Lost and Found

Emotionally disturbed teenagers in Illinois used to be shipped off to locked institutions in other states. Stuart Marcus and Tim Carl brought some of them home.

Once a boy's six months at the facility is up, he is re-evaluated and a decision is made as to whether he's ready to transition down or needs to continue at the facility for another six months. So far, one boy whose parents live in the area has gone home. Another is applying for college.

Marcus' former client Dan is now one of the center's child-care workers, helping oversee the boys' outings, their chores and their schoolwork. "Already I've seen a change in a couple of the kids," Dan says. "I just knew this would be a good thing to do."

At the state level, the change in philosophy seems to be working as well. The number of out-of-state placements has dropped by 83 percent, and the in-state residential population has decreased from 4,300 to 2,560 since 1997.

Stuart Marcus, co-founder of the Juvenile Transitional Center: "People were starting to look at me like I was crazy."
Mark Gilliland
Stuart Marcus, co-founder of the Juvenile Transitional Center: "People were starting to look at me like I was crazy."

But realistically, Marcus and Carl know that total independence for some of the boys will never be accomplished. They're simply too damaged; Marcus and Carl got to them too late.

John (not his real name), for example, came to the Juvenile Transitional Facility soon after it opened. He was sexually abused by his father when he was 4 and was sent to a foster home, where he lost contact with his parents. He called his mother, but she didn't call back. He became angry, started acting out and soon found himself labeled as having a "behavior disorder" because he couldn't sit still like the other kids in class.

Soon he was sent to another foster home, then another, until he ended up in a residential facility when he was 9 years old. There, he was sexually abused by some of the older residents. He started fixating on his anger and resentment at being abused, and by the time he turned 13, he was abusing younger residents himself. Then he turned his anger toward the staff and ended up in a juvenile-detention center, where he was sexually abused again. Once John left there, it was one placement after another, until he ended up in a locked juvenile facility in another state.

Most of the boys come to Marcus and Carl after having been in 15-20 different placements. All of them, except for one, is on medication. As Cheryle Chaney, the center's case manager, explains, they have a long way to go.

"They've been abused their whole lives," Chaney says. "They learn that they cannot trust anybody, that everybody wants to hurt them, and that's their reality."

"And if they got out of here too soon, they wouldn't make it," Carl adds. "They don't function anywhere near what they need to survive on the streets."

They are kids, Marcus says, on survival mode, with most still depending on medication to get them through each day.

"They're on anti-psychotic medication, anti-depressants, Ritalin and anti-convulsants to offset some of the other medication," Marcus says.

"Picture living in a facility since you were a young child, never living at home. In order for this child to survive, what he will do is make up a world that is real to him. He creates pictures in his head. He starts hallucinating, either auditory or visually. It's his defense mechanism that kicks in, so they don't even know how awful their situation has been.

"You know when you look at him he's not there. But," Marcus says, pointing to his head, "he is surviving up here."

Chaney jumps in: "So we have to deal with them where they are. We have to outlast them, basically, outlast their temper bursts, outlast them trying to hurt the staff, outlast the anger. You just have to last longer than they do."

"It's like riding a bronco," Carl says.

But Carl and Marcus have ridden plenty in the past two years.

"After working with these kids, the fact that I sacrificed two years doesn't matter at all -- I'd do it again. If it started all over tomorrow, I'd do it again."

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