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Transcript

Episode 08: A Madman’s Vacation

Note: Serial is produced for the ear and designed to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Ira Glass

Previously, on Serial.

Da'von Holmes

I don't care if you was my worst enemy, I'm not telling on you. I don't care what you did.

Calvin Williams

We need people out there in the community that are concerned with black lives, with brown lives, with white lives, with purple lives to step out and do something.

Rj

Shit, I'm trying to—I help Major the best way I can. But—

Anna Faraglia

Helping Major is telling the truth.

Rj

I told you my truth, though.

Jesse Nickerson

Listen, I went through the things that I was going through when I was younger, just because I was young and dumb.

Sarah Koenig

From This American Life and WBEZ Chicago, it's Serial, one courthouse told week by week. I'm Sarah Koenig.

When I began this project, I didn't plan on covering any juvenile cases. Juvenile records aren't public, for one thing. And I figured, eh, we got plenty to look at right here in the adult system.

But after a while, juvenile cases, juvenile crime, became impossible to ignore. The newly elected county prosecutor seemed to be talking about juvenile violence at every opportunity. Young people, fourteen to twenty-one, are crime drivers, he was saying. And the data supported his alarm.

More and more juveniles were being charged with the worst crimes—serious assaults, robberies, rapes, homicides all rising for the past five years. Once these juvenile crimes made their way into the juvenile courts though, and once the juveniles themselves made their way into juvenile prisons, they disappear from view.

Juvenile courtrooms are tightly controlled. The names of juvenile defendants aren't publicized, for good reason. The crimes children commit should not forever mark them. But as a result, I didn't have a picture of what juvenile justice looked like in Cuyahoga County.

I'd hear mutterings at the Justice Center, though, mostly from defense attorneys grousing to each other, "you're not going to believe what just happened in my juvenile client," or to me, "you think this place is bad, you should head over to juvenile." And I'd think, why? What are you talking about?

But then, I met Joshua. He was nineteen at the time, so not a child. He'd tell you he was grown. But he was still in the juvenile system. You can stay there till you're twenty-one. Keep in mind, the juvenile system, its mission is different from that of the adult system.

The point isn't to punish. It's not about retribution. The point is to rehabilitate. In the juvenile system, that's where we're supposed to think like parents, where the standard should be my child. Is this what's best for my child? Would this help my child? So, I'm going to tell you about Joshua.

Joshua sometimes starts off a story with, "OK, so boom." "Boom" is big in Cleveland. It's shorthand for let me try to explain, for real.

Joshua

I'm just going to tell you how I feel, like, all the way, like, boom.

Sarah Koenig

All the tape I have with Joshua is from prison. So the sound is mostly a tinny thread of terrible. I'm sorry about that. The prison system wouldn't allow me to interview Joshua in person.

But I can tell you, as his longtime interlocutor, I like it when Joshua says boom, or better yet, boom, boom. It means I might start to understand something, such as how Joshua came to inhabit his current predicament.

One night, in June of 2014, Joshua, freshly sixteen, had gone to sleep after a night at a bar. Next thing he knew, FBI agents were pulling him from his bed. They took him to an interrogation room in Cleveland Heights. They told him they had him for some robberies.

Joshua

So it was like, boom, boom. So, they ask me, they would tell me like, hey, we got so much video on this. And then—at first, I was just denying everything. And then, like, they'd show me the—like these—like all these pictures.

Sarah Koenig

Instagram, Facebook. Seems fifteen-year-olds are rarely criminal masterminds. There he was posing with all these other kids. The FBI agents were saying, not only do we have video evidence of what you've done, but—thank you social media—we also know who you run with.

The crimes Joshua was charged with were serious—armed robberies, from many months back. Two of them are gas stations. He and a friend held up two BPs in one day. And a third robbery of a Popeyes.

Joshua said he was coerced into that one by an older gang member. They barely got any money. He said they left with this pathetic little plastic bucket that had small bills in it. According to a police report, around 150 bucks, which he handed over to the boss.

But the restaurant had people in it, who'd had to lie down on the ground. That's a multiple kidnapping indictment right there. Joshua had jumped over the counter and pointed a gun at someone, and again, according to the police report, said, you have five seconds to open the safe or I'll shoot him.

Joshua said his gun had no bullets in it and that his co-defendants gun was broken. The firing pin was busted. But the customers and workers at Popeye's that Wednesday morning didn't know that.

The FBI agents were telling Joshua, we've got you on video. So let's run through our choices, shall we? We can hand you over to the adult court system. That's called a bind over. In Ohio, children as young as fourteen can be bound over to adult court for certain crimes.

To Joshua, adult court sounded serious. And it was. In the adult system, Joshua would be facing, eh, between twenty and thirty years in prison. Or the officer said, another option. We can talk. And if we talk, we can keep you in the juvenile system.

We won't bind you over. You'll get out when you're twenty-one, five years from now, with no adult felony record. Want to talk?

Joshua was operating on a couple hours sleep. If he remembers right, he was handcuffed. He said the officers weren't rude or abusive to him. It was cool, he said. They left him alone for a while to think about the deal they were offering.

Sarah Koenig

So did you—at any point, did you say to them, I want to talk to a lawyer, or I need to speak to my mom? Or like, was there any adult or any lawyer involved in any of that?

Joshua

No, I like—I most definitely did—I wanted to talk to my mom, but at that point in time, they didn't. They didn't let me talk to anybody. It was just me up there. Like, there wasn't no—I didn't have nobody right there with me. It was just me and the police.

Sarah Koenig

But did you say, can I have a lawyer, or no?

Joshua

No, I never said that. I never brought up a lawyer. I just brought up my mom.

Sarah Koenig

Right, OK. OK.

Joshua

I did say, like, am I supposed to have adult here with me? Like, [INAUDIBLE] stuff like that.

Sarah Koenig

Say again. Am I supposed to have what? Oh, an adult.

Joshua

An adult. An adult here with me, because I was only sixteen at the time.

Sarah Koenig

When they said, am I supposed to have an adult here with me, what did they say?

Joshua

I don't think, at first, I don't even think they responded to me. They just—I don't think they even responded to me.

Sarah Koenig

And how long did they keep you there?

Joshua

I was there for about probably, like, four or five hours.

Sarah Koenig

With no adult knowing where you were.

Joshua

No.

Sarah Koenig

Really?

Joshua

Really.

Sarah Koenig

Oh my god.

Doesn't this sound illegal? It's not. It's allowed. My children haven't robbed any gas stations, so I feel the apples and oranges here, but I have to sign a permission slip for my teenager to go on a quote, unquote field trip that's a five block walk from her school.

I have to check the box to allow my son's photo from summer camp to be used for promotional purposes. But here was Joshua, sixteen, fogged by exhaustion and the prospect of everlasting incarceration, and no adult to put a hand on his shoulder, to crouch down and whisper in his ear what I believe most of us would have whispered if we'd been in that room, ask for a lawyer. Do it now. Ask for a lawyer.

