Updated: Nov 3
It is my belief that juvenile delinquency is a dynamic form of behavior that is neither irreversible or unresolvable. Just as there are specific, identifiable causes for the evolution of a delinquent response, there are traceable reasons for its devolution. These are the life events that helped turn my delinquent childhood around.
Early identification of my reaction to family problems was the first step toward eventual
resolution. The first-grade teacher who considered me “moody” was the first professional to
officially acknowledge that something was amiss. Upon her advice, I was taken to a child
Early diagnosis resulted from the findings of the child psychologist, who identified the causes
of my problems and made the family and others aware of the reasons for my behavioral
reactions. Though he was not able to change my behavior, nor significantly alter the family
dynamic, he did offer a point of reference that helped others understand what motivated my
behaviors. This information, in turn, provided insights regarding how to approach and treat my
Official intervention was necessitated by my increased deviance. The involvement of the
juvenile court was the first dramatic commitment to correcting the situation. It was well-timed.
Though I rebelled against the intrusion of the court in my life, it is now apparent that without
such help my problems would have continued unchecked.
Removal from the source of difficulties proved to be the ultimate approach to my predicament. The home environment had only served to stimulate my negative behavior. If an appropriate alternative placement had not been found, I suspect that both the family and I would have suffered much greater difficulties. My young life might have gone un-repaired, perhaps forever.
An appropriate placement was found at the Pennsylvania George Junior Republic School for
Boys. For the first time in years my life had structure. I was expected to attend school, taught to
handle responsibility and provided opportunities to experience success commensurate with the
application of newly discovered abilities. I learned that I was capable of exercising some control over my world. In short, I was given a chance to mature emotionally. Had the court not
intervened and secured appropriate placement during this crisis period, the potential for recovery would have been severely diminished.
Length of stay in placement was critical for three reasons. First, because my prolonged absence offered some relief to the adults at home who did not have to deal with my behavior and thereby work on their own problems. Second, because of the continuous exposure to one environment and its treatment philosophy, I was given the necessary time to adopt an alternative approach to life. A shorter placement, rather than having any positive long-range effect, might have only created more confusion and instability. Third, I was able to achieve an educational plateau whereby, upon release, I had only one year left in order to graduate high school. Had the amount of time been longer before I could reach this significant goal, there would have been less chance of my attaining it.
Return to a more stable home environment was of great importance. What had been
accomplished at the Republic could have been erased by re-entry into the same environment that had given rise to my rebellion. Though the family atmosphere was still somewhat unstable, it was less overtly pathological and, as a result, less prone to force me to renew my former defense mechanisms and delinquent behaviors.
Peer group change. Throughout my stay at the Republic, I was advised that should I revert to
my “old ways” after release, I would probably be re-institutionalized. It was further impressed on me that the type of friend I chose would have an important bearing in determining the direction of my future. As a result of befriending kids whose approach to life was more appropriate, I was able to identify, copy and adopt the socially-acceptable behaviors of my new teenage friends.
The supervision and support of many people proved imperative after release, especially during the first year following institutionalization. Most noteworthy of these people were my mother, probation officer and high school principal. Other people, as well, never faltered in their support. The continued belief and interest of so many concerned people provided incentive for me to strive for higher goals.
Graduating high school was my first major accomplishment. Had I been expelled or otherwise thwarted in this endeavor, my chances to overcome immediate and future obstacles would have been greatly restricted. Furthermore, this one major accomplishment became the cornerstone upon which I was eventually able to construct a positive self-image.
Changing place of residence. For five years following release from the Republic, I remained in the home environment in which my problems had originated. Though the anxiety-ridden family atmosphere had been lessened in severity, it still had a profound effect on my behavior and outlook. When I left the family home permanently and established an independent living
situation, I experienced a series of self-discoveries and successes based on increased competence and confidence. There is no question that this was one of the major turning points in my life.
The ability or opportunity to identify and attain long-range goals and establish a reason for an alternative way of life. Until I left home, my life was merely a series of day-to-day actions and reactions. I was without goals, unable to establish either motive or means to fully conform. My only successes were high school graduation and the fact that I had avoided trouble with the law. Yet during this period and throughout my life, a recurring motif was evident – the theme of learning. Ever since elementary school I had been told that I was capable of learning anything if I just put my mind to it. As I matured, I discovered both the urge and the capacity to learn. Once begun, the learning process became the all-consuming goal. Conquests and growing confidence and competence followed in other areas of endeavor. I had found a long-range acceptable goal that gave new meaning to my life. Maybe I really wasn’t so dumb?
Just as it had taken years of continual exposure to “unhealthy” circumstances for my delinquent
reaction to evolve, it also took an equivalent amount of time to devolve. There was no singular
event, no quick cure, no panacea that magically altered my behavior and changed my life, only a series of life events that contributed, each in their own way, to help turn my delinquent childhood around.*
*Adapted from our book: The Other Side of Delinquency