas, Corsicana looks like a rundown outlet mall; nearly every store boasts factory warehouse prices. On the edge of town, across from the mall--Wal-Mart, JCPenney and a corn dog store--is the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center. Surrounded by a 15-foot candy cane fence, this is where TYC sends the state's sickest kids.

In 1887 locals donated 200 acres to create an orphanage. TYC bought the home in 1957, sent the orphans to public schools and started bringing in mentally ill offenders.

Corsicana is supposed to house 109 juvenile delinquents. On an early-October afternoon it has 121: 66 males and 55 females. And, like always, a waiting list. Bulldozers are ripping up the roads, and the air is filled with dust. TYC is renovating the cottages, tearing up worn carpet and laying fresh tile. Construction workers are building a new school and converting two buildings into dormitories to house 48 more students by next fall.

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Wendy Grossman