If Joshua had, the interview would have, should have, stopped. And maybe his story would have, should have, gone another way. As it was, Joshua took the deal, that fast.

It was June of 2014. Two months earlier, his daughter had been born. Those two months with her, he told me, were the happiest of his life. He couldn't handle the idea of being locked up until both he and she were decades older.

And also, Joshua's relationship inside the gang he was in, the Heartless Felons, were complicated. I know it's hard to square, but Joshua says he was an armed robber who wasn't into violence. He said the only benefit of joining the Heartless Felons was the protection they offered from the Heartless Felons, from them.

He said they extorted people into committing crimes, especially the younger kids, like him, who wouldn't do serious time if they got caught. So, yeah, he did stuff with them and for them, but he didn't feel anything for most of them.

The only one he half considered a friend, he told me, even that guy had pulled a gun on him once during an argument. So he took the deal—juvenile life, with a catch, something called a serious youthful offender dispositional sentence. Usually people just call it an SYO.

It works like a suspended adult prison sentence. You, young man, are going to stay in the juvenile system—that's the carrot—but we're hanging a ghostly adult sentence over your head—that's the stick—which we can invoke if you can't keep it together in juvenile prison.

So if you want to stay in juvenile, you have to behave. Joshua believed he could behave. He took the deal. That same day he got arrested, Joshua says he drove around with the cops, showed them places. He identified people in photographs, people associated with the Heartless Felons.

In the coming months, he'd meet with investigators a couple more times. Joshua has terrific recall for all manner of information, and he'd give them dates, addresses, times. He'd tell them details of crimes about which they already knew and about ones they didn't. As a source, he was a champion.

Lisa Rankin

He really—Joshua is extremely unusual.

Sarah Koenig

This is Lisa Rankin. She was Joshua's public defender. She was assigned his case only after Joshua had agreed to cooperate. When I'd called her to ask about Joshua, who'd been her client for only a couple months three years earlier, she remembered him immediately. She's used to clients refusing to cooperate with the police, refusing even to tell her information that might help their defense.

Lisa Rankin

So for him to be so open and volunteering information—and I think that's how this whole thing started is that when he had met with the officers before the arraignment, and before he was represented, he had volunteered information.

And he really helped them on a number of investigations because they didn't have starting points. This is when the Heartless Felons really started coming into play. They were wreaking a lot of havoc in Cuyahoga County, and I believe to this day still are, and so the police were very desperate to get as much information as they can.

And Joshua really connected a lot of dots. And I think he explained it in a way that really was almost like a tutorial. I mean, he could tell you everything. He could explain hierarchy, how things work. There's really no such thing as a gang expert because there aren't people in these gangs studying these gangs. They study them from a sociological standpoint.

And I felt like Josh was probably one of the clearest historians that they've had in a long time. He really put himself out there. And because of Josh, other major crimes were solved. And the hope was that much more dangerous individuals were being taken off the streets because of Josh.

Officer

This gang is affiliated with the Heartless Felons. The gang operated in the Glenville neighborhood between St. Clair, Superior, East 105 street area.

Sarah Koenig

Seven months after Joshua began cooperating, a bunch of important people in Cleveland would hold a press conference. The mayor, the Cleveland police chief, people from ATF, FBI, County Sheriff's Office, county prosecutor. And they said, six months ago, we began an investigation.

They announced a thirteen-person indictment, all members of the Heartless Felons affiliated group called the Cutthroats from Joshua's general neighborhood.

Officer

We looked at these gang members for crimes ranging from felonious assaults, aggravated robberies, kidnappings, various weapons violations. They're also tied to at least one homicide that we know of right now.

Sarah Koenig

There were drug charges, RICO charges, gang charges. More gang-related arrests would follow. The FBI didn't talk to me about Joshua's case or his cooperation, by the way, nor did the Cleveland police.

Almost everyone in the Cutthroat indictment pleaded guilty. But a couple of people went to trial. And again, Joshua kept up his end of the deal. A year had gone by since his arrest. He thought he was all done helping, but then, off they took him to the Justice Center, where he got up in front of his dangerous erstwhile friends and outed himself as an informant.

He knew they'd hate him for it. He knew he could get killed for it, if these guys got the chance. But he also figured everyone on that Cutthroat indictment, all these cases, they were adults. They'd be going into adult prisons. He was staying in juvenile.

He testified at the trial of one guy charged for a drive-by shooting—that guy was acquitted—and also, in a murder trial. For that one, Joshua's only job was to identify the defendant, just to say, yeah, I know him. Joshua had no firsthand information about the crime, but the state put him on the stand anyway.

I asked the prosecutor, Mo Awadallah, why put Joshua up there then? You had other people IDing your guy, including an ATF agent, including the defendant's own mother, who'd said, yeah, that young man sporting the distinctively energetic ponytail in the surveillance tape, that's my son. So why put Joshua up there?

Mo Awadallah

You don't want to leave evidence not used. You have evidence, we're going to use it to ensure that something like this, a homicide where a person's life is taken from them for no reason, and another person is gravely injured, that we don't leave it to chance.

Sarah Koenig

Do you guys ever hesitate to use juveniles because you're just like, eh, let's try to keep them out of this stuff?

Mo Awadallah

Sometimes. Again, depends on the case. Our problem is a lot of our shooters, or people who are killing people, are young. And those are the people they hang out with.

Sarah Koenig

The prosecutor from the other trial, the drive-by shooting, told me, of course, they'd never want their witnesses to get hurt. He also said, quote, "in terms of Joshua, after he was done testifying, I didn't really give him any thought."

Lisa Rankin, the public defender, happened to be in the courtroom when Joshua was on the stand. He wasn't her client anymore, but she recognized him, and she thought, wow, they are still using him.

Lisa Rankin

This is still going on. I was very concerned for Joshua's safety because we know how these cases go. And he was a kid.

Sarah Koenig

Other defense attorneys told me they do not advise their clients to cooperate unless there's no other solution. Too often, the benefits aren't what they're cracked up to be, while the risks crack on for years.

I talked to another public defender in the juvenile division, Morgan Pirc. She told me she, quote, "rarely, if ever, has a kid cooperate with law enforcement. Unless your kid can jump on a plane, she said, they're either going to go to juvenile prison and be in danger or they're going to go back to their neighborhood and be in danger. And I don't very much trust the system to follow through on what they say. The prosecutors are not beholden to anything, so the kids are used. They're naive."

Lisa Rankin remembered how much the police officers had seemed to like Joshua when they'd interviewed him, how they'd encouraged him. There was talk of him getting out of prison, going to school.

Lisa Rankin

There was a lot of talk that they would check in on him. And I guess, ideally, you hope that that means somehow protecting him.

