US Child Concentration
Camps Of Horror
America's Gulag Archipelago

By Norman Fost, M.D., M.P.H.
New England Journal Of Medicine
If you were to meet Fred Boyce today, you might think he was a normal person, aside from the fact that he is better looking and more charming than most of us. He has been a successful entrepreneur for most of his adult life. He was married to - though subsequently divorced from - a woman with graduate degrees from Harvard and the University of Massachusetts. His reading interests range from Carl Sagan's Cosmos to Isaac Asimov to Somerset Maugham.
But Fred Boyce is not normal. Indeed, in some ways, he is extraordinary. At the age of eight, after years of neglect involving seven foster homes, he was labeled a "moron" and incarcerated for 11 years at the Fernald State School for the Feebleminded in Waltham, Massachusetts, where his experiences were more reminiscent of Abu Ghraib prison than of any self-respecting educational institution. At Fernald, Boyce and hundreds of other children - many of them of normal intelligence - were subjected to systematic physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, physical torture, sexual humiliation, solitary confinement, threats of electroconvulsive "therapy" and lobotomy, and the constant threat of incarceration in an insane asylum if they misbehaved. There was little education at the Fernald "School." The "training" consisted of slave labor, in which the inmates were made to prepare the food and clothing for the institution, as well as other products that were useful to the state. When he was "paroled" (Fernald's word for what we might call "graduation") in 1960 at 19 years of age, Fred Boyce could not read or write.
Boyce's remarkable story, and that of hundreds of other children at the Fernald School, is recounted in detail in The State Boys Rebellion by the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael D'Antonio. The title refers to a brief and pathetic rebellion by a small band of adolescents at Fernald, which resulted in harsher punishment, including incarceration at the Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
The "state boys" had not been found to have committed any crime. Their nightmares began when they became victims of abuse and neglect in their own homes or in a succession of foster homes. Lacking the will to prevent or treat their suffering, the state found it easier to incarcerate the children. The purpose was not just to save money and get them out of sight. They were swept up in the passions of the popular American eugenics movement, which held that society would be further weakened if "morons" like Fred Boyce were allowed to reproduce.
Fernald was not unique. In 1967, an estimated 270,000 children in the United States, many of them normal or mildly retarded, were institutionalized. By 2002, as a result of the deinstitutionalization movement, the number was 47,000, despite an increase of 100 million in the U.S. population. It is not known how many suffered, at the hands of these institutions, the type of abuse visited on the children at Fernald.
As venues for the abuse and neglect of children, of course, such state-sponsored institutions were never a primary focus of concern. Most child abuse in the United States, then and now, occurs in the place where children should feel safest: in their own homes, most commonly at the hands of their own parents. The reported cases - more than a million each year - are the tip of the iceberg, for the majority of cases are either unrecognized or not reported. Unlike Abu Ghraib prison, these homes are not subject to visits by the Red Cross. Nor are they routinely visited by professionals soon after the birth of a new child - in contrast to homes in most developed countries, where such visits sometimes continue for years, to provide support and services for families in need. The prevention of child abuse is just one of the benefits.
When 52 Americans were held hostage in the U.S. embassy in Iran in 1979 and 1980, the American Broadcasting Company thought the crisis important enough that it created a nightly network television show, "Nightline," to keep us informed for 444 days. There is no such program for the million children, at higher risk for death and permanent disability, who are held hostage in their own homes. Unlike the story of the Iranian captors, led by an easily caricatured Ayatollah, the daily abuse that occurs in typical American homes is an old tale, too stale to sustain a daily audience.
Fred Boyce's story might never have come to light had it not been for an investigation into another scandal at Fernald - the use of the incarcerated children for nontherapeutic experiments, sponsored by Quaker Oats and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, involving radioactive food.
2 This abuse was less obvious, even to the boys themselves and to their parents. The boys were told that they were joining a science club, with perks of special diets and trips to Red Sox games as rewards. It is likely that the boys were not physically harmed by these experiments, and years later they received reparation payments of $60,000 each. For the state boys, the main value of the investigation into the radiation experiments was that it provided access to the media and the opportunity to reveal the more serious abuses that occurred at Fernald.
The good news is that progress is possible. We now have a system of protections for human subjects in research that would make the Fernald radiation experiments all but impossible to conduct. Laws mandating the reporting of child abuse interrupt the cycle of violence in many families, and nascent prevention programs, which make use of home visitors, are expanding. The Fernald School, for its part, is scheduled to be shut down. Some observers have noted that the Fernald School, and other institutions like it, provided benefits to society by serving as a safe haven for people who might otherwise have had no support structure. Unfortunately, these benefits were outweighed by a host of problems that ultimately led to the closure of the institutions. Today, children who are labeled as retarded, accurately or not, are educated in real schools, not warehoused in terrifying institutions with indeterminate sentences.
Fred Boyce and his "classmates" are free. Incredibly, Boyce is not bitter, and he has empathy for his jailers. All he wants from the state that incarcerated and punished him for 11 critical years of his life is an apology and a correction of the written record, confirming that he is not a moron.
Source Information
The State Boys Rebellion, by Michael D'Antonio, was published by Simon and Schuster, New York, 2004.
From the Departments of Pediatrics and Medical History and Bioethics, University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison.
1. Kevles DJ. In the name of eugenics: genetics and the uses of human heredity. New York: Knopf, 1985.
2. Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments. Final report. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1995.



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