The Boys from Boonville

In 1963, a group of African-American runaways and truants was sent to a rural reform school. Then the nightmare began.

Joseph was released a third time in 1970, and he stayed out of prison for 21 years. He didn't have a high-school diploma, but he found jobs in manufacturing and welding, working for Gaylord Container and General Motors. He married; he and his wife raised two boys. Then, for the second time in his life, "my dick -- pardon my language -- got me in trouble. I was sleeping around on my wife, and she left me.

"I went kind of crazy," he says bluntly. "Weed; alcohol; petty theft, like trying to pick people's wallets. I was running wild. I'd been married all those years, and now I was separated from my wife and I did not know how to handle it. I did not know how to live by myself."

In 1988, he was sent to the City Workhouse for stealing. In 1991, he was convicted on multiple counts of robbery and burglary and, as a "prior and persistent offender," got a hefty sentence -- he's not eligible for conditional release until 2007. ("Shorty?" Wainwright asks, stunned. "You sure he wasn't just there when that stuff happened?" Told the story of the first conviction, Wainwright nods. "That makes more sense.")

On March 7, 1963, it was "alleged that Stanley Joseph has failed to abide by the rules of supervision in that he was truant from school, remained out of the house overnight without parental permission and failed to keep appointment with Court worker." A month later, these "crimes" landed him in prison.
Dan Gill
On March 7, 1963, it was "alleged that Stanley Joseph has failed to abide by the rules of supervision in that he was truant from school, remained out of the house overnight without parental permission and failed to keep appointment with Court worker." A month later, these "crimes" landed him in prison.

Sitting in the Moberly Correctional Center, Joseph has had plenty of time to mull over the injustice of his first incarceration. Several years ago, he wrote every public official he could think of -- the state archives, the director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, the Division of Youth Services -- requesting a copy of the original order committing him to the DOC, as well as his 15-year-old mugshot, fingerprints and any related documents. "They just stonewalled me," he sighs, producing a fat file of old letters in which he repeatedly requested information that would "shed some light on what was a dark period in my life."

No dice. "The records you are requesting are stored away at our Archives Center and I can not understand why you would want those particular papers," replied the recordkeeper at the Fulton Reception and Diagnostic Center. "The Missouri State Archives does not have the records you requested," replied an archivist. "You were not entitled to the photographs and fingerprints which you were requesting," explained the court of last appeal, Mark Schreiber, then assistant to the director of the DOC. "You were sent the information that you are entitled to be in possession of" -- a photocopied card noting transfer to the penitentiary.

Joseph stopped writing letters. These days, he spends his time thinking about the other boys who were transferred from Boonville with him, wondering what shape their lives took after they were released.

And how his might have looked if he'd never been sent.

For more information on this topic, see accompanying sidebar, "The Lost Boys".

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