Sarah Koenig

Juvenile prisons in Ohio are run by the Ohio Department of Youth Services, ODYS. And if a juvenile prison system could have a golden age, this would be it for Ohio's. Ten years ago, the system was forced to remake itself, after lawsuits and a state investigation, then a federal investigation, and finally a consent decree.

Back in 2007, a court ordered investigation found what sounded like child abuse essentially. Severely overcrowded housing units, untrained, confrontational, poorly supervised, sometimes even vengeful staff using excessive force and quote, "reckless and malicious practices, choke holds that created extreme risks of asphyxia."

Staff would use these tactics in strategic locations to avoid cameras. Kids were also being harmed by other kids, and they had no real avenue to complain or to get help. Sometimes, they threatened suicide just to get into isolation. Then, came federally mandated and fairly massive reforms that sought to do away with solitary confinement as a punishment, barred staff from using force, except in extreme circumstances, and added lots of educational and therapeutic programs.

Most impressively, they really did redefine what juvenile prisons should be for, or rather whom they should be for. Unless your child is hurting other people, using a gun, committing rape, setting house fires, he is probably not going to an ODYS closed facility.

He's going to go to a smaller residential, or nonresidential, program in his own community. And while some young hot wirers and spray painters still do end up in ODYS prisons for the wrong reasons, a dearth of alternatives in their own rural counties, or a wrong-headed judge, generally speaking, Ohio is not locking up kids like that anymore.

In 2004, there were two thousand kids in Ohio's juvenile prisons. Now, there are about five hundred kids. In 2015, the Department of Justice issued a report, celebrating a turnaround that has, quote, "resulted in what is in many ways a model system, what we are calling the Ohio model." Excellent progress, yes?

The one downside is that the kids who do get sent to ODYS, to borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, are the worst of the worst. Or if Donald Rumsfeld had a compassionate social worker aunt, she might say, the kids arriving at ODYS now are more traumatized and higher needs. And instead of being divided among nine institutions, they're now corralled into three, a higher concentration of sometimes violent, always struggling children, living together in a smaller space.

The Facility where Joshua landed in September of 2014 is called Indian River. It's not officially maximum security, but functionally it operates like juvie max. One big building housing, at that time, about a hundred and forty kids. They have their own school, which is across the yard.

I've been inside the main building. It's clean, brightly painted. Life-sized posters of basketball stars are decorating the hallway. It has eight units, roughly twenty kids to a unit, single rooms with doors that close.

Each unit has a day room with a TV. They can play video games. They can play cards, though dice are contraband. The kids go to school and to therapy. They might have jobs cleaning the cafeteria or doing maintenance.

At first, things went OK for Joshua at Indian River. No one knew he cooperated with law enforcement. Joshua's own family didn't know. He saw that the Heartless Felons were in charge of some of the units, controlling the video game remote, taxing kids for their food, forcing them to clean up, or to make three-way phone calls for them, all of which Joshua had anticipated.

The Heartless Felons were invented in Cleveland's juvenile lockups, and Joshua had been inside one of them before, when he was about thirteen. That was the first time he saw how tightly they operated inside prison.

Joshua had already passed the various tests to get absorbed into the gang. They call it getting twisted.

Joshua

You're going to get twisted. Twisted is getting in the family.

Sarah Koenig

If you don't want to be perpetually bullied and assaulted, if you want to be able to eat—that's a big thing, other kids taking your food—Joshua said, you try to join. And to join, you have to get three bodies, assault three people.

Sarah Koenig

Other juveniles or staff?

Joshua

It can be juveniles or staff. They don't really have no preference. Mostly what they [INAUDIBLE] next is coming down with that pressure they have to put on a [INAUDIBLE] like they don't want to be the only ones that feel like like outsiders.

Sarah Koenig

At Indian River, Joshua was an insider, well positioned. Nobody was asking him, where are you from? Always the first loaded question.

He was friends with the leader of the Heartless Felons, the godfather—or GF—who vouched for him. So he was good for about a year. But then, he'd had to testify at the trials downtown and a slither of rumors started back at Indian River, that Joshua had told.

Joshua

It kept popping up every couple of months. Since the beginning of 2000—at the end—like December 2015, it just kept popping up. It popped once in 2015. And then it popped up again in January. It died down for a minute. Popped up again in—

Sarah Koenig

So wait. When you say, it popped up, what are you talking about? What specifically is happening to you?

Joshua

Working around that, yeah, that I told or testified, stuff like that.

Sarah Koenig

Whenever I asked Joshua what it was like to testify, how he felt about cooperating with the police, his answers are rushed and a little mechanical, as if the subject triggers a tiny guillotine window in his brain to zip closed, protecting the more fragile synapses from exposure.

What he can recount with practically digital accuracy, though, is when the trouble really, really started. Joshua had been at Indian River for about two years. And then he transferred to a minimum security juvenile prison called Cuyahoga Hills.

Summer of 2016, that's when the bare bones rumors about Joshua started to take on meat.

Joshua

Again, by July, the middle of July, he was like, oh, yeah, we know him. This—and then people up there had cell phones. So when they had those cell phones, they was like, they dead called to the street, and then the streets would call like—they'd call somebody from institution would call somebody else's phone, and then a [INAUDIBLE], a person that has worked—that was in an institution with me.

And [INAUDIBLE] yeah. Like, yeah, this is true, he did do this, and stuff like that.

Sarah Koenig

Cuyahoga Hills is in a suburb, right outside Cleveland. Lots of people from his neighborhood or rival neighborhoods coming and going, family members visiting, calling, gossiping. And someone from the drive-by shooting case that Joshua had helped the police with, not one of the defendants from that case, but the victim—he'd been shot in the leg with an assault rifle—that victim, he was also at Cuyahoga Hills.

Joshua said they'd seen each other a year earlier at the Justice Center, when Joshua had had to testify at the trial. And now, at Cuyahoga hills, that kid was telling people who Joshua was, what Joshua did. It was open season.

Joshua

All out, like every day.

Sarah Koenig

Cuyahoga Hills, unlike Indian River, it's eight units with open dorms. There's one seclusion room per unit, in case. But otherwise, kids are mingling all the time, which if you're a target, is tantamount to a hellscape.

A quick look at the ODYS rundown of incidents involving Joshua and you see the rush of assaults as soon as he gets to Cuyahoga Hills, like a blood pressure spike—July 3rd, July 7th, July 19th, July 22nd.

Joshua can fight. A few staff members told me he can really fight. He told me his moves got the attention of one guard who is also a gym teacher. Joshua said the guy used to watch the surveillance videos of his fights in admiration.

Anyway, Joshua fought back. But he said more and more people were assaulting him. First, it would be three people, then four people, then six people. The worst assault, in terms of the physical damage done to Joshua, was in September of 2016.

It happened in the schoolhouse. He'd been staying clear of school because he knew it wasn't safe there. But he said they told him he wouldn't be allowed to take his GED tests if he didn't have 90 percent attendance, so he went.

