Parents send their kids to jail, as a last resort
April 27, 2012 ·
A new program is offering troubled West Virginia kids an inside look at life behind bars. Organizers and parents hope the program helps kids make better choices and provides a free ‘stay out of jail card.’
Danielle Redfern is one of several parents from West Virginia that traveled to the Southern Regional Jail in Raleigh County recently.
Redfern’s daughter has recently made some bad decisions and been in trouble.
“You’re already on home-bound you can’t go back to school. It’s a joke to you,” she tells her daughter in front of the jail. “Everybody else has to make their arrangements around her; it’s not fair.”
Like other parents, she enrolled her child in the Scared Straight program as a last resort.
“This is basically the next stop that she’s going to be if she don’t straighten up and get herself together," she said. "Hopefully this will be a wake-up call."
“This will teach her that there are rules to the game. There’s rules to growing up in life."
The kids were handcuffed, and forced to wear blue jumpsuits and a number. Southern Regional Jail’s Administrator Vicki Greene says it’s important to make the experience as genuine as possible.
“We would like for them to see what it’s like to come here and lose your rights that you have on the outside," Greene said. "Lose some of your privileges that you have on the outside, such as your cell phone and your friends, your family; you give all of that up when you go to jail."
“It’s definitely no kind of resort," inmate James Vannatter told the kids. "You turn over; you're turning over on straight concrete that’s what you sleep on."
“What are you in here for Mr. Vannatter?" a correctional officer asked Vannatter.
"First degree robbery," Vannatter responded. "Didn’t need the money-drugs. Got high. Thought it would be fun."
"I built homes for 15 years. I was on my third house for that year; didn’t need the money. Took a bunch of Xanaxes; drank some vodka. Woke up the next morning."
"Month and a half later, they arrested me for armed robbery. Went to an establishment with a gun. Told the young lady to hit the floor; took all the money. I got lucky. I tied her hands behind her back. They charged me with kidnapping; that’s a life sentence in the state of West Virginia."
He pleaded guilty to armed robbery and prosecutors dropped the kidnapping charge. He’s facing 10 years behind bars and, as he shared with the kids, being locked up is no picnic.
“If you disrespect anybody like I’m sure that you’ve probably disrespected a few people,” he said. “Respect is a big thing you better start learning it now."
"Because the first person you disrespect in here you better believe you’ll be going to your cut leaking and be lucky if ya eyes don’t swell shut by the morning time."
"When the CO’s hand you your breakfast tray and ask you what happened, best thing for you to do is say you fell off of your tool."
“It breaks my heart, young folks like this standing here,’ Vannatter says as he wipes away tears. "It breaks my heart and not only until you’re ready to straighten up."
The kids were taken down the hall to hear from the correctional officer. They saw pictures of inmates that had been assaulted and a table of objects such as syringes, and broken broom stick handles: deadly weapons behind bars.
“I have taken time out of my day today to try to help you kids. If you so choose to be helped," the correctional officer said.
The speech was interrupted by a radio call, a fight had broken out. The officers escorted the kids into the hallway. They stand along the wall as an inmate dressed in orange, hands behind his back and a bloodied face is escorted down into another room.
“Guys, this happens every single day,” the correctional officer said.
Organizer Twila Cooper only accepts kids with a serious history of causing trouble, such as fighting and drugs.
“We are all accountable and responsible for our own choices,” Cooper said, “and you can’t blame others for your choices and if they don’t make the right choices and as scary and as graphic as this is. This is the way it’s going to be.”
After the kids are released from jail, Cooper provides contact information to counselors in their region.
“My heart has always been for the underdog, I guess you could say," Cooper said, "or for the kids that seem to cause the most trouble. Because I really don’t see as much as a a troubled kid is one that’s really hurting and needing help in some way because the louder they scream, the more help they need."
"I don’t think any child is born bad. I just think they just have needs that are not being addressed.”
Cooper says there has been an overwhelming response to the program.
“We love her and want what’s best for her we don’t want to have to come here on a real basis,” mother Danielle Redfern said.