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July 18, 2006 - New American Media (US)

Why I Wrote: I Cried, You Didn't Listen

Commentary by Dwight E. Abbott (Editor's Note: Dwight Abbott, currently locked up in Salinas Valley State Prison, wrote the book, "I Cried, You Didn't Listen," first published in 1991 and now reprinted by AK Press, to expose the widespread abuse of incarcerated children.)

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SOLEDAD, Calif. -- What began as a distraction, something I hoped would help me to retain my sanity as I sat inside a dark and fixtureless solitary confinement cell for five years, became a "diary," if you will, that would later evolve into the book "I Cried, You Didn't Listen."

Though I realized I would likely be made to answer to my peers for exposing the dirty little secrets we keep hidden through our lives, I knew I had to give this story to all who might now be willing to read it. When faced with the choices between peer retribution or the chance to expose -- and hopefully end -- the widespread abuse of incarcerated children, it was not difficult to choose. I had no idea that my exposé would nearly get me killed -- not by fellow convicts, but prison guards!

Beginning in 1961, through the 46 years I have been incarcerated within the California state prison system, nearly every prisoner I have ever become acquainted with was first incarcerated while a minor child in the California Youth Authority (CYA) -- a powerfully dismal fact when you consider how the failed and dysfunctional youth penal system prepares children for the even more dysfunctional and failed adult prison system.

The thousands with me here who were state-raised inside the CYA (newly called the Division of Juvenile Justice within the newly named Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation), are testament to the profound degree of that failure.

They represent the consequences of the unchecked, progressively brutal administration of the state's juvenile institutions in place of the nourishing care and treatment that are the necessary prerequisites for "rehabilitation" to take place.

Because our political "leaders" are in bed with the powerful guards' union (CCPOA) -- which hands out millions of dollars in campaign contributions to those who will do their bidding -- our incarcerated children continue to be beaten, sexually abused and confined in environments that are too often more psychologically destructive even than what adult prisoners must endure.

Newsworthy events these past several years confirm these conditions: Several children have committed suicide while being "cared for" inside solitary confinement cells; youth have been set up by staff to engage in "gladiator battles" for the amusement of staff; young boys have been videotaped being beaten by staff while face down on the floor and handcuffed behind their backs; sexual and physical abuse by staff on wards (not to mention by wards on wards) continue to occur.

And while we hear endless promises of reform, experience tells us that these promises will not be kept as corrections officials strike a pose for the cameras, then duck for cover and wait out the storm they know will pass.

As someone who has spent the better part of his adult life locked up, I can understand how difficult it is for the public to be sympathetic to our plight. But what I fail to understand is how a society that considers itself humane and decent can give up on its children.

In the festering conditions that we have allowed in these institutions, even the meekest of the meek, feeling left with no other choice, will eventually turn and fight like tigers for the sake of their souls, for in the end, the evil done to them will be the evil they do in turn.

I lived these conditions, and it is the "education" that I received there, which I spelled out in my book, both as a way to expose conditions that our officials will deny exist (and which too many of the public would rather not know about), and as a way to recapture a sense of my own childhood that was stolen from me.

It was from the darkest and deepest hole in our deep and dark prison system that the tears -- and the words -- finally began to flow in a stream of brutal memories that became "I Cried, You Didn't Listen." In turning to face the demons that were engendered in me then, I have written this book in one last desperate hope to bring us to our senses, and allow us to see our children -- all of them -- as our future.

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