Joshua

And next thing you know, I was walking through the schoolhouse, just with my papers and stuff in my hand going to class, and then I got assaulted from behind. And I blacked out. I don't remember nothing. I got knocked out. I woke up in the hospital. That's all I remember.

Sarah Koenig

Oh my god, really? So you have no memory of like—like, you weren't even able to fight back? You just—

Joshua

No, no.

Sarah Koenig

You just went down?

Joshua

Yeah, I got assaulted. I hit my head on the door, hit my mouth on the ground, hit my eye on the doorknob when I was on the way down. And I was just laying there. I had a seizure. I was coughing up blood. I was like—this all stuff that I was told.

I don't even remember. I just know I woke up in hospital, clothes full of blood. I don't even remember.

Sarah Koenig

How long were you in the hospital?

Joshua

I was just there for a couple of hours and I came right back to the institution. They put me back in the same part of the institution with the high ranking Heartless Felons, back where—they put me back at square one.

Sarah Koenig

Another attack, December 30th, 2016, Joshua was jumped again. This time, he firmly believes a guard made that happen. He'd just been moved to a new unit, and he started arguing with the guard on duty.

Joshua said he went and took the unit phone from the guard's desk. It was a ploy to get some attention. He put it in his foot locker by his bed, wouldn't give it back. Meanwhile, the guard had ordered pizza for some of the kids on the unit.

Joshua said when the guard came in with the pizza boxes, he told some kids, go get the phone back from Joshua, then you can have your pizza, knowing full well Joshua says, that that would likely lead to an assault. It did.

Three kids jumped Joshua. It got out of hand. Joshua said the guard then cuffed him, started to walk him out, but then a bunch more kids—Joshua thinks it was about five of them—they joined in, got Joshua on the ground. So now he's got about eight kids on him, all Heartless Felons, while he's handcuffed.

Joshua said the guard didn't call a signal eighty-eight to ask for help. That's for a serious fight or riot. Instead, a different guard called a signal five, which means other staff are more likely to mosey over to help, rather than run. But Joshua says more guards finally did come over, and one of them put his own body between Joshua and the kids who were stomping him.

Joshua

That guard jumped on top of me trying to cover me up from getting stomped. But then, he ended up getting kicked in the head and got knocked out. And then the rest of the staff, he had already called a signal eighty-eight by then. So all the rest of the staff, they came in, they got to breaking it up. And then, they picked me up and took me to the clinic.

Sarah Koenig

Three guards were also injured. Joshua says after that, they took him to operations, and he sat there for another hour or two, handcuffed. Then Josh went into seclusion cell for a while.

I ran all of what Joshua told me by ODYS, but the department would not answer any questions about Joshua. They do not discuss juveniles in their custody. Nor would they provide anyone for me to interview about their policies or procedures or philosophy, generally, because, they said, it would be in service of a story about a particular youth.

They did send me a general statement, which I'll get to later. Joshua said all along he'd been telling the administration at Cuyahoga Hills, I am not safe here. I heard similar complaints from other kids at ODYS. I told them, but they didn't really do anything.

You see it in institutional reports and lawsuits over the years, as well. Allegations that staff knew kids were in danger from other kids and didn't do enough, or anything, to protect them. Joshua said he practically begged the people in charge at Cuyahoga Hills, you've got to send me back to Indian River.

Joshua

When I first got assaulted down there, I told me to send me back to Indian River, because it's not going to stop. And then, the institution, they basically just brushed it off. I kept coming to them back and back for probably like two months.

I never stopped, the whole time, I never stopped saying, send me back to Indian River. I kept telling them, and then they still didn't do it. I sat down with the superintendent at the institution in the Hills and he basically said, like, it was my fault that I was getting assaulted.

Sarah Koenig

Again, ODYS did not comment on Joshua's case, including whether he asked to be moved.

Joshua

But I don't know. He basically said that I was bringing everything on me. How? Like, saying that I tried to boss people around. Like I'm the high ranking Heartless Felon. He knew I was not in the Heartless Felon, so he just told me, like, you'd better stop, or something, or this is what's going to keep happening to you.

Sarah Koenig

He thinks you're a Heartless Felon still?

Joshua

Yeah. Yeah. He—

Sarah Koenig

That's what he thought?

Joshua

Yeah. That's what he was saying. I kept telling him—I kept trying to explain to him, but he was just like flicking it off and or just like bringing it back on me. Like, you need to keep your mouth closed. That's what he kept saying, keep your mouth closed.

Sarah Koenig

After about six months at Cuyahoga Hills, Joshua met with a couple of lawyers, a defense attorney who said he'd figure out if he could get Joshua early release from ODYS, and a civil rights attorney, Mr. Paul Cristallo, as a matter of fact, whom you might remember from Emirius's case.

That's how I learned about Joshua, from Paul. Both attorneys were shocked, they said, that it seemed like the Heartless Felons were colluding with staff. They considered asking the state attorney general's office to launch an investigation.

In the meantime, Paul had called the facility to say, I'm no juvenile justice expert, but seems like you might want to move this kid. And PS, we might be suing you. More, after the break.

I have to think back now to access a more innocent time, around eighteen months ago, when I was still incredulous. Give me a second. There it is.

How could the government take a teenager, an unrepresented teenager, persuade him to do the thing almost nobody does, the thing law enforcement has been desperate for someone to step up and do, cooperate, get him to generously spin through his Heartless Felon's Rolodex, then put him on the witness stand, not once, but twice, then put him back in juvenile prisons packed pretty tightly with Heartless Felons, offer a parting handshake and a general note to behave himself—remember that SYO hanging over your head—and how could that same government then sit back and watch him get jumped again and again and again?

How could they call an ambulance to take him to the hospital? And months later, according to Joshua arrange transportation to a couple of neurologist appointments to attend to the brain bleeds he said he was diagnosed with? Oh, and then, that other trip, for a CAT scan. How could all that have happened and be happening? And yet, I couldn't hear anyone aside from Joshua raising an alarm.

So I considered, as anyone in my position would, there's probably more to this story that I'm not seeing. I set out to fact check Joshua.

I began with Miss Turner, Shalah Turner. She ran a literacy and social action program inside Indian River and Cuyahoga Hills called Freedom School. It's a curriculum designed by the Children's Defense Fund.

Joshua says Freedom School was by far the best thing that happened to him inside ODYS. It changed his whole demeanor he said, from an enraged suspicious scowler, into a young man who is beginning to recognize his feelings and manage them.

Every time I got mad, she'd ask me why he said. It was the first time somebody actually ever sat down and listened to me vent and tried to coach me and work with me. Joshua stayed in the program for two years, longer than anyone else.

When the program lost funding, Miss Turner positioned herself as Joshua's mentor and kept in touch. I asked Miss Turner about Joshua's version of the pizza incident, because I figured she knows him well. She's seen his worst and best behavior.

