A Home for Wayward Boys: Keeping juvenile offenders in line…with God, rifles and a marching band – #bookreview

 

Home for Wayward Boys

A Home for Wayward Boys

The Early History of the Alabama Boys’ Industrial School

Jerry C. Armor

NewSouth Books – paperback, Kindle

Early in the 20th century, male juvenile offenders in Alabama sometimes were sent to the Alabama Boys’ Industrial School (ABIS), near Birmingham, rather than put into prison with adults. Their crimes ranged from manslaughter to smoking cigarettes as minors. A number of orphans, runaways and victims of broken families also ended up there.

Opened in 1900, the ABIS was a not a “reform school” in the typical sense. The boys’ school had been founded by a dedicated, driven and religious woman, Elizabeth Johnston. And it operated with a very unusual structure: its board of directors consisted entirely of women, at a time when women still could not vote in elections and mostly were expected to just stay home and not get involved in business and politics.

As the ABIS grew, so did what it offered to “wayward boys.” At first, it mainly provided food, a rustic but safe place to sleep, religious services and some hard work doing farming, repairs and other tasks on the school’s sprawling acreage. Soon, however, the ABIS began stressing military discipline and training, too–indeed, issuing army-style uniforms and rifles to young juvenile offenders who had been sent to ABIS by Alabama judges. Then a military marching band evolved and expanded, and it eventually led a parade in Birmingham for President Theodore Roosevelt, played with the U.S. Marine Band in Washington, D.C., and appeared at numerous other events.

As the ABIS gained more buildings and staff, it began offering education in a variety of trades, including tailoring and sewing, painting, barbering, sheet metal work, bakery work, and radio repair.

Many of the youths sent to ABIS as offenders turned their lives around and graduated, and some earned outstanding combat records in World War I and World War II. Some even came back to teach and administrate at ABIS.

Jerry C. Armor’s book is an eye-opening and uplifting look at the 75-year history of the Alabama Boys’ Industrial School. He places a special emphasis on the school’s difficult formative years, as well as on funny, sad and strange anecdotes about how some of the youths ended up there.

Armor details how one woman who sensed she was following God’s calling fearlessly lobbied the Alabama governor and state legislature and begged businesses and various organizations for funds and supplies to start the school and keep it running and growing. And he tells the stories of key leaders within the school who helped it survive and thrive during its colorful, yet little-known, history.

A federal law enacted in the 1970s established the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. And that new agency’s “policies, standards, and recommendations…drastically changed how states dealt with troubled youth,” Armor writes. In 1975, he notes, the Alabama Department of Youth Services assumed control of the ABIS and several other facilities in the state.” The campus soon was renamed, and its programs were changed to meet the new requirements.

Armor’s book includes a call to action for citizens of Alabama who are concerned about today’s high rate of recidivism (70%) for juvenile offenders in their state. The rate was considerably lower, he notes, for the youths sent to the Alabama Boys’ Industrial School.

 — Si Dunn

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South, America – Action, mystery and gritty Southern noir – #bookreview

South, America

A Jack Prine Novel

Rod Davis

(New South Books – paperback, Kindle)

Here’s one way to get yourself into deep trouble: Try to perform a simple act of kindness.

Jack Prine, the central character in this gritty, well-written new mystery novel, reluctantly tries to help a young woman understand what has happened to her brother. And from there, the favor quickly goes downhill, to fear, violence, threats, gunfire and the need to make quick escapes.

Prine lives in New Orleans, and he is, in his own words, “trying to figure out a line on my future….”

As he tries to sort out just what that “line” might be, he has been “doing some freelance writing and the occasional unlicensed PI investigation for a divorce lawyer/ex-Army buddy….”

Early one Sunday morning, Prine has nothing much on his mind except his hangover and a strong need for some Guatemalan coffee. But as he is walking to get the cup of coffee, he discovers a dead body. A man has had the back of his head bashed in. Prine dutifully calls the police and answers the investigator’s questions. Later, Prine gets a phone call from the victim’s sister, Elle Meridian. Reluctantly, he agrees to meet her, so he can tell her more about what he saw and show her where her brother died.

Once they do meet, their attraction for each other develops fairly quickly. And as Jack Prine’s relationship with Elle grows, he soon finds himself drawn into circumstances and dangers he could never have imagined when he first heard her voice on the telephone.

Suddenly, the “unlicensed PI” is having to be a hard-boiled detective. And he and Elle wind up on the run from the vicious and tenacious Dixie Mafia. They race through Alabama and Mississippi on their way back to New Orleans– where no safety awaits them.

South, America is an engrossing tale alive with Southern landscape, thugs, family secrets, voudou, art treasures, racial tensions, sex…and love. And the book’s ending offers an excellent setup for the next Jack Prine novel, hopefully coming soon from Rod Davis.

Si Dunn