Sympathy For The Devil

Mendota: Youth-Treatment of Last Resort

January/February 2013

There wasn’t much to like about Tyler when he was 14. A lean, white kid who looked several years older than his age, he was covered in tattoos, including the letters “T-H-U-G” written across the fingers of his right fist. Having fled the home of an uncle who’d been trying to straighten him out, he was living on his own in a rented apartment in downtown Milwaukee, subsisting on a predawn routine of burglarizing parked cars. He landed in jail after he yanked a purse from a 78-year-old woman, who fell to the sidewalk in the scuffle, breaking her arm and hip. She developed pneumonia in the hospital and died there within the month.

Tyler dodged a murder charge by confessing to strong-arm robbery. He spent a few weeks at the Lincoln Hills School, a fenced-in reformatory for 230 boys, in Irma, Wisconsin, but was transferred out after he fought with other inmates, made threats to kill his uncle, and was caught hiding a list of explosive materials in his cell.

Tyler’s chances that he’d have a normal, peaceful life, lived freely among others, declined further after the results came back from a clinical test meant to determine whether he might be a budding psychopath. Throughout the U.S. prison system, this fearsome label—the word psychopath literally means “diseased mind”—distinguishes the most hard-bitten predators, those least likely to benefit from therapy and most likely to commit new crimes. Canadian psychologist Robert Hare, a prominent authority in…

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Thursday, January 17, 2013 3:03:18 PM | posted by Sidjnsn
Excellent article. I know of a child who is on this path, and getting help for him has been very difficult. It seems that a combination of autism spectrum, ad/hd, and callous-unemotional traits are involved. Low fear of punishment; violent, unempathetic behavior; poor eye contact; and severe emotional dysregulation. Intelligent. No known history of abuse, has siblings without these issues, but one genetic parent with significant criminality. I would be interested in hearing of any resources and successes others have had prior to involvement with the justice system.
This constellation also reminds me of the shooter in Connecticut, The sense that it could have been prevented, but also that there is nothing readily available for treatment.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 5:47:08 AM | posted by boughey
Timely and informative article. Is there a way to identify youth who may commit horrendous acts? Could these acts have been prevented? This article makes the reader think about development and treatment concepts.

Juvenile facilities need to look at non-punitive ways of working with their population.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 5:07:31 PM | posted by Steven
Awesome! Clearly underscores the importance of the theraputic relationship even for offenders' positive change. Thank you!

Sunday, March 10, 2013 12:31:00 AM | posted by Roberta LaMont
I love this story. It's a great reminder that we should never use diagnoses to force people into a box.