I figured she'd know whether he was exaggerating. Would a guard really have handcuffed Joshua, and then more or less, allowed more kids to assault him.

Sarah Koenig

I'm hearing stuff like, you know, the guard put handcuffs on him. Like, that's real?

Shalah Turner

Yes, that is absolutely real. And the way that I verify that it is just when asking to be able to see the footage and their inability to do that—only reason I knew any of information about it is because they called me to calm Joshua down.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, they called you?

Shalah Turner

Yes. So the facility called me with Joshua in a room, because they know I'm his mentor, to calm him down. And that is the most angry I'd ever heard him. I could hear him crying. And I couldn't even manage that myself.

So I told him that I needed to see him. I needed to go talk to him in person, and we went to go see him. And that's when I saw the bruises and the beating. And Joshua is very strong. He's a fighter. This is what got him into—like, this is something that [INAUDIBLE] very comfortable in.

So to see him that bad, and be able to talk to him and find out what happened, it was horrible. And then the guard was fired afterwards. The guard wouldn't have been fired if the guard wouldn't have been in the wrong.

Sarah Koenig

I eventually got the personnel records for this guard. He was fired. Though later, through a settlement with the union, he was allowed to resign, along with a pledge to never again work in ODYS. The guard wasn't sanctioned for Joshua getting jumped though. He was sanctioned because of the pizza.

He admitted to taking twenty bucks from one of the kids and using it to buy them pizza. It's against the rules.

Sarah Koenig

It seems like—every time he's telling me a story, I'm just like, it feels like inside of there, certainly at Cuyahoga Hills, but also, to a certain extent, at Indian River, that it's just chaos for them.

Shalah Turner

Absolute chaos. It is absolute chaos. No, I think, [INAUDIBLE] clearly it is absolute chaos.

Sarah Koenig

And that the kids seem in charge. Or is that not true?

Shalah Turner

Yes. I would absolutely agree with that.

Sarah Koenig

Really?

Shalah Turner

Yes. And that was one of the reasons our program was so beneficial, because the children were on side with the program. If we were to have relied on just the staff, I would not have felt safe.

Sarah Koenig

So the children—I wanted to speak to other kids who'd been at ODYS, to know whether Joshua's situation was real and whether it was common knowledge.

Malik

It was crazy. I don't know how he felt about it, but it was crazy. It was real bad for him—real bad.

Sarah Koenig

This is Malik. He's eighteen. He was at Cuyahoga Hills with Joshua. He's in adult prison now. Malik said he saw Joshua get jumped multiple times.

Malik

I felt bad for him. He had a whole institution against him.

Sarah Koenig

I'd gotten Malik's name from a former staff member who'd suggested he might be a good person to talk to about what life was like at Cuyahoga Hills. She'd given me a couple names of remarkably frank former ODYS kids. She didn't know Joshua, and she definitely didn't know that Malik is actually Joshua's cousin.

If you overlay Cleveland and ODYS, you see a lot of coincidences like this. It's a pretty small world. Malik told me Joshua had it worse than anyone he'd seen come through Cuyahoga Hills. He said he himself had been high up in the Heartless Felons when all this was going on.

But he loved his cousin, so he stuck up for him.

Malik

When it got to a certain point, I had to step in because, like you say, that's family. I couldn't just keep letting happen—the things that happen to him to continue to happen. So at one point in time, I did step in and did tell them, like, this can't—things can't keep going like that. And I had words with a couple—

Operator

This call is originating within the Ohio—

Sarah Koenig

He had words with a couple of the guys, he said, asked them to cool it.

Sarah Koenig

Did you personally get any blowback of, like, why are you friends with this kid, or why are you—

Malik

Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I did. I did.

Sarah Koenig

The Heartless Felons started to turn against Malik, started to steal from him, he said. One night, when he was sleeping, someone hit Malik in the face with a combination lock, right between the eyebrows. He needed stitches.

I talked to another guy named Lio, from Toledo, who'd been at Cuyahoga Hills at the same time as Joshua. He remembered the assault in the school when Joshua woke up in the ambulance.

Lio

And somebody just clapped him in the hall.

Sarah Koenig

Clapped means hit.

Lio

It was a big dude that punched him. He punched him, he went to sleep, but he hit his face on the concrete wall. And then he was at [INAUDIBLE] and that caused him to go into a seizure. And then his whole face just swelled. It just looked crazy. And then he went to the hospital for that.

Sarah Koenig

Lio said it was because word had gone around Cuyahoga Hills that Joshua was a snitch, that he was giving the prison staff information about the Heartless Felons, the family.

Lio

Yeah. He knew a lot of stuff about the family. He was just telling a lot. He was trying to get a better sentencing or something, giving a lot of people up, giving a lot people name's up.

Sarah Koenig

OK. When you heard, like, oh yeah, this guy's a snitch, like, did you have any feeling about that, personally one way or another? Were you like, I don't care, or were you like, no, that's what he deserves? Like, what's the feeling about that?

Lio

I was heavily involved in that, in the gang in there, so—

Sarah Koenig

You were?

Lio

He was—yeah, he was snitching on me. Not only just me, just a lot of other people.

Sarah Koenig

OK. So did you know this hit on him was going to happen, or no?

Lio

Yeah, I knew.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, you knew. OK. Can I ask, did you order it? Am I talking to the man who ordered it?

[LAUGHING]

Lio

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

At the time, Lio said he was in charge of a section of the gang called YF, Young Felons, so he called the hit on Joshua. Coincidence—he'd later become the godfather.

Joshua said he wasn't telling on the Heartless Felons at Cuyahoga Hills, that they were conflating his past cooperation with the present. Regardless, Lio said he was mostly hearing about Joshua from the guards.

Lio

A lot of staff was telling me shit about him. That's how I found out that he was snitching.

Sarah Koenig

Wait. What do you mean staff were telling you about him?

Lio

[INAUDIBLE] he would try to write a kite to the staff.

Sarah Koenig

In Cuyahoga Hills, a kite is how you get a message to the office.

Lio

Oh, I need to talk to administration. Oh, I need to talk to operations. Or like the superintendent and this [INAUDIBLE]. And staff would just, you brought your name up. He telling on you, and he telling on you and such and such.

Sarah Koenig

Staff was informing on Joshua, Lio says, to the most dangerous people in the prison—him, Lio, and his guys.

I spoke to a couple of other former and current ODYS youths from different facilities. I also spoke to current and former guards, not disgruntleds, people who liked their jobs, also current and former ODYS social workers.

Most of the adults spoke to me on background, for fear of retaliation. What they described reminded me of a black market, as if the juvenile prisons have their own subterranean economy, sucking in both youth and staff who trade in favors, power, and also cash.

