Youth prisons shackled by flawed system

Published 11:06 am Tuesday, July 13, 2010

He was on my unit, Armstrong, in 2008, and there was absolutely no doubt that he was not being rehabilitated.

But I couldn’t do anything about it. My hands were cuffed, not his.

Back then, Randie J. Winston was an 18-year old thug with grandiose thoughts of being a gang leader and rapper. He once boldly told me he made more money in a day on the streets than I made in a year. He was proud of his rebellion and sure of his “leadership” skills.

The first time I addressed him for negative behavior; he slumped his shoulders and snarled, “Do you know who I am?”

I didn’t know who he was, but I soon found out.

As a new Juvenile Corrections Officer, I was trained, at least by the ODYS version of the term, to deal with rebellious youth. As a recent graduate of a master’s program in counseling, I was also trained to listen and empathize with others in an attempt to help them solve their own problems.

But Randie Winston had no problems other than people not allowing him to have his way.

And the ODYS system allowed him to have his way.

Winston was versed in the gang culture at the Ohio Department of Youth Services’ Ohio River Valley complex in Franklin Furnace. He possessed a personal sense of entitlement because he was a “high ranking” member of the Heartless Felons, one of the gangs within the facility that create havoc on a daily basis.

Since I worked the evening shift, I saw a side of this “kid” that the unit supervisor never saw.

When I confronted Winston with his behavior, he laughed haughtily. The laugh said, “You can’t touch me.”

The next day, when my written reprimands for him were summarily discarded by the unit supervisor, I began to understand how ODYS worked. Winston was right.

The youth rule this place.

I left ODYS shortly afterward, but I frequently logged on to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections website, www.drc.ohio.gov/OffenderSearch, to find Randie J. Winston.

I was absolutely certain he would end up in prison.

He isn’t there yet, but he might be soon. In September, 2009, shortly after ODYS deemed him “rehabilitated,” Winston was indicted for killing a mailman in a suburb of Cleveland.

It was a Thursday morning and this mail carrier, Daniel Kondas, who had worked at the post office for 23 years, had just begun his route.

Winston allegedly crept up behind him and put bullets in the back of his head.

Now, the career postal employee is dead, leaving a family and a community wondering why.

I know why.

Our juvenile corrections system, which is manipulated by lawsuits and children’s activist groups who live in Wonderland, is not a “corrections” system at all.

We are way too easy on child felons simply because they are classified as children. Press reports of instances at juvenile prisons almost always focus on staff indiscretions instead of the real problem, which is a grossly inept system.

We do not rehabilitate criminals in our current system.

The Ohio Department of Youth Services needs to begin anew. Get rid of the old guard, entirely, and start all over again with a leader who will listen, and is willing to be challenged by, forward thinkers who are more than mere “Yes” men.

Insanity is defined as doing the same things repeatedly and expecting different results.

Are we insane?

Billy Bruce is a freelance writer who lives in Pedro. He can be contacted at hollandkat3@aol.com.