Shirley Wilder still carries scars from her first weeks at the New York State Training School for Girls in Hudson, where she was sent soon after her 13th birthday. This vintage postcard shows young women participating in a fire drill at the New York State Training School for Girls in Hudson. “There were girls there 15, 16 – oh, man, the way they treated me!” she remembers 21 years later. “Seven of them held me down. They took broken glass and cut my arm because I wouldn’t go to bed with one of them. But the staff put me in the hole because I started fighting. “The dark room – no windows, no screens, sleep on the cold floor,” she goes on, her hands sketching a box-like cell. “The counselors would hit you like you were a man. There was the Behavior Modification Unit. We had to mop the corridors and the bathroom on hands and knees with a rag. We was nobodies.” One of the cottages today, in what is now a men’s prison.
Memphis, Tennessee – Bronze dogs guard the neo-classical facade of the Shelby County Juvenile Court. Mahogany desks and softly-lit oil paintings grace the administration offices. It is immaculate, from the gleam of the main lobby floor to the glare off the bullet-proof glass that seals the detention section. Judge Kenneth Turner wouldn’t have it any other way, explains Charles Gray, chief probation officer, as he leads a tour of the empire Turner has ruled for 30 years in a place where the power politics of child welfare are stark enough to illuminate blind spots in a national debate about reform. Judge Kenneth Turner has ruled the Shelby County (TN) Juvenile Court for 30 years. Photo by The Memphis Commercial Appeal Behind the locked door of a shelter unit in the detention wing, the tour stumbles on a child. He is a small black boy in drab detention clothes with a look of desolation beyond grief. Asked his age, he holds up eight fingers. Asked his name, he whispers so softly Gray has to bend double