Of course, I know corruption exists, and I know juvenile prisons, in particular, are prone to bullying and tumult. But this was a system recently out from under consent decree, metamorphosed, the Ohio model, whose stated mission is not to punish, but to habilitate youth and empower families and communities.

Cuyahoga Hills has won a national award for how it treats the children in its care, twice. And yet, well, I'm just going to run through some of what I learned. Take contraband.

I interviewed a former guard, Edward Kennerly. He's the only guard who agreed to go on the record, possibly because he's got nothing to lose. He told me he'd already lost his job after picking up a domestic violence conviction.

When we talked, he was actually in prison, as a prisoner. Before that, he worked the other side as a guard at Cuyahoga Hills. They call them YS's in ODYS, youth specialists. Edward said, guards bringing in contraband—yes.

Edward Kennerly

Bringing in cell phones, weed, black and milds. You know, I heard of incidents where people was getting—the one guy came in with—he was bringing weed in for a whole year, and they had to know about it. Everybody knew about it.

Sarah Koenig

The guy worked on one of the most unruly units, Edward said. But when he was on duty, everyone was curiously chill. Edward said that guard ended up getting fired. Edward said he himself didn't bring anything in like that.

But, he said, kids did ask him to. We'll keep the unit under control if you bring in a cell phone or some weed.

Malik

Yeah, for sure. We had—I had a lot of CO's on hand that I dealt with on that type of situation.

Sarah Koenig

That's Malik, Joshua's cousin, and quite the businessman, who's bringing stuff into the north and south buildings, he said, with the help of guards, two or three at any one time, he said. They'd go pick up stuff from his people on the outside and bring it back in so Malik could sell it.

And for the guards, this wasn't just about keeping the units calm, it was about making money. Malik would pay them.

Sarah Koenig

And how much were they getting? How much would you have to give them?

Malik

It depends. It depends on how much I have them bring in. They bring in all that, sometimes I'd pay them $1,100 here, $700 here.

Sarah Koenig

Oh.

Malik

It depends. It all depends on what I have them bring.

Sarah Koenig

Oh my god. That's like real money.

Malik

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

Dude. [LAUGHING] Wow. Oh my god. How much does a cell phone go for at Cuyahoga Hills?

Malik

It depends on what kind of phone is it.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, OK.

Malik

If it's an android, maybe like $500 or iPhone is $1,000.

Sarah Koenig

So there's that much money moving around in there.

Malik

Yeah, it is. It's crazy down there.

Sarah Koenig

The Heartless Felons, they're also called the family, or the fam, which has another meaning—forever about money. Lio, the former GF, told me, they take it seriously. You got to move product. Malik estimated there was anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000 in cash circulating at Cuyahoga Hills at any one time.

Most kids send their money home, sometimes through visitation. By the time Malik left, he said he'd send home about $2,500, and he had about $900 on hand. The commodity running alongside and sometimes feeding into the contraband market is violence.

Three guards I talked to, one current, two former, said the guards feel hamstrung sometimes, because some of their best tools for controlling the kids were taken away by reforms—certain physical restraints, seclusion. They couldn't even put kids to bed at 7:00 p.m. anymore, couldn't make them keep their hands behind their backs.

The kids can be violent. The guards are outnumbered. And you can't count on swift backup from operations if there's a fight or a riot. So, yeah, the guards will sometimes provoke kids, taunt them or insult them, so that the kid will respond in kind, and then the guard has an excuse to shut them in their rooms and not have to deal with them.

I talked to a former social worker named Casie Helkowski, who told me she saw that kind of thing a lot. Casie worked at the Cuyahoga County Detention Center as a therapist until last summer. The detention center isn't technically ODYS, but there's a lot of cross pollination with ODYS, especially with Cuyahoga Hills, in terms of staff and kids and gang culture.

Casie Helkowski

Staff would stand in the doorway of their room and be like, do something, do something. Like oh, you know, when you say that, do something. Or when you come out—like when they're in their transition, so they're locked up in their rooms—oh, when you come out, I want to see you. I want to see you do that.

If another fight happens, you can lock down the whole unit, and then you just sit in the day area for the rest of your shift, watch TV.

Sarah Koenig

And you would see stuff like that?

Casie Helkowski

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

Casie told me a story about two kids who'd fought, and then when the loser of the fight was being a pain in this one guard's ass, the guard asked the winner of the fight to go after the kid a second time.

Casie Helkowski

He offered that youth extra commissary to assault him again, so to fight him again.

Sarah Koenig

Did that guy get fired?

Casie Helkowski

No.

Sarah Koenig

Incidents like this, staff orchestrating youth-on-youth attacks, everyone I spoke to from ODYS said, it's common. Edward, the former Cuyahoga Hills guard said, yeah, a guard will form a relationship with the highest ranking gang member, or else the strongest youth on the unit, and use that kid to keep the rest of the kids in line.

Sarah Koenig

Did you ever experience that where a guard said to you, like, can you go take care of so-and-so, or call the hit on—

Malik

For sure. Yeah, for sure. I did that all the time. They would just come to me or one of my fronters and the [INAUDIBLE] is like get him [INAUDIBLE] and we will take care of you. We're going take care of you all.

Sarah Koenig

Wait. Who was taking care of who?

Malik

The CO. The CO was going to take care of whatever we needed, whatever we wanted, we was going to get it.

Sarah Koenig

If you did what?

Malik

Beat on whoever they was telling us to beat on.

Sarah Koenig

And why were they wanting you to beat on a certain kid?

Malik

I mean, disrespectful, giving them a hard shift, whatever.

Sarah Koenig

And what would you get in return?

Malik

Food and contraband—whatever I wanted. Money—whatever I wanted.

Sarah Koenig

The final thing I'll mention—sex. Sexual assaults, or attempted sexual assaults, and also sex. Both Lio and Malik said they'd had sex with multiple female guards who were in their twenties and thirties at Cuyahoga Hills.

Before Joshua was transferred to Cuyahoga Hills back when he was doing OK at Indian River, he was swimming along in this corrupt water too, taking advantage of it. He could get anything in there, he said—porn, weed, lighters, tequila.

He said he never jumped anyone for money, but he did operate as a middleman. Guards would pay him, maybe $20, maybe $40 to arrange hits on certain kids. Joshua said sometimes the hits were in retaliation for something violent a youth had done to a guard. Maybe the kid threw pee on them, or attacked a female.

The guards aren't supposed to strike back, so they used the kids as their proxies.

Joshua

And they know that the inmate will fight they ass.

Sarah Koenig

Right. So they're using you guys to fight back?

Joshua

Right. Down there, see, that's the thing. They—it's—I don't know, man. It's like—

Sarah Koenig

Many people I spoke to about ODYS, they'd hit an explanatory wall like this. They'd say, you just—you have to see it. You have to—I can't—

Joshua's best effort, I thought, was when he explained it as a kind of madman's vacation.

