“That day, at that hour, I became the predator rather than the prey.”
I Cried, You Didn’t Listen: A Survivor’s Expose of the California Youth Authority by Dwight E. Abbott is a harrowing, haunting read. In the 1950s, following a car accident that placed his parents in hospital for months, 9-year-old Abbott was sent to Los Angeles Juvenile Hall. Within minutes of arriving, he was hit in the face by another boy, and that evening observed rapes occurring in the showers. On the third day, a counselor sexually assaulted Abbott. When Abbott defended himself from another assault, he ended up in solitary confinement for 90 days, and here he remained until his father arrived to take him home. Abbott acknowledges that he was no longer the same child, and that it took just “four months for the county to construct” a “walking time bomb.”
When he returned home, Abbott was withdrawn and traumatized. His grades dropped, and he reacted with explosive violence to threatening situations. At age 12, Abbott was back in Juvenile Hall again, and then sexually assaulted by a manipulative counselor. From here he was moved to the ironically named Optimist Home for Boys and endured further molestations and beatings. When he was released to his parents, Abbott was even less able to integrate back into family life, and he was on the slippery slope to becoming a lifetime criminal.
The memoir charts Abbot’s gut-wrenching experiences, and each step of the way, the institutions he’s locked up in are tougher, and more brutal, and Abbott’s fight for survival becomes more violent. At 13, he’s locked up in the state mental hospital at Camarillo, stuffed in a strait jacket and given shock treatments. From here it’s onto the California Youth Authority (CYA), and their various facilities–Whittier, Pasa Robles, Ione, and the Deuels prison in Tracy. Abbott details the tiered system within each of these prisons, just how important it was to be seen as tough, and that “showing emotions was a sign of weakness.” To be viewed as a “sissy” or a “punk” translates to being brutally raped by everyone above you on this violent food chain. This memoir makes “it clear that within youth prisons there is no social order other than that based on violence.”
Abbott’s survival within the system caused him to “develop a set of social reflexes and assumptions” that made “him totally incapable of negotiating life outside of institutionalization.” According to conservative statistics, 75% of those released from CYA are locked back up within three years. Clearly rehabilitation just isn’t taking place within the CYA, but just what transformations do take place is the subject of this deeply disturbing book. According to Abbott, “there is nothing left of the softness of morality or conscience, only strength and will.” I Cried, You Didn’t Listen: A Survivor’s Expose of the California Youth Authority was recently republished by AK Press. This new edition includes an excellent, informative preface by Books Not Bars.