Joshua

It's a vacation for people that's fucked up.

Sarah Koenig

A vacation for the youth, you mean, or vacation for the guards?

Joshua

Both. Both people—both sides are people that is fucked up.

Sarah Koenig

Would there have been a way for you to come in and be like, I'm not going to touch any of this. I'm going to be a totally squeaky clean, just do my time kid, and not get pulled into anything. Is it possible to exist like that?

Joshua

No, because people, they take that for a weakness down there so you will definitely have been down there fighting or something.

Sarah Koenig

Yeah.

Joshua

Yeah. It's hard to explain it.

Sarah Koenig

Youths, guards, social workers, they all told me, for a kid to quote unquote succeed at ODYS, to get help, stay out of trouble, and get back out, you'd need a rare, rare confluence of luck, grit, and influence.

I spoke to four social workers who worked at different ODYS facilities. Their experiences spanned 2012 to 2018. They all said, there were plenty of people who wanted to help the kids, to advocate for them, but there was no way.

One former Indian River guard told me everything was hush, hush, hush. The social workers said they were discouraged from raising problems, or calling out cruelties, guards who outed kids as sex offenders, say, or look the other way when a child got jumped.

The social worker said there was a strong no-snitching culture among the staff. A couple of them told me it was made clear to them they might not be protected if they were to be assaulted on the units. One person told me the clinical notes she was writing in her kid's files, for reports that had to go to the courts every six months, were being edited by another staff member, until her boss put a stop to it.

And that, when she went to look back at a note she'd put in one kid's file, describing assaults on him that appeared to have been facilitated by staff, her documentation was missing entirely. Several social workers told me that they started to lose their own sense of what was normal, what was ethical.

They felt like the kids had no protection from abuse or from coercion. So rather than trying to stop it, they'd help the kids navigate it. One told me, there was nothing I could do. Another told me, I mean, I just had to be realistic about it, to pretend like they were getting rehabilitated was foolish.

I tell the kids all the time, the system is not designed to help you. She worked at Cuyahoga Hills, national award winner. It was almost like the place had a mask on, she said. Every story I heard about ODYS, every allegation from youth and staff, current and former, we ran it by ODYS.

Again, they didn't comment on anything specific, but they gave us this statement.

"Whenever there are allegations of misconduct, we swiftly investigate and take appropriate action," they wrote. "DYS has increased programming, security, and supports to serve the most challenging youth in the state who have lengthy criminal histories and often have gang affiliations that they bring into the facilities."

January of 2017, Joshua went back to Indian River. This time, they didn't keep him on one of the Heartless Felon units, A Alpha, B Bravo, and N November. Instead, they put him on D Delta. D Delta was the closest thing Indian River had to protective custody.

A mix of kids from Columbus, Cincinnati, Youngstown, a few Clevelanders. When I first started talking to Joshua, that's where he was, D Delta, on unit restriction, meaning he couldn't go to the normal places in the facility.

Joshua

I don't even go to to school.

Sarah Koenig

OK. The teacher comes to you?

Joshua

Yeah, because I can't go to school. If I go to the school house, I'm going to get assaulted all the time, like nonstop.

Sarah Koenig

He can't go to the school, to the cafeteria—

Joshua

To the gym, to the outside yard, to work—I don't see none of those.

Sarah Koenig

How long has that been going on that you're not leaving the unit?

Joshua

I mean, it's been like that since I got down here, since January.

Sarah Koenig

It was now mid-May, five months of unit restriction, for Joshua's own protection. He felt safe-ish on his unit. He said he was cool with most everybody in D Delta. His hopes were set on early release. And then, who knows, maybe a lawsuit.

But early release was the main thing he wanted. I talked to Joshua every couple of days, sometimes every day. Early on, he started describing what sounded like an uptick in the usual chaos.

Joshua

Past couple of days, it's been crazy in here.

Sarah Koenig

What do you mean?

Joshua

A whole other unit, ran in, ran on my unit and it was like a big ass, like big riot.

Sarah Koenig

He said about fifteen kids from A Alpha, a Heartless Felons unit, had yanked the door open and stormed the kids on D Delta. Joshua said the Heartless Felons were trying to conquer their unit, basically, because their unit wasn't joining HF, wasn't submitting to HF. D Delta was more HB, Head Busters, a rival gang.

D Delta had kids from Columbus and Cincinnati, and kids from those places, if they're in a gang, they tend to be HB. That was most of the tension. And then persona non Joshua was on D Delta too. The distress dispatches kept coming.

His unit had been rushed on their way to school, dozens of kids swarming at them from across the yard. Staff hurried them back inside before anyone was hurt, but it was really scary. There had been another riot, this time on A Alpha.

He'd seen staff attack a youth in his room. There's so many people walking around here in my unit with black eyes and stuff, he said. We just got two new dudes on our unit. Dude from Toledo—they jumped him twice in one day. And a dude from Cleveland—

Joshua

We got this dude from Cleveland, he was on A Alpha with all the Heartless Felons. They went in his room for a week straight and just kept jumping him and beating him. And the staff, [INAUDIBLE] they're not doing nothing. There's a whole week.

They could have killed someone within one of those times, like if [INAUDIBLE] took a wrong hit.

Sarah Koenig

Sometimes, in the calls, Joshua was sounding jangled. He said he couldn't take it anymore. It's too much stress on me.

Joshua

I don't know. I'm really just like, I don't want to go through this forever. I would like—my brain, like, I can't take no more.

Sarah Koenig

In early July, Joshua's unit was put on AOV protocol, act of violence protocol, sort of like lockdown—7:00 p.m. bedtime, no extras. Meanwhile, he said, the Heartless Felons were larking around—TV and video games all day, getting to go outside in their Nike shoes, jogging pants, watches.

His unit, all state-issue stuff, stuck inside, watching the Heartless Felons, the aggressors, through the windows. An Indian River guard I spoke to confirmed, yes, they had been putting some units on AOV protocol lately, but B Bravo, the unit where the Heartless Felon leaders are, too dangerous.

Yeah, this guard said, they won't even try. Joshua said his unit united. They discussed it. This isn't fair. We're not safe. The staff isn't protecting us. It feels like the superintendent is siding with the Heartless Felons, protecting them, and we are the ones being punished for fighting back.

They all wrote up grievances, which they sent to the ODYS central office.

Joshua

It was about fifteen grievances.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, really?

Joshua

And three letters, yeah. We did a youth petition, one argument, every youth in my unit signed this petition and said that we don't feel safe. Nobody in my unit can go nowhere without getting assaulted.

Sarah Koenig

Whose idea was this to do this?

Joshua

This was mine.

Sarah Koenig

Activism, look at that. Respectful, to whom it may concern, activism. A staff member at Indian River had helped Joshua with it, told him where he should send the packet. It should go to Columbus, in care of Julie Walburn, assistant director of ODYS.

Joshua didn't know who Julie Walburn was, but the judges down in juvenile court in Cleveland did, including Joshua's judge, Kristen Sweeney, who's also the administrative judge for the juvenile court. Here's how she described Julie Walburn to me.

Kristen Sweeney

A drenching spring rain after months of drought.

Sarah Koenig

Julie Walburn had come to work at ODYS that April, a month before I started talking to Joshua, and he started describing the mayhem at Indian River. Julie Walburn had come to a recent meeting of juvenile judges in Cuyahoga County and she said, we know about the violence and the rule breaking, and we're going to fix it.

Judge Sweeney thought, finally.

Kristen Sweeney

I'm trying to think, like, well, how long has it been that I have felt like the institution has sort of not taking some of the violence seriously? I would say, probably at least four or five years.

Sarah Koenig

At least four or five years, mind you, that's in the post-consent decree, post-reform era of ODYS. One of judge Sweeney's colleagues, Judge Denise Rini, she was Malik's judge, gave me the back story of how the spring rain came to be.

She'd gotten the case back in December, a kid at Indian River, a Heartless Felon. Inside his case file were pictures. Here's Judge Rini.

Judge Denise Rini

And I'm looking at all these photographs, and they're photographs of youth smoking marijuana. Well, wait. I have a—

Sarah Koenig

Judge Rini keeps the case folder on her desk to remind her, she explained, of how we're failing these youths when we let Heartless Felons run the facilities, instead of the adults. We look through the stack of photos together.

Sarah Koenig

So this is from inside—

Judge Denise Rini

ODYS.

Sarah Koenig

There, they're definitely smoking. Definitely smoking, listening to maybe an iPod, something like that.

Judge Denise Rini

Gang signs.

Sarah Koenig

Gang signs—well, I don't know from gang signs, but I assume that's what that is. So then, money—holding a wad of money. Wait. Was he posting from inside—oh, really?

The kid had a cell phone and an Instagram account where he was posting these photos. So Judge Rini saw all these images in December of 2016, and she flipped her lid. The impunity, the message they're sending to other kids. Go to ODYS, smoke weed, make money, kick it with your friends.

Judge Rini sits on a state judge's committee for juvenile law and procedure.

Judge Denise Rini

And I just sent them to all of the members. So they started calling ODYS and saying this is unacceptable.

Sarah Koenig

In January, officials from ODYS came to a judge's meeting.

Judge Denise Rini

—judge's meeting, and they were trying to explain why this was occurring. And I was visibly distraught, to say the least, where Judge Floyd put her hand on my little arm and said—

Sarah Koenig

Because what was the explanation? How do you—

Judge Denise Rini

It was an isolated incident. I'm like, he has thirty-seven pages. How isolated is this? I'm in the facility every day and this doesn't really happen. I'm like, it's on Instagram. What do you mean it doesn't happen?

So they were basically just kind of like whitewashing it. My biggest issue was, you are not helping our community. You take these youth and you put them in here and they come out and they're—and they know absolutely—they have no trade, they have no vocation, and they have no ability to act appropriately.

So what are we doing besides housing them in a facility where we're not teaching them anything?

Sarah Koenig

A few months after that meeting, the assistant director of ODYS abruptly resigned and Julie Walburn took her place.

Judge Denise Rini

As soon as she came on board, she walked through the—well, according to her, she walked through all the facilities. She met with all of the heads of each facility. And she said, we're going to take back the facilities, and we are going to ensure that these youth are not only safe, because there was a lot of fighting, but the ones that are the bad actors are going to be removed.

About two days ago, we had a meeting with a superintendent, all the SYOs in the building and like—

Sarah Koenig

In mid-June, Joshua told me that the superintendent of Indian River had gathered the SYOs, the kids who had adult time attached to their sentences that could kick in if they didn't do well in juvenile. ODYS hadn't been invoking those adult sentences, but now the superintendent told them, new sheriff in town.

We now have a zero tolerance policy for SYOs. Any infraction, doesn't even have to be violent, and we can seek a bind over. You are now on notice. Behave yourselves.

About a month after that, late July, another call. Joshua told me he just found out he had a court date.

Joshua

It's tomorrow.

Sarah Koenig

Tomorrow?

Joshua

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

Why would you have any court dates? Why would you have a court date coming up?

Joshua

To see—they trying to invoke my SYO, the institution.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, you're kidding?

Joshua

They trying to say that like I'm too defiant for the institution. This institution cannot control me, or stuff like that.

Sarah Koenig

OK.

I told Joshua I couldn't imagine anything drastic was going to happen to him. How could it? The system knew his situation. But Joshua wasn't hearing that.

Joshua

I mean, I don't know what to do. Like, I'm sick to the stomach. I can't even eat right now. Like, oh man, I'm so worried. I'm just going crazy. I don't know what to do. I've got kids [INAUDIBLE]. I got—looking at eighteen years, life, so I mean—

Sarah Koenig

If Joshua got bound over, that was the adult sentence he was looking at—eighteen years. That was his SYO. Joshua wasn't going to the court date tomorrow, but I could go and watch the adults figure out where Joshua belongs.

That's next time, on our final episode this season of Serial.

Serial is Produced by Julie Snyder, Emmanuel Dzotsi, Ben Calhoun, and me, with additional reporting by Ida Lieszkovszky. Editing on this episode from Ira Glass and Nancy Updike. Whitney Dangerfield is our digital editor. Research and fact checking by Ben Phelan.

Sound design and mix by Stowe Nelson. Music clearance by Anthony Roman. Seth Lind is our Director of Operations. ZipRecruiter ads are voiced by Stephanie Foo.

The Serial staff includes Emily Condon, Julie Whitaker, Cassie Howley, Frances Swanson, and Matt Tierney. Our music is by Adam Dorn and Hal Willner, with additional music from Matt McGinley and Nick Thorburn. Our theme song is also by Nick Thorburn, and remixed by Adam Dorn.

Support for Serial comes from ZipRecruiter. Unlike many job sites, ZipRecruiter doesn't wait for candidates to find you. ZipRecruiter finds them for you, so you get qualified candidates fast. Try it free at ZipRecruiter.com/serial. That's ZipRecruiter.com/serial.

Special thanks for this episode to Alphonse Gerhardstein, Kimberly Jump, Sam Amata, head of the Cuyahoga County Public defender's juvenile division, Abe Hamideh, Gabriella Celeste, Laura Austen, and Brooke Burns.

The animation and illustration on our website was done by the talented team at Moth Studio. Thanks to Dave Prosser, Daniel Chester, Marie-Margaux Tsakiri-Scanatovits, Luke Doyle, Ifor Ashton, and Renata Garcia.

You can check out their work at our web site, serialpodcast.org. That's serialpodcast.org. Or you can also sign up for our email newsletter and be notified when new episodes are released. Serial Is a production of This American Life and WBEZ Chicago.

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